So…the title of my sermon Sunday was “The Test of Faith.” It should have been “The Lord Will Provide.” I preached Sunday from Genesis 22–the story of Abraham offering his son, Isaac, on Mount Moriah. There is so much rich material in the passage, but in the interest of time I chose to focus on verse 1–“Later on, God tested Abraham’s faith and obedience.” I should have focused on verse 14–“Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means ‘the Lord will provide’). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: ‘On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided’.” So, let me tell you why.
It all began Thursday. I spent Thursday afternoon in sermon prep (that’s my usual routine), but for some reason the sermon just didn’t seem to come together. In the middle of my prep, my Minister of Music texted asking if I would prepare the communion elements on Sunday morning (yes, the Senior Pastor of FUMC, Monroe sometimes has to prepare communion elements–don’t ask!). I replied, “Sure, if you’ll make sure the elements are at the church.”
We have three services at FUMC, Monroe each Sunday. We have two traditional services in the sanctuary, and one contemporary service in the fellowship hall. That means three loaves of King’s Hawaiian Bread (just like Jesus used). It also means that the elements in the sanctuary have to be cleaned and replaced in the sanctuary after 8:30 a.m. worship. I get to the church Sunday morning and there are three loaves of bread in the parlor kitchen refrigerator (we’re good to go). I prepare the elements for the 8:30 and 9:30 worship services and put them in place, and I leave one loaf of bread in the refrigerator. I text our Assistant Minister of Music (believing it is my responsibility to insure the elements are replaced after the service–didn’t my Minister of Music text me and ask me to prepare the elements on Sunday?), and ask her to make sure the juice and bread are replaced in the sanctuary after 8:30 worship. She replies, “Will do.” So…we’re all set.
Both the 8:30 and 9:30 a.m. worship services go off without a hitch. The pastoral staff and the choir are lined up behind the sanctuary for the 10:50 a.m. worship service, and my Assistant Minister of Music looks at me and says, “Lynn, I forgot to replace the juice and bread for communion!” I think to myself, “Well, that’s a problem…,” but I say to her, “Well, send someone to get the bread out of the parlor refrigerator, and we’ll use the old juice left over from 8:30 a.m. She turns to her husband (who sings in the choir) and tells him to go to the parlor and get the bread. He gets to the parlor, and…NO BREAD! Someone has stolen the last loaf of King’s Hawaiian Bread!
He locates his son and son-in-law and sends them to Wal-Mart, which, luckily, is only a few blocks away to retrieve another loaf of bread. While they’re going to Wal-Mart, he goes to the fellowship hall and retrieves the “left-overs” from 9:30 a.m. worship, and grabs the bottle of juice from the parlor ‘fridge and heads back to the sanctuary. More on this story later, but let me digress for a moment…
The worship started on time, and as far as we know, no one in the congregation was aware anything was out of the ordinary. The pastoral staff are on the chancel progressing through the order of worship. It comes time for the morning offering. We have a “new” Associate Pastor, and it’s his first Sunday to be on the chancel with the staff. He’s been assigned the Offertory prayer. He asks, “What do I do? Just invite the ushers to come forward?”
“Yes,” I say, “and then the choir will sing their little ditty while the ushers come.”
“Okay, cool,” he says.
He rises to invite the ushers to come. No ushers. He turns and looks at me. “Well, say something,” I say to him.
“If the ushers will come,” he says, but still no ushers. I must admit, he covered well. He said something witty (I don’t remember exactly what he said, but I remember the congregation chuckling). I don’t remember what he said at that point because I’d quit listening. I was worried about the ushers. Did we forget to line up ushers? No. There were ushers handing out bulletins this morning. I’m thinking to myself, “It’s Chris’s first Sunday on the chancel. Someone’s pulling a prank on him. Surely they wouldn’t do that, would they?” Finally, I said, “Someone go find the ushers,” and I see one…that’s right…one person get up and go look for the ushers. Someone has stolen the communion bread and now, they’ve kidnapped the ushers! Just about the time that ONE person stepped out into the foyer, the ushers stepped in and began making their way down the aisle. It’s the first time in my 23+ years of ministry I’ve ever seen a group of ushers receive a round of applause from a congregation. I wanted to say, “Wait until we’ve counted the offering to applaud,” but I thought better of it. Chris offers his prayer, and while he’s praying, our Assistant Minister of Music leans over to our other Associate Pastor and says, “There’s no bread under that cloth.” And, now, back to our story…
The choir does a stellar job on the anthem, and the doxology goes off without a hitch (well, at least we got something right!). I step to the pulpit, read the scripture, and as always, after the scripture, offer a prayer for God’s blessing on our hearing of His Holy Word. Okay, so the prayer has a two-fold purpose. One, to ask God to bless the Word and our hearing of it, and two, to allow the choir time to exit. As I’m praying, I keep hearing movement behind me, and I think (yes, while I’m praying), “It sure is taking the choir a long time to exit.” I find out later, it’s the Assistant Minister of Music’s husband scurrying on hands and knees slipping up behind the altar table to leave the “left-over” bread and bottle of juice so we’ll have elements for communion.
I begin preaching the sermon. Now, here’s the irony…my opening illustration, which is seemingly prophetic at this point, mentions several ways you can tell if you’re having a bad day. If you show up for work and there’s a “60 Minutes” crew there, you might be having a bad day. If your twin sister forgets your birthday, you might be having a bad day. If your birthday cake collapses under the weight of the candles, you might be having a bad day. I should have added, “If your ushers don’t show up and there are no communion elements on the altar table, you might be having a bad day,” but I thought better of that, too.
So…I’m in the pulpit preaching, and I see, out of the corner of my eye, my Associate Pastor get up and exit the sanctuary out the back door. “Hum? I wonder where he’s going (yes, preachers can multitask while preaching). Maybe he’s going out to get the bread.” In a few minutes, I see him come back in without any bread. Interesting. Must have had to go to the bathroom. A few minutes later, he gets up and goes out again. He must have some bladder problem, or there’s something seriously wrong. I’m not sure what to think at this point. I just keep preaching. Mercifully, I get to the end of the sermon, and it’s time for communion.
We progress through the Prayer of Confession and in the middle of the Great Thanksgiving, I step off the pulpit, move toward the altar table to uncover the “elements,” and my Associate meets me there, fresh loaf of bread in hand, and as I pull back the communion cloth, what do we see but an entire loaf of bread perched perfectly on the plate. The Associate Minister of Music proclaims, “It’s a miracle!” I’m almost certain anyone sitting on the first four rows at FUMC, Monroe heard her proclamation, and wondered what she meant. I simply took the other loaf from my Associate, placed it on the altar table next to the loaf already there, picked that loaf up and continued the Prayer of Great Thanksgiving. Until now, I’m not sure anyone in the congregation had any idea what was going on.
Here’s more irony (or humor, or whatever…). The conclusion of the sermon was this: “God is always in the middle of our bad days. Sometimes testing us. Sometimes protecting us. Sometimes encouraging us. But, always with us, and when we trust that He is, we discover grace, and a God who provides all we need.”
Well, God did provide that day, and God provides everyday (even if what we need is communion bread). It’s a pretty compelling lesson, but, as usual, we don’t really learn the lesson until after the fact. It’s hard to see while we’re living it!
If you’d like to see this entire comedy of errors, click this link: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/first-united-methodist-church-monroe-la. Have mercy as you watch, please.
Maybe watching this instead will help:
Until next time, keep looking up…