ne Sunday morning, the pastor noticed little Alex standing in the foyer of the church staring up at a large plaque. It was covered with names and with small American flags mounted on either side. The seven year old had been staring at the plaque for some time so the pastor stood beside the little boy and said quietly, "Good morning Alex."
"Good morning Pastor," he replied, still focused on the plaque. "Pastor, what is this?" The pastor said, "Well, son, it's a memorial to all the young men and women who died in the service." Quietly, they just stood together, staring at the large plaque. Finally, little Alex's voice, barely audible and trembling with fear, asked, "Which service were they in, the 9:45 or the 11:00 ?"
When we were at Stone Mountain First Methodist we had great crowds coming. The community was growing by leaps and bounds and families were leaping and bounding into the old Stone Mountain granite buildings. There was no way to expand the Sanctuary because the Granite Blocks were twelve inches thick, and they could not be moved. So, we began a second service at 8:30 and some came but soon we had to start a third service at 9:45. We had two Sunday School hours, at 9:45 and during the 11:00 a.m. hour. This worked well and our problem was solved, except for Easter when a thousand showed up for each service, and someone could have been killed in the service. The church membership had grown from 700 to 1700 and had won many of the Evangelism Awards. However, the truth is that it would have been hard to keep new folks out. Perhaps we should have resorted to field preaching, as did John Wesley and Our Lord.
Those were the glory days for many, many wonderful folks. We still run into Stone Mountain friends. Just last week I conducted a funeral for the father of a beautiful family who were active back then. “These were our best days in church,” the good wife and the grown children all intoned. Those years touched hearts and changed lives for so many. Everything about doing church is wonderful, when it's right.
What makes it right? How is it supposed to work? Is there a secret formula or does it just happen? Crowds came to hear Jesus' preaching in the fields and their lives were changed and the Christ's Church has been built upon this same simple process.
Lots of church people think of a grand building whenever they hear the word church. However, we people of the religion of the heart strangely warmed (John Wesley) feel that the true church is an experience, and not all of the stone and stained glass in the world can cause the warmness of the gather up of believers who have all had an experience with God's Grace, and have this major event in common. Human souls are bonded as one whenever they share a life changing experience. Whenever we see one of our fellow ‘Carolinians out away from home we embrace one another as souls that share in a common community. Actually, that is the origin of the old English word “community.” As folks built forts to keep out the heathen herds, they shared in the upkeep of the walls. Large families would keep a large section of fortification well maintained, and small families would accept a smaller share; but, they were all one in the common-unity, or community.
Just as Americans were bonded together as One People by the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers of our World Trade Center , so our British friends, and those of us of British ancestry, are bonded by the events this past Thursday. We have our 9/11/01 and they now share the mutual burden of 7/7/05
Similarly, our commonality of experience is found in our mutual love for Christ and for the assurance of salvation that we feel. We often sing, “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian Love; the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.”
We are kindred spirits, made one in a mutual experience in knowing Christ and His Word, in the great hymns, in covered dish suppers, in Sunday School and most of us went to Vacation Bible School as kids. We might be confused as to how many brothers and sisters John Wesley really had, but we feel connected in Mr. Wesley.
Actually, we are continuing the movement that Jesus started in Palestine 2-K years ago. Against all difficulties, the Church had flourished and grown, even amid adversity.
And also like that very first Church, we know that Christ Alive in human hearts is the power that enables the churches to continue to reach out to new people. Unlike most of the clubs and organizations to which we belong, we have no exclusivity in the Church, save Christ alone. Membership is open and free to everyone who would proclaim Him Lord and Savior.
It's not like we all become the same in appearance and customs; we maintain our individuality but we are unified in this one thing that we all know, Jesus Christ. We do not have to adhere to certain peculiar morays. We are Irish, English, Scots and African. You do not have to jump through hoops to be a Christian; you just have to profess Him Lord, and live for Him in your life. Christianity, from the beginning, is so much more than a profession of faith, or vows; it is a life altering event that remolds us into integrated personalities and gives us a new lease on life.
People who knew him thought John Wesley was saintly before his conversion, but he knew better. Inwardly he was full of evil. He had been Christened and Confirmed, he had several degrees in Religion from Oxford University , and he was even what we Americans would call an Assistant Professor of New Testament. Later, however, a series of events brought him to open up his heart to a new experience. Secular people might not understand this process, yet we consider it the normal way that we receive a new life.
Instead of being dead in the one of our worship service, we have discovered God's call and this is exactly why Crowds Came to hear Jesus offer them a new life.
sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor