In the early 1990s, I served a United Methodist church on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It was a fairly new congregation, and unlike every other church I had served, it was full of people who had never been Methodists, and a strong minority of people who had not grown up in church. It was different, looking back, in a very good way! One member was a school teacher, who in her spare time went floundering and cast netting. (Both are fishing activities.) The floundering I picked up pretty quickly. “Know where your feet are” was a valuable rule! But the cast net; I guess I lacked the patience, manual dexterity, or experience to really make it work. It seemed effortless for her, as if her body and arms were one with the net. The main rules for cast netting seemed to be: 1) Don worry too much about the catch (“Fish are fickle”, she said), and 2)Practice a lot—alone—until it becomes natural, a part of who you are.
What if this were our approach to fishing for people?
In the early 1960ʼs our family would take vacations to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and usually, because we were coming via my grandparents’ home in North Carolina, we would go by South of the Border. Here is the current Wikipedia description: “South of the Border is an attraction on Interstate 95 and US Highway 301/501 in Dillon, South Carolina, just south of Rowland, North Carolina. It is so named because it is just south of the border between North Carolina and South Carolina and is themed in tongue-in-cheek, faux Mexican style. The rest area contains restaurants, gas stations, a video arcade, and a motel, and truck stop and a small dilapidated amusement park with no operating rides but a mini golf course still in commission, shopping and fireworks stores. Its mascot is Pedro, a caricature of a Mexican Bandido”.
It didn’t have all the amenities described in the Wikipedia article in 1963, but it was certainly an attraction to a nine-year-old! Beginning a few miles away there would be those little road signs that would say things like “It’s coming”, “Just ahead”, “Pedro’s waiting”. We usually stopped for gas, or a quick snack. Just as you pulled back on the highway headed to the beach, there was the 25 foot high statute of Pedro holding a humongous South of the Border billboard. And then the road signs began again, ”You Missed It”!
It makes me think about the spiritual road signs that are staked down for us, so we don’t miss what God wants us to experience of life. I remember, more clearly, the times we didn’t stop at South of the Border. Sometimes it was because we were in a hurry to get to the beach, or we took a different (in my mind, the wrong) highway and did not pass Pedro. One time, late at night, I awoke from my slumber just in time to see the “You Missed It” sign. The wonderful thing about God’s grace is that if we keep our spiritual eyes open, and watch the signs to make sure we are on the path God would have us to travel, we won’t awake from our spiritual slumber to see “You Missed It”.
With who or with what did you identify this week? (It is a rhetorical question.
For those of us who were tasked with preparing a sermon, and follow the Christian calendar, our focus was on Jesus’ Baptism, which is all about ‘identity’. The ultimate statement of that comes in God’s voice proclaiming: “This is my Beloved Son”. I had a church member many years ago who had been a rancher out west before coming to Mississippi and being called a cattle farmer. (Same thing!). We were discussing baptism in a bible study one Wednesday night and he shared a story he had heard while living in Arizona.
In the early days, out on the cattle ranches of the West, the unbranded calves that roamed at large were known as “mavericks”. They were claimed by the first person to get their brand on them at the annual round up. A little girl, who had been baptized one Sunday at the Methodist church in her town, was trying to explain to her schoolmates the meaning of the ceremony. “Well”, she said, “I will just tell you. I was a little maverick out on the prairie and Jesus and that preacher put the Jesus mark on my forehead so that when He sees me He will know that I am one of His children.”
It is in times like these that we need to remember that we are all ‘little mavericks’.
I re-use this parable every few years because it will fly!
Almost every year during this season, I will see a sight, a V-formation of birds, that brings back a memory. It was of lying on the banks of the Pee Dee River near Everettʼs Lake just north of the South Carolina line watching the high-flying geese as they migrated along the Atlantic flyway. My father and Uncle Zeb tried to explain all of my questions: “How far do they fly?”, “A long way”; “Where are they going?”, “Up to Canada”; “Why?”, “Enough questions, just watch!” Years later I came across a little book by seminary professor and pastor Browne Barr about churches and the people who are part of them. It was called High Flying Geese, Unexpected Reflections on the Church and Its Ministry. I still think it is one of the best parables about how we might live our lives together through the church.
|Starkville Presbyterian Church PC(USA) Starkville, MS||