I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you – or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Romans 1:11-12 – June 18, 2012)
Before I went on holiday to Canada over the past ten or so days (which is why there hasn’t been one of these meditations since June 10), a parishioner told me that his regular attendance at church the past several months is because of a sermon I preached from which he took the message, “Christians go to church!” I seldom remember my own sermons well enough to know which one or what line someone might be referring to when they tell me something like this, but I’m nearly certain that it wasn’t on this text. However, that would be the message I would preach were this to come up in the Lectionary readings for a public worship service. ~ I suspect that my parishioner was referring to a sermon in which I may have used this old chestnut of an illustration: A member of a certain church, who previously had been attending services regularly, suddenly stopped coming to church. After a few weeks, the pastor decided to visit. The Pastor found the man at home alone, sitting before a blazing fire. Guessing the reason for his Pastor’s visit, the man welcomed him, led him to a comfortable chair near the fireplace and waited. The Pastor made himself at home but said nothing. In the grave silence, he contemplated the dance of the flames around the burning logs. After some minutes, the Pastor took the fire tongs, carefully picked up a brightly burning ember and placed it to one side of the hearth all alone. Then he sat back in his chair, still silent. The host watched all this in quiet contemplation. As the one lone ember’s flame flickered and diminished, there was a momentary glow and then it’s fire was no more. Soon it was cold and lifeless. The Pastor glanced at his watch and realized it was time to leave; he slowly stood up, picked up the cold, dead ember and placed it back in the middle of the fire! Immediately it began to glow once more with the light and warmth of the burning coals around it. As the Pastor reached the door to leave, his host said with a tear running down his cheek, “Thank you so much for your visit and especially for the fiery sermon. I shall be back in church next Sunday.” ~ That’s what the mutual encouragement that Paul describes is all about, keeping the embers of faith burning. As my parishioner said, “Christians go to church!”