Monday, February 25, 2008

The Power of Study

When I was preparing to come to Mount Vernon Place UMC nearly three years ago, I was told that my job would be two-fold by someone who knew the church but whose life has been spent in the academy. This individual told me that basically all I had to do was to hold the hand of the members who had given their life to this church and who are now in their 80s and 90s while also working to start a new church at the same time. This individual said to me, "You are basically a Hospice chaplain on one hand and the pastor of a new church start on the other hand."

While I listened to this individual's words when they were spoken to me, recording them in my mind for future reference, it did not take long for me to realize that this person was completely wrong. This individual's advice was about as inaccurate as a doctor telling someone to put salt on a wound.

Yes, of course there are plenty of people in any church who have not opened a Bible in a long time. There are several people in every church who have forgotten the vows they made when they joined the church - vows to faithfully support the church with one's prayers, presence, gifts and service. And, of course, Mount Vernon Place is like every other church. Yet, one of the things that continues to awaken my spirit is the growing faith and spirituality of many of the people at Mount Vernon Place - especially a group of people who are in their 90s.

Each week I am privileged to gather around a table with a group of individuals who range in age from the mid-70s to 99. We gather for one hour each week to study the Bible. We have spent a lot of time in the Old Testament and in the New. The conversation has been rich as a week with Paul's words on homosexuality in Romans led to the question by a 95-year-old as to why we have to put labels on anyone. Last week, a 99-year-old said, "I want to read a passage to you." He then proceeded to read 1Corinthians 16:20 which states, "All the brothers and sisters send greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss." He added, "That sounds good to me!"

Last week, our study took us to Ephesians 4 where we talked about what it means to be the body of Christ and how damaging many of our actions can be. In this passage, we are instructed to "lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

This passage led to a beautiful discussion about how split our churches can be - how we can fail so often to be patient with one another, saying terrible things about others instead of doing whatever we can to build up the body of Christ. We then continued to talk about what it means to speak the truth in love and how we can best be the church. And, before we ended we committed to read this passage together each day, asking God for the wisdom and patience needed to live it out.

This group of individuals that I was instructed needed only a little hand holding is leading the church in becoming the church - the body of Christ. This group of individuals is struggling with me about how it is with our souls and how we can grow closer to Christ. This group of individuals reminds me each week of what a joy it is to be a disciple of Christ.

Following Bible study, I went to visit another 99-year-old member of Mount Vernon Place. This individual does not get to church often anymore. Yet, she tells me that she prays for us all of the time, and I know she is telling me the truth. Before I left last week, I asked her how I could pray for her. She then prayed for me. She reminded me of the awesome privilege I have and then she asked God to give me all that I need to share the hope we have with those around us. She prayed that Mount Vernon Place would continue to be a blessing, and that we would bring all kinds of people into the doors of our church in order that all might be spiritually enriched.

These people are amazing! There is no dust on their Bibles. What a gift it is to be their pastor.

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