The variety of God’s peoplePosted: May 24, 2009
This morning I led three services of worship.
The first was for my own congregation. About 250 people from a middle class background and predominantly of European descent, though we did have Indian folk, a Zulu family and a newly joined family from Malawi. Most are retired but there was a spread of young people and we had a children’s story as usual. The message was a hard one on the cost of discipleship. A couple of things went wrong in the service – the battery in the roving mike went flat even though it was newly charged. The electronic display board with the words of the hymns kept showing the wrong words and no-one knew which verse to sing. Both were disruptive elements in a community which expects everything to be perfect. Following Jesus is often like that – we want it to be perfect and we determine perfection on our terms. And then we lose grace.
For the next service I went to celebrate Holy Communion and to baptise 6 young children in a sister congregation who have no minister. It is a Zulu-speaking congregation of about 80 people. I was late from my first service but that was OK, they were just singing hymns until I arrived. They have no hymn books or electronic display boards (or microphones) so the hymns were from the heart in the beautiful harmony of African voices. I was not scheduled to preach, because I had to go to another service straight afterwards – I was just to celebrate the sacraments. But I shared with them a little of my earlier sermon on discipleship before we shared Communion. There was a deep sense of holiness in our sharing of bread and wine – with the women singing a kind of lullaby as the elements were distributed. We moved from the Table to the Baptismal Font. Four families were bringing their children to be baptised. Only one woman had a husband and one mother brought three children, each with a different father’s surname. These are complicated things unless we have grace. As I cradled each child and they looked at this white umFundisi (minister/teacher) dousing them with water, I thought to myself, “Lord, this is all of You. What we do is so insignificant, can we ever really know what it is to follow You, except to plod on in faith, trusting Your hand upon us and seeing the things which are unseen.”
Then I rushed off to Sunfield Home. There were 100 mentally handicapped adults waiting for me – I was late again, and I had given the wrong time to the musician who arrived 15 minutes after me. I had been met by the staff first, who told me that one of the residents had died in the night and they wanted me to share the news with the other residents. I entered the chapel to 100 off key voices belting out “Jesus loves me” at the top of their voices. I had to shake everybody’s hand before we could start and all the while I’m thinking about how I am to tell this happy crowd that one of their friends has died. We sang “Jesus loves me” again and then I told them about Drummond. There were many tears and much wailing from this crowd of Down’s Syndrome sufferers. They seem to feel emotional highs and lows at much greater extremes than the rest of us. I asked a few to tell me about Drummond’s life and that was really good for them. By then the musician had arrived and so we sang (?) a few songs and offered up prayers for ourselves and for Drummond. I shared a little of my early sermon on discipleship (each time was vastly different, because each was a vastly different community). Today is the running of the Comrade’s Marathon and so I spoke of a long obedience in the same direction, and of running the race, not to win nor to give up, but to get to the end. I invited the community to offer their own prayers and we had about 20 of them standing to pray for Drummond, for those having birthdays, for their families and so on. The whole service was unplanned, unstructured, disorganised and the singing (?) was atrocious, but the Presence of the Lord was there and I saw tangible grace. It took me about 30 minutes to leave, because everyone was now celebrating Drummond’s life because his race was run. My spirit was soaring as I left there.
Three totally different groups of people, three totally different experiences of the grace of God and three times filled up to all the measure of the fullness of God. I was blessed today. Thank you Jesus.