Back in February of this year, I did something that has been instrumental for me and my faith pilgrimage. Since I was a child, I have always read the Bible on a daily basis. When I was a kid, it was a big deal for me to read through the Bible, and then to announce that I had completed reading it. I must have read it through twenty times before I reached adulthood. I was privileged to have parents who encouraged that behavior, and I was certainly encouraged to read the Bible by my church.
The last few years have found me not reading as passionately as I did in my youth, and I wanted to get back into reading the Bible in a disciplined fashion. So in February, I ordered me a good reading Bible (large print!) and I set myself a new goal. During the 40 days of Lent, I promised God that I would make reading the scriptures a priority, and that I would do whatever was necessary to read the Bible through during the days of Lent. I even disclosed this to other folks, so that they would help keep me on track. With God’s help, and the gentle prodding of a few people, I finished reading the Bible from cover-to-cover in a little over a month.
I cannot explain what happens to me when I spend time in the scriptures, but something significant happens. That’s why I’m about to finish another journey through the scriptures. I’m reminded that God did what God does, and I am reminded that we flesh and blood human beings can be used by God to do things we can’t normally do.
Today’s story is about Esther. The story is full of twists and turns, but in the end, a young woman was able to save her people by risking her life for her fellow Jews. It’s a story that reads like a good novel, but it is a story of faith. When we see Esther’s faith, we are inspired to do and be our best. Her story is but one of many that we read in the Bible. I get excited all over again every time I read it.
I hope you’ll spend time in the scriptures. It really does change us for the better.
Welcome to worship. What we do here matters.
Over twenty years ago, I stood up to preach and noticed an unfamiliar face sitting in the congregation. He appeared to be around 70 years old, and some of our folks seemed to recognize him. At the end of the service, one of our long-time members brought him to me and introduced us. He had grown up in our town, and his family had deep roots in the church. After college, he had moved north to a large city, and had put down roots there. However, he still considered our church to be his home, and the University across the street was his alma mater.
He wondered if he could see me the next day, and of course, I was happy to set a meeting time. He wanted to talk about our campus ministry. He had heard that we were having chapel services on campus, and he was really excited to know that his church was reaching out to his school. After a long conversation about the campus ministry, he asked me if we needed anything. I explained that we had just received a sizable grant from both the District and the Conference, and that for the time being, we were in good shape.
A few months later, we were dreaming bigger dreams. We wondered about enlarging our outreach and offering more ministry to the university community. What began to formulate was a vision of a campus chaplaincy, provided by the church and supported by the university.
The next time my out-of-town visitor stopped by, he asked again if I needed anything. At that point, I laid out the vision of an expanded campus ministry to him. He liked the vision. “How much do you need to fund this?” he asked.
“$100,000,” I said.
He didn’t flinch. He sat and thought for a moment, then said, “Let me get back to you on that.” A few days later, he showed up with a check. Not for $100,00, but still for a substantial sum. And every time I saw him, he brought more money with him.
When he died, he still had not given the full amount, but he had funded a ministry that, a generation later, still impacts college students for Christ. It turns out he knew he was dying, but he wanted to see that a ministry he loved would continue even after his death. He invested in the future of Christ’s Kingdom.
Today, we talk about Hannah. She, too, invested in the work of God. We’ll talk about this today.
What we do here matters.
On September 11, 2001, the Chattanooga District Clergy had their monthly meeting at 10 AM. I was one of the clergy members there for the meeting. Most of us had our radios on in our cars, and shortly before most of us arrived for the meeting, we were hearing news bulletins that hijacked airplanes had just crashed into the World Trade Center, and also at the Pentagon. We would hear shortly after that of another hijacked plane crashed in Pennsylvania. It was a day that most of us will never forget.
We pastors gathered around a small screen at Brainerd United Methodist Church, trying to make sense out of what had happened. There was fear in the room, and there was anger in the room. Only later would we fully realize the devastation that had taken place in the attack. So many deaths, and so many injuries, and for a long time, so many questions with few answers.
Suddenly, whatever we had planned to discuss that day paled in comparison to our need to be amongst our people during such a pivotal moment. There would be no regular clergy meeting that day. However, before we left and headed back to our churches, we observed Holy Communion. It served to calm my nerves before I went back to my congregation, where people filed into the church to pray, to strengthen each other, and just to talk.
Today, we observe Holy Communion together. I certainly pray that no disaster comes our way. But if it should, we come to a table, to receive grace and help in time of need. Here, we are reminded that our Savior was a real flesh-and-blood human being. He saw humanity at its worst, and still, He overcame.
See you at the Table. What we do here matters.