CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter
Two Sundays ago, before worship, JillAnn told me that her sermon was on the pulpit. JillAnn is home this summer after her second year in seminary, doing CPE [Clinical Pastoral Education] at the local hospital, and filling in at her home church pulpit when the regular preachers are too exhausted, by the previously unexperienced joy of watching the Cubs win, to rise up into the pulpit themselves.
I thought it would be a great lesson to slip in ahead of time and take her sermon and hide it in a Pokemon Go gym. It’s important for preachers to know how to improvise when things go wrong.
Helen said, fairly emphatically, “No!”
“But lots of old church people are doing battle in Pokemon Go gyms,” I said. “It will turn up quickly.”
I did not persuade. It did remind me, though, of Gene Matthews’ first sermon.
Gene was a lay preacher from Evansville, 30 miles away, who was assigned to my home church, the open-country Forsythe, whenever he was needed. Gene worked in a factory. He was smart but not academically educated.
As he was in the process of becoming a lay preacher, the District Superintendent sent him one Sunday to preach his first sermon ever in a small church near Evansville, Darmstadt, I think. Gene decided he would impress the folks by not using a manuscript or notes, but simply opening the pulpit Bible [there was always a pulpit Bible in those days] and reading the scripture for his sermon and then preaching straight from the Bible. He had worked hard in preparation and knew what he would say for each verse as he went through the scripture.
The service went fine, the announcements and hymns and prayers. Then it was sermon time. Gene got up and went to the pulpit and opened the Bible. It was in German! Not just German, but the old-fashioned fancy German that even Germans can’t read.
That church had been a German Methodist congregation. We had lots of European language churches well into the twentieth century. Many of my older colleagues when I started preaching in 1956 had started out preaching in Swedish or German. I myself was the first English speaking preacher, in 1958, at Wycliffe Methodist Church in Chicago, where the earlier preachers had all spoken Czech. The Methodist Church recognized all those language churches as part of the denomination. There was no difference in theology, just in language.
It’s strange now, how exercised some folks get about churches that do services in Spanish now. Their forebears a couple of generations ago probably went to churches where worship was in Polish or German or Finnish.
Christ is “The Word.” That Word was originally “Ho Logos.” That’s the transliteration from the Greek. Even that is a step removed from Christ, who spoke “The Word” in Aramaic.
It’s the Word, not the words, that make it Good News. The Word is still The Word, in any language. That Word is Christ. That Word is Love.