Sunday, October 12, 2008

Plugged In

Classical Presbyterian fans will like to know that on this beautiful autumn evening we got the Reverend Mr. Brown well and truly plugged in at the Jeff Center Church.

And here's my perspective on the matter.

This was my first time serving on an Installation Commission, though not, of course, the first time one was served on me. One thing I can never figure out-- why does the moderator (of presbytery) dissolve the Commission before the service?

(Because that's the way it's done, silly!)

The installation sermon was based on Ezekiel 33:1-16-- the responsibility of the prophet as a watchman to warn people of the consequences of sin. And by temporal extension, it's now the responsibility of the pastor and the church as a whole. Not the most popular ministerial duty, but if the traffic cop, say, fails to warn the motorist that the bridge is out, it's certainly that policeman's fault if the car goes into the river.

("But I don't wanna warn people that the bridge is out! If I tell 'em it's dangerous to go down that road, I might offennnnnd somebody!")

Only thing, only thing . . . I wish we'd been given a generous dose of Jesus Christ and how He works in us and through us in grace to enable us to discharge our watchman duties . . . I mean, I needed it . . . please?

The former interim pastor of the church gave the Charge to the Congregation, introducing his remarks with how he gets his jollies cheering against the football teams all his friends are for. It may well be a sign of the irenic nature of Toby's new congregation that they didn't rise in ire at this implied disloyalty to dem Stillers and bury the old IP in the nearest cornfield.

On the other hand, he was their Interim. Interim pastors are supposed to be obnoxious and shake things up-- right?

There was a point to his provocation, however. Instancing how he recently cheered for an Ohio college team with a freshman quarterback against the Pennsylvania college team favored by a family member, he drew the analogy that while the church's new pastor wasn't quite a freshman, it has its mission and service plays down so well it might be tempted to forget they have a new quarterback on the field. "Let your new pastor call some plays! When I was here, I practically only had to show up on Sunday to preach! You took care of everything else, and I could hardly get a word in edgewise!" Laughter from the congregation! Music on the organ console shaking, from the organist unable to contain herself!

Me Toby asked to give the Charge to the Pastor. This past week or two, contemplating what the Holy Spirit might want me to say, the frivolous part of me couldn't help having a giggle or two at what can come these Internet-driven days from leaving comments on someone else's blog.

Never fear: My mind was in Earnest Mode when I wrote it. Considering the chargee, it was natural to take a quotation from J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings as a jumping-off point. And the scheduled hymns-- all with martial elements-- provided more framework. After that, the appropriate Scripture passages seemed to crowd in so thick I could barely find my keyboard.

Well, wouldn't you know it, the first hymn got changed in the interim and I'd quoted it three or four times! No matter. By the grace of God, I believe what I said was appropriate and to the point.

(And worth remembering, I hope, more than the charge I got at my ordination, when my preaching friend advised me per the water when doing baptisms, "A little dab'll do ya!" Every time I recall that, I want to yell, "No, it won't! God attached physical signs to His grace in the sacraments for a reason! People out there in the pews gotta see and hear the water!! They have to feel like they're getting wet!")

Funny thing is, the Charge to the Pastor, which I worked on carefully ahead of time and delivered more or less according to plan, apparently hadn't as much impact as another part of the service I thought I had under control, but didn't.

This was the Prayer of Confession of Sin and its Call to Confession and Declaration of Pardon. I determined to use a form of Romans 3:21-26 as the latter. I even wrote the verse number down. So why I didn't put a bookmark in my Bible at the passage, I do not know. The Call to Confession, I had a few ideas for appropriate verses for it, but decided I'd settle on which when I got there.

Oh! (I settled this evening) I'll split the Romans 3 passage, and use part for the Call, and part for the Declaration! But when I got into the lectern, I discovered first that I'd left my bulletin with the Prayer of Confession on it in the pew. I had to confess my own fault and ask another member of the Commission to hand me one. Then something seemed to possess my fingers: fumbling with the thin, slippery Bible pages, I could not seem to turn to the place in Romans I needed. Flip-slip, flip-slip, flip-slip! Oh, gosh, this is taking forever! Everyone is staring at me! When I finally found it, there was no way I felt I could take the time with my dratted presbyopia and study which verses should go where.

So I gave up. I summarized Romans 3:23-24 ("All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God . . . ") for the Call to Confession, and fell back on my heart verse, Romans 5:8 and surrounding, for the Declaration of Pardon. I don't know exactly what else came out of my mouth. But I guess it was what the Holy Spirit wanted, since two different people (both of them men, if it matters) came up to me at the reception and said, "When you gave that Declaration of Pardon, I just wanted to jump up and get going! I felt totally forgiven, and now I wanted to go out and serve!"

Oh. Really? God used me like that this evening? In spite of my klutziness?

Hmmm. Maybe I should remember this for those times when I'm making a hard job of forgiving myself. Because if there was any absolving power in what came out of my mouth this evening, it wasn't from me. But it's certainly available to me, if I'll just believe God and ask.

But now, here's what I'm thinking: That it'd be really, truly nice if very soon I'd be in a position to invite the Rev. Mr. Brown and some of the members of his Installation Commission to do the same service for me. Having gotten Toby plugged in, I would be grateful and gratified to find my own place to be plugged in, too.


Sandy said...


Anonymous said...

Thanks again for your Charge. It was stirring to say the least.

Benjamin P. Glaser