We had a wonderful moment a few weeks ago to reach out and love someone looking for warmth and a safe place to rest. A young man was walking down Hwy 51, shoeless, in the cold of a Monday night. He looked up, and down the hill, he saw a light. He came to the light and rested on the porch until the cold penetrated too much. He pushed the front door of the sanctuary and was able to force it open with little damage. He looked for a blanket but must have not looked too hard, because there were blankets stored behind the piano area. He saw the Lenten purple scarf on the cross in the front and took it off. He didn’t touch money or sound equipment that he could have stolen; instead he turned up the thermostat, wrapped the scarf around him and went to sleep on one of the pews near the front door. Tuesday morning, one of our members noticed the slight door damage, called a trustee, and the two of them cautiously went into the sanctuary. After checking for any damage near the front, they went down the middle aisle, finding no damage. They found no damage and no loss of equipment. What they did find was a sleeping young man curled up under the cross’ scarf. He had followed the light and found sanctuary in our sanctuary! That’s why we are here: to provide a sanctuary of peace, warmth and light where others might rest and be comforted from the harsh world around us. God is so good. We have been asking Him to clarify why we are here. We have been asking God how He wants to use us to extend His kingdom, fulfilling what we pray every Sunday: “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done!”
But that’s only the beginning of this story. We can learn much more from how our members reacted to the revelation that our precious building had been broken into. After discovering the sleeping young man, they did not wake him. Rather, they left and called the police. When the police officer arrived, they told him that nothing had been stolen, and that they did not want to press charges that would prevent this young man from having a future, like a felony that would hinder him from having a successful future. They entered the sanctuary again and woke the man. The policeman found out some of his story and, noticing his thin body, one of our members went to the kitchen and got him food to eat. Then, as the officer was getting ready to take the man to the police station, they committed to providing him with shoes, warm clothing and anything else he might need. You see, they realized that God provided them with this moment to bless someone else who had no shoes and no warm coat. They were Jesus’ hands, reaching out to care for another in need.
We've just come through the Easter season. At this season, a couple of thousand years ago, the one true living God reached out to all of us. He saw our needs and sent his Son to die so that every need we could ever have would be taken care of, starting with taking care of our sins, transgressions and iniquities that separate us from God. When our sins are covered by Jesus’ blood, we can hold up our heads, live, and have a future. But, we must recognize our condition: that the world around us saps warmth and life from us. To survive as we travel the roads of this life, we have to look for THE LIGHT shining in the darkness where we can find warmth and rest: THE SANCTUARY provided by our Father in heaven through Jesus Christ his Son.
Do you know your condition? In the book of Revelation, Chapter 3, Jesus talked to the Christian church in Laodicea. Jesus said, “You think you are rich and need nothing, when actually you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked.” Knowing our present condition is crucial for life. OR, are there people you know who don’t realize their present condition and need to be awakened to their need for a sanctuary? God has called Pennington Chapel to be his sanctuary, and it is here for everyone. Invite your friends to come, find comfort and warmth. Discover the sanctuary you have been searching for all of your life!
When I was a child attending Bethlehem Elementary in Barrow County, I learned an ancient English carol. These are the words I remember: “Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, won’t you please put a penny in the old man’s hat. If you haven’t got a penny, a ha-penny will do, If you haven’t got a ha-penny, then God bless you!” I sang it with classmates so much that it is deep within my heart and the song pops out of my soul every Christmas. Think with me how this song describes experiences that are similar to ours today and experiences that are very different from our’s today.
In our present circumstances we have in common with this ancient song an excited anticipation of Christmas coming, we certainly all enjoy both delicious, special foods that are made at Christmas and opportunities to help out those less fortunate with donations.
In contrast, what do you see in this ancient song that is very different from our experiences today? “The goose is getting fat,” is one phrase most of us don’t identify with. Note that families at this time had only one goose that was fattened for Christmas feasting. We on the other hand have a variety of grocery stores where we can purchase all sorts of meats, including not only goose and duck, but also all types of hams, roasts, and even artificial meat products that look like meat, but are enjoyed by vegetarians. How blessed we are to be surrounded by so much abundance. Another verse I noticed in the ancient song that is far removed from our experience is giving a “penny to help someone in need.” Today a single penny, or even a half-penny, purchases nothing. We more appropriately today give 1,000 pennies ($10) or more to make a difference in someone’s life. That would take quite a huge hat to contain, wouldn’t it? Even more interesting is to consider that the beggar has his hat open in a public place to receive donations. During this plague of Covid, there are few beggars on the streets because none of us are walking down the street; rather, we drive up in cars, put on masks, slip into stores and get what we need and slip back into the safety of our cars. We seldom interact with the poor on the street.
But, stepping back from the song, and stepping back in time, we pause to think about the king of all kings, stepping out of his comfort zone and entering ours as a poor baby, helpless and vulnerable. He joins all of us, especially those of us who forget our true condition. Without Jesus we are just like the old man with his hat out; we are beggars in need of a Savior. For too long we have sought help from random passers by while the Lord of life holds out his hand to give us abundant lives.
Do you have a song that is deep within your heart and stirs you during the Christmas season? This Christmas allow your heart to be stirred to consider your true condition. Let this be the Christmas when the Lord of all puts a new song in your heart, and changes you from a beggar to a wealthy provider. “Joy to the World, the Lord has Come!”