Two Churches, Two Sermons

I had the unexpected experience of receiving two sermons this past Lord’s Day, one at my home church and one in another. From the pulpit of my home church, the sermon on  Psalm 145 was deeply rooted in the gospel,  biblically & doctrinally sound, encouraging believers to persevere in faith secure in the love of God, looking always to “Christ Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”

At the second church, the real sermon was not from the pulpit. Somehow, the reading from Jeremiah had managed to become a springboard for a political screed. Then maudlin lyrics in support of the political issue were sung to the tune of “Amazing Grace”!

It was disheartening but not unexpected. Many mainline churches these days have abandoned the gospel for secular aims.

What did catch me by surprise was that a sermon was being played out before my very eyes in the pew in front of me: a sermon of perseverance in faith, love, and hope. Soon after the service had begun, two women had come in and were making their way down the aisle. A middle-aged woman guided the wheelchair of a frail elderly woman to the front row of the church quietly and expertly. Helping her charge into the pew, the younger woman gently supported her weight, slipping her arms under her shoulders, virtually picking her up and onto the pew. A man accompanied them but he seemed indifferent. To be sure, the old woman wouldn’t have weighed much. She was very frail, her hearing almost gone, completely dependent on her daughter (as I later learned) who would wipe the small trail of spittle collecting at the corner of her mouth and arrange her disarranged sweater comfortably around her. But as weak as she was, she appeared alert, noticeably eager to be there, in that place where she had worshiped God all her life. She could barely hear the sermon, if at all,  only the singing and reciting of the Lord’s prayer (which she joined in) and occasional congregational responses.

Throughout the service, I was transfixed by what I saw being played out in front of me, two lives lived in union with Christ, one devotedly in service to the other who could no longer care for herself, not grudgingly, but in selfless devotion and infinite tenderness. The daughter would reach tenderly for her mother’s hair, brushing the thin wisps away from the precariously positioned hearing aid. As she stood up to join in the hymns, she would place her hand on her mother’s thin shoulder as if to include her in the singing. When she knew her mother wasn’t familiar with a particular hymn, she would remain seated and sing the words closely beside her to be sure she heard. And when her mother softly recited the words of the Lord’s Prayer, she gently kissed her mother’s forehead.

It isn’t easy being a caregiver of someone so debilitated by health or age they can no longer manage for themselves, whether or not they are someone close to you. It takes a particular kind of strength. A willingness to sacrifice your own comfort for the comfort of others.

What struck me as I watched the two of them together during the service was their obvious joy in worshipping God together. It was as if despite all the loss they had suffered, loss of health and self-sufficiency and unfettered freedom, that in that old  country church where once the gospel was faithfully proclaimed from the pulpit, composed mostly of the elderly, there in that pew, surrounded by their like-minded friends, praying and singing old hymns and glorifying God, there was a  shared hope that gave it all meaning … and comfort … and strength.

And of course, there was. There always is anywhere two or more are gathered in Jesus’ name. Knowing him as Lord,  they knew him as more than able to uphold them in their weakness.

Faith in his accomplished work on the cross, his resurrection, had brought them to this place. They would as countless times before go out in the renewed strength of that faith unshackled from the misguidedness of false shepherds, for “where the Spirit of God is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3: 17-18).

Suddenly, I felt like the wealthiest woman on the planet.

What a gift I had unexpectedly been given! For I had heard and seen Jesus proclaimed twice Sunday morning, once from the pulpit and once from the pew.

Andrew Wyeth, “Pentecost” (1989)

1 Corinthians 13: 13

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

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