Harmony Baptist Church in a little village in West Virginia is holding a special 129th anniversary celebration. I was a student-pastor there during my college years fifty-one years ago. Harmony was the first church to have to put up with me! This morning I pulled out a little notebook, its pages yellowed by a half-century, and read a few of the sermons given at Harmony Baptist Church. What poor stuff—those sermons! I was young, untrained, and without much experience, but the people heard me gladly, accepted me, and cared for me. The people of that congregation were then, and have been for me ever since, an example of an authentic Christian fellowship, attempting in their small and fragile way to do what “Church” is supposed to do—welcoming the stranger, loving the neighbor, and exercising unconditional love for one another and their community—living out as best they can “the mind of Christ.”
Thelma and her family were a part of the Harmony fellowship. She is 100 (and a half) years old this month. Through all the years, since my departure from Harmony, Thelma has maintained contact, sharing with me at least twice a year, the happenings in the life of the Harmony congregation. The invitation to the 129th anniversary came in a formal type-written letter from the “Harmony Fellowship Committee,” but at the bottom was Thelma’s familiar handwriting and a personal invitation, along with her phone number in case I might want to call. I will not be attending the anniversary celebration, but I will certainly call Thelma!
“The past is with God,” someone wrote (I do not know who) “and the future is with God, and so also is the present, but we do not see or feel this so much.” Jeremiah the prophet spoke for God years ago and the people threw him in jail because they saw him as a traitor and a pacifist. They did not hear the message God was sending. But today Jeremiah is viewed as a man bearing a message from The Beyond. Isaiah was seen as a dreamer by the people of his day. And Jesus, express image of God’s person as we now see him to be, was in his own day regarded as crazy, totally out of his head. It is never easy to see God in one’s own time.
|Thelma at 97|
Is it so very hard to find any trace of God these days in the world and the people around us? I think not. If we would simply take the time to think about the “Thelma’s” in our lives, or this group of people or that, who took the time to care for us, to lift us, to encourage us, to help us, to love us, we will come to know that God is in the present as well as in the past and the future. God comes in mysterious ways, but my experience has been that God comes to me most in persons—Star Persons, I call them—who have loved and guided me through this journey. Yet, it is not the person—it is the Spirit, the Mind of Christ—that lives within them.