Sermons Without Words

I was carrying a handful of equipment from the outdoor stage into the lobby of the church building. We had just completed our very first, and very hot Sunday morning outdoor worship service. As I walked through the door of the lobby, I looked over my right shoulder to see a man coming in behind me carrying in some of the heavier equipment and setting it down on the lobby floor. Sweat was pouring off his brow, permeating through his hat and shirt, and he was breathing hard from the exertion. He bent over and then stood back up. It took me a moment to recognize him due to the mask on his face. I thanked him for serving, he replied with, “I’m just thankful to be here, God is good,” then he turned to go back out the door into the heat to get more equipment. Amidst all the traffic, I stood still for a moment and pondered the brevity of that moment. Then I realized that in just a matter of 30 life-changing seconds, I had been given one of those tremendous gifts where Heaven collides with the business of humanity. It was a sermon without words, and it came at just the right time for me.

Just a week earlier, I had packed up my family for a short two-day trip to the mountains of NC for a very much needed respite from the recent pressures of life and trying to pastor through the newly crowned COVID era. About halfway up the road to those mountains, I received a phone call from my tearful mom informing me that my dad was going into emergency surgery and about to have his stomach cut wide open to pull out all the blockages in his intestine so that he doesn’t die from going septic. So much for the peaceful solitude we were seeking.

I am at the stage of my life where my children needing me most is intersecting with the time period where my parents need me most. The timing for when we chose to have kids and when my parents begin to show their age has just worked out that way. I can do nothing to control it. It is simply the promenade of life. I suppose I could have forecasted that if I had done the math about sixteen years ago. The part I could have never calculated back then, was pastoring a church through the middle of a pandemic, in arguably one of the most politically charged times in all of history.

The COVID era has not been without the opportunity to be stretched and challenged at every level, particularly in the church. The economy shuts down, people lose jobs, people worry and get overwhelmed, and you stop gathering due to safety concerns. If you open the doors and gather again, people will say you’re not complying, you’re crazy, and not considering the safety of your people. If you don’t open your doors, people will tell you to stop bowing and conforming to the system, you’re walking in fear and not faith, and preventing revival. If you make a plan or date and change it, you’re not leading with confidence. If you don’t make a plan or date, you don’t know what you’re doing. If you say too much, too loosely, you’ll be criticized for being insensitive. If you don’t say enough, you’ll be criticized for not making a statement or taking a stand. It’s not safe enough to come back to church, even for outdoor services. But it’s safe enough to go to the beach or mountains, participate in baseball games at the ballfield, and have family gatherings. It’s too hot, too loud, too much money, and “Oh, by the way, we’re attending another church now because they’re meeting inside and can provide us more with what we need” and “No, we won’t be coming back, and no, we don’t want to meet and talk about it to reconcile it.” That covers about half the list, but you get the point.

Zero whining here for you Carnes. James 1:2 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” You’ve preached that…remember? Keep preaching it to yourself…every…single…day. Other people have issues as well. Get on with it. I’m not sharing this to get sympathy. I’m only sharing this to highlight the guy from the lobby, even though he’d never want that. Remember him?

The “worn out, sweating through his clothes due to the heat” guy in the lobby is also the guy who several months ago was given an inexplicable diagnosis of cancer and told to get his affairs in order because he may not make it. He’s the same guy who also sent me an email three weeks ago thanking the church for everything, and saying how much he wanted to “give back and it was now his time to do so.” What!? They told you were not even supposed to be alive! This is the same guy who was starting another round chemotherapy the very next day in order to stay alive. He’s probably the last guy who should be out there, and he probably had more reasons to complain than just about anybody. But he’s also the guy God chose to reach me. He said nothing, did nothing, prepared nothing. He just showed up, and God did the rest. A sermon without words. I’ll be looking to preach much more of those through the coming days.