This morning’s Children’s Sermon was the first one I have done in 26 years without one of our two children being up here for it. But these youth cause me to enjoy doing something I assumed would lose its love at this point in life…doing children’s sermons. It is great to have Kenny and everyone else up here this morning.Kenny called me last night at midnight and asked me if I was asleep. I told him, “Not now.” He said, “Mr. Smith, I know Daniel said to never call you after 10 p.m. so I apologize. But I want you to give me a wake-up call at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow morning (today) so I can be at church.” I told him I would. Pam asked “Who was that and what did they want?” I told her it was Kenny and that he wanted a wake-up call at 9:30 a.m. for church. She laughed so hard.
I forgot to call him this morning until it was nearly 10 a.m. and Bert mentioned in class that some folks never get out of the county or out of the state in life. Then I remembered Kenny does not even get out of bed some mornings…I remembered my task. Call Kenny. I did. He is here. Welcome Kenny.
It takes faith and determination to keep going in life at times.
This woman shouted at Jesus, determined to get His attention for the good of her daughter. She wanted Him to heal her daughter who was tormented by a demon. At first Jesus did not answer her at all. Interesting, huh? He did not even answer her.
She yelled some more at Jesus, demanding to be heard. Then the disciples yelled at Jesus to get her out of the area. Get this lady out of here so we can do some real ministry, they said. Jesus said he had been sent to just find the lost people of the Jewish faith. This one screaming lady now has everyone arguing.
Life is hard. Stories read easily because words on a page clean it all up neatly. But life is difficult. The heat of life wilts us at times.
I send out the rough draft bulletin, with sermon title, early in the week. The sermon title was “Yelling at Jesus.” Shirley told me if she had read that title she would not have come to hear the sermon this morning.
Marketing experts say that people in a book store take 7 seconds to decide on whether or not to buy a book. 7 seconds. In 7 seconds we look at the front cover, see if we recognize the author, flip it over and read a quick review on the back, open the inside cover and see if we like the chapter titles, and flip through it quickly to see how it looks. All in 7 seconds. Appearance, recognition of author, title of book and of chapters. Choice made.
It is easier some weeks to write the sermon than it is to title a sermon. What you title something in life matters. Titles and labels frame life.
This determined woman had 7 seconds or so to get the attention of Jesus. She shouted.
While standing in 102 degree heat under a shade tree and talking to Shirley about the upcoming Sunday’s worship service and about life, I noted that her dog Holli was panting. Shirley’s doctor told Shirley that walking would speed up the healing process as she recovers from cancer surgery so Shirley is walking daily with Holli.
Holli was panting. I asked Shirley how Holli does on the long, hot walks up and down the hills of our neighborhood. Shirley said, “She walks more than I do because she walks back and forth in the street, trying to find shade.” That was it for me. A title for a sermon.
I changed my sermon title to “Looking for Shade While on a Walk.” Shade makes life bearable. Shade is relief from the searing heat of life.
This church is place of shade out of the heat of life for me. People come to church hoping to find some shade, some temporary relief, from the intense heat of life outside.
Cattle gather under the oak trees in the summer here in Texas. In Mississippi I loved seeing wooden decks built at the base of huge oak trees. “Shoo Fly” decks built around large shade trees. What beverage you drank on the deck under the shade was determined by what church and denomination you were in life. People would gather in the summer to drink beverage and visit under the shade of the tree to escape the relentless heat of the sun.
Looking for Shade in life.
Diane Jennings wrote me a long letter last week. First long letter she has written Pam and me in over 30 years. Life comes at you fast and goes by fast, doesn’t it? Diane and her husband Ron kept trying to talk me into marrying Pam 35 years ago when Ron and I were airmen at Edwards Air Force Base. Pam and I were going to wait until after college (well, two years of college anyway) to marry but Ron and Diane kept saying, “Why wait? Drive to Vegas and get married this weekend.” Vegas was only four hours away but I kept talking Pam into a large wedding instead of a Vegas chapel wedding. Pam wanted to drive to Vegas and marry me each weekend but I would talk her out of it. Somebody had to think straightly about the matter.
Ron and I worked together as airmen at Edwards Air Force Base. He was the computer whiz and I was the entertainment in the shop in the desert. He loved Electronics and computers (big computers back then) and I loved life. He made computers and electronics so easy for me to understand. He was a whiz at it all and he helped me to learn it well. He produced at work and I provided the entertainment. We made a great computer repair team at age 19.
Ron developed heart problems and muscular dystrophy several years ago in his 40’s. He had a massive heart attack 4 years ago and has been in a wheelchair and on oxygen ever since. At age 50. Diane had to quit her job in order to take care of him and they neither one had income at that point.
Their only son Marcus also has muscular dystrophy, is developmentally challenged, and lives at home with Diane and Ron. Marcus is a wonderful man.
Last year I had my book signing for the Boerdonk book in Bellbrook, Ohio, which is about 30 minutes from where Ron and Diane live. Diane drove Ron down to the book signing, wheelchair and oxygen tanks and all. She said Ron wanted to be there so badly. He could not talk but he smiled.
Diane wrote last week that Ron always liked to talk about our days in the desert together and that he always laughed thinking about how Gary hated shots, and at how startled I would always get at finding rattlesnakes in the desert. We all missed family in Texas, Michigan, and Ohio so we gathered to fix familiar foods at Thanksgiving to make us feel closer to home. .
Ron died two months ago on June 6th at home as Diane was getting him ready to go to the doctor. Age 56 and gone to be with the Lord. He told her that he was tired and that soon he would not have to breathe anymore. It was a lot of work to breath for him. She loved him so and took such wonderful care of him for over 35 years of marriage.
They would have Pam and I over for Thanksgiving dinner. They were at our wedding. We moved three doors down from them on base and were so happy. They were such fine Christians who loved the Lord and loved the Church and loved people so much. They serve the Lord in a United Methodist Church in New Carlisle, Ohio, along with their grown son Marcus, who loves helping out with the children’s ministry in the church.
Diane buried Ron in the family cemetery in Michigan on his 56th birthday, June 16th, at the same church they were married in 36 years ago, same church they renewed their wedding vows in on their 25th anniversary a few years ago. Ron was buried along side two of their children who died as infants.
While Diane was in Michigan burying her husband and consoling her son, her mother died. So Diane buried her mother last month also…on the same trip to Michigan when she was burying her beloved husband.
Diane is age 55 and has lost two children, her husband, and her mother.
You know what Diane wrote to us last week?
“I am blessed. I thank God for giving me another four years with Ron after his heart attack four years ago. I thank God for allowing me to be with my mother the last days of her life in June. If I had not been there to bury Ron at the time, I would not have been able to spend the last days with my mother before she died.”
Diane chose which title to put on her life and Ron’s. She could have chosen the title “Difficult and Impossible.” But she chose the words, “We are blessed.” It is a quick choice, like choosing a book to read. But it is important what you title life.
She wrote “P.S. Thanks so much for all the sermons. I used to read them to Ron the day they came in the mail. You made things so easy for Ron to understand.”
Ron made computers easy to understand for me and many years later he claimed I made God easy to understand for him. Ron, I salute you. Thank you.
I had no idea each Monday over the past several years when I mailed the weekly sermons to them what it meant to Ron. Due to the illness and no jobs, Ron and Diane could not afford inter net service at their home so I started mailing them sermons each week just to stay in contact and to let them know how much we loved them, in some small way.
That United Methodist Church in New Carlisle is lucky to have such saints as Marcus and Diane. “I am blessed” she wrote. So are we all. Diane reminded me of that last week.
We all need shade in to give us relief from the heat of life.
Daniel called yesterday from Germany and said, “I drove four hours to a US Air Force Base and bought some American food…including pop tarts. Today I woke up and had pop tarts and it made me feel at home again.” He has filled his book shelves with pop tarts, Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper, and beef jerky.
Familiar foods make us feel closer to Home.
Come and have some familiar Communion Bread, get into the Shade of His love, and title your life story “We are blessed” as Diane says.
Marcus and Diane, our prayers are with you. Thank you for blessing us with your faith and love and titles. Amen.
By GARY L. SMITH
Reverend – Christ the Redeemer Church