~ Sermon ~ Sunday, June 18, 2017 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson ~
Jerome Jordan stepped to the lectern of the Old First Church on the Common and thumbed through the heavy pages of the massive pulpit Bible. The Bible overhangs the sides of the lectern by a good 3-4 inches on each side. Interestingly, while Jerome is the youngest of the regular lay readers he is also the only one that chooses to use the lectern Bible. Maybe it’s a simple matter of eyesight! Most others bring the readings printed out in large font on pieces of paper.
The leather-bound gilded Bible was presented to the congregation in 1879 at the dedication of the new church building after the fire of 1877 (or was it 78?) The little bronze plaque reads “Given to the Glory of God and in memory of Deacon Ephraim Buckner.” Old Eph was Bob and Jake Bradley’s great-great grandfather on their mother’s side. A stern looking fellow in all the old tin-types. The Bible, dating from the 19th century, of course is the King James Version.
The text for the day was from Gospel according to Saint Matthew. Jerome cleared his throat: Think not that I am come to send peace on earth:
I came not to send peace, but a sword.
For I am come to set a man at variance against his father,
and the daughter against her mother,
and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.
He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me:
and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
Jerome ceremoniously closed the stiff ornate covers of the Bible
“The Word of the Lord. . . Thanks be to God.” and stepped down from the lectern.
As I said for the youngest of our lay readers he is the most solemn and traditional.
Imogene Reynolds, third row back next to the center aisle, let out a sigh and not quite under her breathe muttered, “Well, I not so sure what I think of that!”
Imogene is of the opinion that at times even Jesus took things a bit too far and this is a prime example of just one of those times! Imogene knows that following Jesus is not supposed to be easy but never, never should it divide families.
“What sort of family values is that?” she inquired of Rev. Williams as she shook his hand after worship.
She admonished the pastor for preaching such an “anti-Christian” thing.
“Why just this morning the Pastor Eugene B. Salsbury of the Salsbury Power Hour of Salvation preached on ‘biblical family values’ and it didn’t sound anything like your sermon, Pastor.” Imogene informed the pastor.
She went on to add, “And Pastor Eugene knows his Bible. After all, he is on television!”
Rev. Williams had a mind to remind Imogene that it wasn’t his sermon she took issue with but Jesus’ words, but held his tongue. Beth, Imogene’s sister was next in line and she had been a little under the weather the past week and he was a bit more concerned about her well-being that taking on a theological debate with a disciple of Pastor Salsbury’s Power Hour of Salvation.
One has to understand that Imogene and her sister Beth grew up in a very loving and supportive family. When Imogene and Beth were young there were three generations living together in the old farm out on Ricker’s Bluff Road. Ricker is Imogene’s maiden name. The Rickers were a very devoted family. Devoted to the church and more importantly to each other. Gram Ricker lived with Carl, Betsy and their two girls, Imogene and her little sister Beth. Rickers have been prominent in Old First Church leadership for the past 100 years. Good people, good family.
Anyway, Jesus’ words about a son set at variance against father, and daughter against mother was not Imogene’s experience. And there was just no way she could see that Jesus would be part of anything other than the way she had experienced it. And in her view this passage didn’t in any way act for the betterment of society.
Imogene is the unofficial chair of the Women’s Material Aid Society of the Priscilla Circle of the Women’s Fellowship. They’ve been around since WWII when they began putting together old pieces of cloth to be used as bandages and such for the war effort. Nowadays they knit lap blankets for the residents over in Maple Grove Care Center run by the Adventists. They also collect old pieces of clothe and make hooked rugs which they sell and give the proceeds to the Outer Island Relief Fund. Even Rev. Williams chuckles to himself when Sam Coleridge refers to them as the Holy Hookers, which always sets Imogene off in a fit of temper. Beth just smiles!
For the past two meetings of the Women’s Material Aid Society of the Priscilla Circle of the Women’s Fellowship, there’s been a young girl showing up. Actually Gina is 19, but to most of the Society she seems but a mere child.
Gina has been coming to Old First now for a little over a year. One day she just sort of walked into a meeting of the Material Aid Society all of her own doing. She told them that she likes to knit and that she clerks and stocks shelves at Emerson’s Five and Dime in Stoneville, so she has access to all the remnant scraps of material from the store’s fabric department. So of course she was welcomed with open arms. It also provided Gina a place to serve when she decided she wanted to be more than just a Sunday pew warmer.
At a recent meeting the ladies were talking about growing up and how things have changed (common topic for this group!)They got onto the subject of how families aren’t sticking together like they used to and the younger generation not respecting the older.
Gina was very quiet.
“So dear,” Bea Stearns asked Gina, “tell us about your family. Are you living at home?”
Gina looked up from the cloth she was ripping into strips, stared out the window to the Minute Man statue on the common. A couple of seagulls were attempting to land on his tricorn hat. They kept sliding off and circling around.
She looked back at the cloth in her hands, a white and green checked gingham. She recalled a summer dress she had as a child, a little jumper. It was one of her few pleasant memories of childhood.
“No ma’am. I’m renting a couple of rooms outta Bobby & Rachael Parmenters.”
The ladies knew the place. It wasn’t much. The Parmenter’s are good enough folks, just that life had been hard. Bobby fishing and some factory work for Rachael until the shoe shops all closed back in the 80s.
“So what about your parents, dear,” asked Ruth Williams. “Do they live in Stoneville?
Gina stopped what she was doing looked back out the window. One of the gulls had quit trying to land on the Minute Man’s head piece, the other still flailing away attempting to find a secure perch.
She sensed no malice or meddling in Ruth’s question. Nor did Beas’ question seem mere chatter for sake of conversation. There was a bit of genuineness in their inquiries. Perhaps this is why she told them as much of her story as she did.
She was the second child, oldest daughter in a family of four children. Her older brother had left home when he was 16 and enlisted in the Army when he turned 18. You see her father, while he always had steady work and provided for the family financially, had a tendency to “tip the bottle” a bit too much when he was home but more often than not, he would be out, who knows where, for who knew how long. Her mother was the text book enabler, always trying to keep things quiet, focusing on appeasing her husband when he would go into one of his tirades. Her brother’s departure left Gina at 13 to care for her younger sisters at that time 7 & 9. More often than not this meant taking the brunt of their father’s anger and making up for her mother’s emotional distance.
As Gina grew older she would try to get her mother to find help for herself. But there was no convincing her. She was locked in the cycle of addiction and abuse.
Gina struggled her last two years of high school but managed to graduate and that summer get a the job at Emerson’s.
It was that summer after graduation, she had a Sunday off and not particularly wanting to be home, Gina found herself wandering around Rockhaven’s Common. It’s early on a fine summer morning and through the open windows of the church she could hear Clara French going over some of her organ music for worship.
Gina timidly meandered over to the doors of the church and listens. She not much for organ music but she can identify one of the songs. She doesn’t know the title but it takes her back to the few times she was around a church. It was Vacation Bible School and she was about 6 or 7 before her father’s drinking had become a noticeable problem for their family.
Clara saw her through the open doors standing on the bottom step. She smiled motioned to Gina that it was fine for her to come in. She slipped into a back pew as Clara worked on her Postlude. Clara seemed to be struggling the song Gina watched her pushing and pulling all these little knobs on the organ!
Before she knew it others were coming in and began sitting around her. Bea Stearns and Jeannette Holman, Mabel Bradley and Sarah McIntyre. In the vestibule Bertie Dickson and Sam French were comparing their early garden production, apparently carrots, lettuce are doing fine, peas not so well.
Little did Gina know at the time but if you wanted some space and a bit of quiet in our church you do not sit in the back!
Undeterred, she began coming when her schedule allowed and when a new clerk was hired Gina was able to have most Sundays off.
She absorbed everything she heard from the pulpit and soaked in all the attention and love that she felt surrounded by.
She would go home and share some of her experiences with her mother. The love and care she felt from the church members. She would also tell her mother some of the things she would hear Rev Williams would share in his sermons. The pastor said such and such today . . . and she would tell of this Jesus who traveled around healing people and reaching out to the oppressed and victimized, even women!
But unfortunately, whether it was jealousy of Gina’s new found friendships or the zealousness of her convictions, her mother would have nothing to do with Gina’s new found faith. Sadly, Gina and her mother grew even farther apart
Not able to find herself fitting in or comfortable at home, she heard of the Parmenter’s rental and by fall she had earned enough for the deposit and moved in with the little she had.
Gina paused. . . Looked back out the window and there was the seagull. She had finally found a perch on the Minute Man’s hat.
Bea Stearns reached out and put her hand on Gina’s arm.
No words were spoken. Tears trickled down both women’s faces.
When the gospel of Matthew was read by Jerome Jordan and Jesus said that he came not to bring peace but a sword, what Imogene found so scandalous, rang all too true for Gina. Life was not easy for Gina and her new found faith and friendship in the church didn’t necessarily make it any easier.
As Gina sat there surrounded by the friendship of women, most of them four times her age, a small smile broke out and the corners of her mouth caught her tears.
She remembered something else Rev. Williams said this Jesus had mentioned. She couldn’t remember it exactly but something to the effect:
What you should want most is God’s kingdom and doing what he wants you to do. Then God will give you all these other things you need.
Or as the lectern Bible reads: But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
Rumor has it that Gina’s mother has temporarily left the house and is in counseling. This seems to have brought her father to the point of seriously seeking help and is now six months into recovery.
Indeed all these things. . .
Seems God’s kingdom is creeping into our little church and its community.
May it be so in yours as well. Amen.
Enjoy the Audio version of Pastor Neil’s Sermon by selecting the “Download File” link below, open and enjoy!