The first thing remembered, when I reflect on my earliest memories of church, is not the message in any sermons. In fact, I have no memories of any message until I was in high school, and there are only two of those memories. One of them is not even so much about details of the message itself, but of Mom’s indignation toward the message. It was about the need for Christian sex education for the youth of the congregation. Her righteous ire was further exacerbated by the fact that it was her eldest child, me, who was asked to deliver the message in my portion of the Youth Sunday Sermon. The other message I remember, is the sermon by Mark Henry Miller and the title of his sermon, delivered on August 18th, 1963, “Walking on Water”. It was a message about faith. Forty-seven years later, after having abandoned even remote association with any church within two years of hearing that sermon, I discovered the church bulletin from the morning that sermon was delivered; the only bulletin ever saved from all those Sundays of sitting just five rows back from the front row and directly in front of the pulpit.
Mom saw to it that we were in church every single solitary Sunday, come rain or shine. No mailman was ever more dedicated to his appointed rounds than Mom was to the fifth row back on Sunday morning. As a result, you would think that at least some of the specifics in the messages would have would have stuck, but they didn’t; not then and if the truth were told, not now. The closest I can come to the memory of a message, other than those just mentioned, was a song we learned in vacation bible school one summer. It was, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so”. I remember wondering who the bible was. Was he like a preacher of some sort? Whatever it was that I thought, I know I had the distinct impression that The Bible was a person of authority, not an object.
What is remembered most are the persons who delivered those messages and the people those messages were intended for; not all the people of course, but many of the people. It doesn’t matter what point in time I recall, its people I remember, beginning with Dr. Jorn, the minister at the First Methodist Church in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. What my memory serves up of Dr. Jorn is of a tall, white haired, distinguished man in a black robe, peering down from above and in front of the congregation, keeping a close eye on his grandson and me seated on the very front pew.
I realize at this point in my life that the real message of all those sermons and Sunday school lessons was really about relationships; relationships with people and with God, and that maybe, just possibly, I did actually get the message after all. I don’t remember getting it, with the exception of Mark Miller’s sermon of August 18th 1963, but then I don’t remember learning to walk or talk either. I certainly don’t remeber any other discussions of faith, i.e. “trust”.
Sometimes when I stop long enough to consider the real implications of walking on water, that is, the level of faith required to overcome the very laws of nature which make walking on water impossible for mere human beings I think, “what’s the use of trying? I will never be able to manage that feat … ever!” But then again, maybe by exercising my faith muscle enough I will be able to accomplish other “impossible” things along the way. In other words maybe the unintended consequence of the effort might be of some real value.
In reality it’s quite like developing the muscles in my body, which I’m loathe to do at this age. After all, that requires exercise; a regular daily routine of sustained physical exertion of the muscles of the body in order to make them fit for performing great feats power. Unfortunately my periodic efforts at developing my faith muscle are about as consistent as my efforts to develop my body muscle.
Forget New Year’s resolutions … how about New Week resolutions or even New Day resolutions? In the course of creating and completing this bit of masterful insight I realized that it’s been a genuine self lecture, which is not what I intended. I set out to regale my readers on the requirements and characteristics of faith but what I’ve accomplished is to rattle my own cage, so to speak.
I have a friend whose ability to write is a constant inspiration. She told me once, and I paraphrase, that most of the time she was just thinking on paper; that it helped her deal with life and work out the knots, so to speak. Maybe that’s what I’ve done here; work out some of the knots in my faith muscle. I certainly hope so, because like so much of what I write it seems to have taken on a life of its own before I’ve finished.