Saturday, April 11, 2009

What I Learned at our Party

It has been a long 3 and 1/2 months since Ben Towne died. It was in response to Ben's death that I last wrote a blog. To be quite honest, I haven't had the heart to write.

But a lot has happened since then, not the least of which has been a call away from Colonial Presbyterian Church, and a call to new position in First Presbyterian Church of Colorado Springs. And I wanted to tell you about the going away party Colonial threw for Susan and me last Sunday night, Palm Sunday. Specifically, I wanted to tell you what I learned at our party.

Most of what God opened my eyes to see was experienced in the sharing time at the end of the evening. There were about 600 people in the sanctuary, many of whom had endured a long, long receiving line, trying to say something personal to Susan and me; and many of whom did not get that opportunity because the time ran out. So, everyone moved to the sanctuary for some "toasting and roasting." Person after person came to the microphone. It was painful, wonderful, tearful, glorious, tender, affectionate, affirming, wrenching. Here's what I heard. . .

I heard that God was present, working, in specific things said in particular messages by me, in specific pieces of music Susan had chosen. People came up and gave details about hearing something they really needed just when they needed it. On the day when someone needed to "let go" and they did. When mom was dying and they needed a specific word about what they needed to do, and they got it and lived it out. The unmistakeable truth? That God is the only hero in the story. Susan and I never had a clue when we did those things.

People talked a lot about my getting down on the level of children, physically kneeling to look them in the eyes. Being accessible to people of all ages, I heard, is a really big deal. Looking people in the eye is a really big deal. Giving people one's full attention is REALLY IMPORTANT. Because everyone is basically feeling passed by, starving for a listening ear, desperate to have another's full presence. This is what we crave from God, that "My Name will be there" (I Kings 8:27-30). Which means that God has given us His undivided attention and is fully present in the moment to us.

Susan and I heard that a lot of things that seemed fairly unproductive - maybe not a waste of time, but certainly not successful in most any sense of the word - were weighty. Substantive. Rich. Life-changing. Simple things like opening our home to young adults, taking time for people in need, trying to help people grow in their faith, giving counsel to people who needed something to hang onto.

Some of them became Christians, crossing over from darkness to light, exchanging one worldview for another. One young woman said she became a follower of Christ through my preaching. I had no idea until she told me on Palm Sunday.

There were testimonies about words given in correction. . .that found a home, when I would have sworn they were blown off.

We heard loudly that friendship matters. That it is the bridge of love and friendship over which God speaks the loudest to people, at least most of the time.

And we were told by many that the gift of our family, what God was doing within our family where of course the whole church family gets to see it, that this gift was dear and powerful for goodness in so many of their lives.

Now, what do you hear in all of that?

Above all, I hear something I wrote about almost a year ago, as I tried to make sense out of the destruction that has occurred to almost everything we've tried to do in ministry. Where's the significance, I cried? What difference does my life make? And what I heard then, and what I hear again, is Paul's words to the Corinthians:

"So now, these three remain, faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love." (I Cor.13:13) Agape love is from the Age to Come, arising from the very Being of the Triune God. It penetrates into this Present Age, still plagued by the curse of sin, and here it abides in those who are in union with Christ - that's how it gets in, through Christ into us. And as we live out what this love is, it causes something to come into being which endures, remains, crosses over into the Age to Come, something we will walk in and experience the fruits of in that coming Age. We participate, in other words, in the appearance of the Kingdom of God.

It's not really about programs. It's not really about being religious. It's about acts and words of love in Christ. That's what I learned at our party.