I was sitting in the sanctuary at St Mark UMC, and was surprised at how clearly I remembered what it had looked like.
It had been about 30 years since I had been in that sanctuary, and now I was back as the preacher for a weekend retreat. I have pictured the sanctuary exactly as it looks today, for years. Every time I have told the story of my call into ministry and hearing the sermon preached by Jimmy Gibson, March 31st, 1983, I have pictured him from the choir loft. It was the Maundy Thursday service, and so the sanctuary was dimmed. But there he was preaching, on his tiptoes describing heaven, speaking of Jesus, the “Wonderful Savior” and in that message, “The Importance of Last Things.”
I have “seen” this over the years again and again.
When I was sitting there again, waiting to preach for the first time, the images of these early days of call came flooding back to me. I had been meeting old friends renewed as well, and when I met Judy Shortl again, after all these years, I remembered being Co-Sunday School Superintendents together. It astounded me how much people still looked the same. Beautiful people. Friends. People, who had prayed for us, loved us, invited us into community and into Christ. People, who had supported us, sent us money at seminary that first year. People, who had voted yes for me to enter ministry.
Tirzah Riley reminded me of our conversation at the Iwo Jima monument while on the Historic Study Tour in 1983. How there I had turned to her and said, there was something wrong, that there was a sense I had that I was not doing what God had called me to do. That I needed to change what I was doing in life somehow. She said she had turned to me and said, “Brian, you are hearing the voice of God’s holy Spirit and you need to follow whatever He says.”
As I sat there, singing songs, remembering event after event that had happened at St Mark, which was significant in my calling and faith, I asked the Lord, “What are you doing?”
Here’s what God said in reply:
“Child, You can see how I brought you back to St Mark. I brought you here for a new start, the beginning of what I’ve called you to do and become. I have you right where I want you, but you needed to see, experience and know I have more for you yet. Child, I love you and I delight in you. I have a great plan for you. Draw closer Child. Align with my life. How I have plans for you to pour out your love into others. STAND. REST. BE.”
I was staggered.
Here I had planned to say how essential the St Mark congregation had been in my formation and direction and calling, but God was underlining that all the more. They had been used by God to make it possible for me to become the man God had intended for me to be all along.
I was filled with praise.