June 10, 2017
At first, the Presbyterians had me. My earliest church recollections are dim memories of being taken from the beautiful gothic sanctuary of Bethany Presbyterian church to the pre-kindergarten Sunday School somewhere else in the building. This imposing building was right behind my grandparents' home, and was my grandmother's church for most of her adult life. For reasons unknown to me, we stopped attending there sometime before I turned six. For the next six years, I was the neighborhood pagan, watching my friends hauled off to church on Sunday mornings while I happily rode my bicycle around the block.
All that changed when I was twelve. My mother decided that we should start going to church, so over my vociferous protestations I became another statistic, unhappily joining my friends whose parents were cruel enough to dress them up and drag them along to church on Sunday mornings. Our first stop was a local Lutheran congregation where one of my friends went. I liked it because the two of us managed to do a fair job of goofing off and instigating our share of mayhem. Someone apparently ratted us out to our mothers, and next thing I knew, we were visiting West Side Baptist.
It was a good thing, for there on a Sunday night in 1961, I stood outside the kitchen with our pastor's wife and prayed to receive Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord. For the next six years, Westside's faithful people patiently taught and shaped my life as a Christian.
Four years at a Wesleyan college, followed by two years preaching at a tiny Evangelical United Brethren church to gracious people who patiently schooled me in the basics of pastoral ministry. The EUBs got swallowed up by the Methodists when the merger came in 1972, and I've been a faithful, albeit sometimes a bit disgruntled, United Methodist ever since.
I've learned from all these traditions, as well as from my Pentecostal and Catholic friends. But lately, I've been reading and learning from our Orthodox brothers, gaining an appreciation for the liturgies that take them through the day with worship at dawn, 9:00 am, noon, 3:00 pm, and in the evening. I've particularly appreciated the prayers fashioned after the Lord's Prayer that acknowledge our sinfulness and need of forgiveness and grace, coupled with a matter-of-fact acceptance of and gratitude for that forgiveness that even makes it possible for us to pray. Thanking God for his grace and asking him for his help, the prayer reads as follows:
"All envy, all temptation, all the work of Satan, the counsel of wicked me, and the rising up of enemies hidden and manifest, take them away from us and from all your. People and from this your holy place.
But those things which are good and profitable do provide for us, for it is you who. Have given us the authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and upon all the power of the enemy..."
I've learned from each of the Christian traditions to which I've been exposed. This particular tradition has taught me to acknowledge my moment by moment dependence on God and his faithfulness that enables us to live in joy and freedom. Prayers such as this are sure to be answered because they fall clearly within the will of God. In advance, I am thankful for the answer to this prayer.