Alexandria plunked my morning coffee on the kitchen table and sat down across from me, putting her own cup down with a sigh.
“The letter’s bothering you, isn’t it?” I asked her.
“Yes it is. They listened to Grandfather’s teaching for 25 years. Don’t they remember what he taught about dying to self? They only see their own hurt feelings and how things were better ‘back in the day’,” she lamented. “Grandpa Fitzgerald would turn over in his grave to see the division this letter has caused,” she fretted. “Why can’t they behave like adults?”
“They’re mourning Alexandria. They wanted things to continue as they always were. Some of them were founding members of Mount Pleasant. A lot of them got saved there, you know. Some of them never knew any other Pastor,” I replied.
Alexandria remembered the story Grandpa Fitzgerald liked to tell about the first sermon he had ever preached.
“It was in the old schoolhouse,” he’d told her, “and your Grandma Ginny was there. She wasn’t the prettiest girl in town, but there was something pure about her. She radiated God’s love to the whole place. Ginny always said that the church got started because I knew how to draw a crowd, but I think the people who showed up that Sunday came because they saw Christ’s love through Ginny.”
This was where Grammy always butted in “They might have come because of how I told them about the Lord, but they stayed because Grandpa knew how to show them the truth. That first sermon gripped them and never let them go.”
Grandpa Fitzgerald would pick up the story: “I was reading straight out of ‘The Message Bible’ translated by Eugene Peterson. Hebrews, Chapter 11 at the end, about the great Saints of old:
“There were those who, under torture, refused to give in and go free, preferring something better: resurrection. Others braved abuse and whips, and yes, chains and dungeons. We have stories of those who were stoned, sawed in two, murdered in cold blood; stories of vagrants wandering the earth in animal skins, homeless, friendless, powerless—the world didn’t deserve them!—making their way as best they could on the cruel edges of the world.”
“Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.’”
This was where Grammy always interrupted him, “Then he looked at the congregation”, Grammy would say, beaming. “He looked straight at them, because he knew Chapter 12 by heart.”
Grandpa Fitzgerald could still recite it powerfully. With a fire in his eye, he quoted Hebrews 12:
“Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God.—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!”
Alexandria’s eye’s welled up, not only because of the recent loss of her Grandfather, but because Matthew would be resigning over the divisive letter. “Well,” she said, “We’d better going. The new pastor of Mount Pleasant can’t be late for his last sermon. What are you going to tell them?”
I smiled and said “I’m going to tell them that ‘God has a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith will come together to make one completed whole, that their lives of faith are not complete apart from ours.’ I’m going to tell them that I’m not resigning. I’m going to look them straight in the eye and say ‘You pioneers who blazed the way, veterans of the faith, we’d better get on with it. We shall start running—and never quit! We will together keep our eyes on Jesus, who both began, and finished this race we’re in.”
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