Points To Ponder/Lay It All Down For What Really Matters

by Pastor Dennis Whitmore

At the beginning of my pastorate in Laurel, I was aware that the church had gone through a stressful time. Both the staff and the members were discreet and did not dwell on the details of what had been; deciding rather to focus on what was ahead.
A few months into it, I was among twenty pastors attending a three-day workshop. As we introduced ourselves, stating our names and the churches we served, the instructor paused after I named my church. In sort of a reflex response, he looked at me with sympathetic eyes and said, “oh...that church has a lot of problems. “With a puzzled look on my face, I said I didn’t know about that; but, “love covers a multitude of sins...mine and theirs.” (c.f. Proverbs 10:12, I Peter 4:8) And isn’t it true?
I learned this scriptural truth long before I knew it was scriptural. From age 14 to 18 I had two afternoon newspaper routes in South Baltimore. Often the truck drivers were late and therefore I’d get my papers out late. Most people understood; however, there was one grumpy woman who took a verbal jab at me almost every time I was late. It was frustrating for several reasons.
First, I couldn’t change the situation. I depended on the competence of the truck drivers who brought me (or failed to bring me) my papers. What did they care that I had 70-80 people mad at me?
Secondly, I was running as fast as I could, from row house to row house. Up five steps, down five step- run 20 feet- go up five steps and down five steps. A bakery, a funeral home, four bars, a corner store, countless houses with those steps, and I was running with a stack of newspapers in a belt on the front of my chest. I credit this job with the cycling legs I have today! Anyway, it’s frustrating to push yourself to the max and still meet critics who say it’s not good enough.
Finally, this was frustrating because my main complainer was old enough to be my grandmother. I couldn’t tell her off! I just had to suck it up, apologize, and walk home with steam coming out of my ears.
One day, I heard that “Mrs. Nasty Pants” was in the hospital. It was cancer. Her husband would meet me at the door to receive his paper and his eyes said it all. He was worried. It didn’t look good. By then I had my driver’s license, so I borrowed Dad’s car and went to the hospital. I think my paper route was my first course in pastoral care. It was a valuable lesson in what matters.
When I walked into her room, she was visibly moved. Surprised. Delighted. I don’t remember what we said or how long I stayed. I don’t even remember what compelled me to take that risky step. It was just the right thing to do.
When she came home, she never said one negative thing to me or about me ever again. Even when I was late and was bracing myself for when she opened her door- I saw a grin, a warm greeting and the unspoken acknowledgement that “Yeah, I hate that you’re late, but I love you!”
And she really did. When she died, both her family and her neighbors told me how she constantly talked about my visit to her hospital bed. It had meant a lot to her. Her opinion of me changed, and frankly so did my opinion of her. I really loved the old grump; especially when I got to know her and realized that she really was a sweet and very kind woman.
There were three frustrating things I could not control or change about my dilemma then, but one thing I could do, I did. God gave me the courage, and He was in that moment. “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins.” (Proverbs 10:12 NKJV) “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for love will cover a multitude of sins.” (I Peter 4:8 NKJV)
Just because doing the right thing is hard, that doesn’t make it any less right. Love is the simplest solution to the most complex situations; however, it is also the riskiest and most difficult thing to apply.
Love goes beyond what is expected and often beyond what is deserved. Sometimes it requires stretching, or even breaking the rules. Love can cost you a lot and possibly yield you nothing (at least that you can see).
What is the cross but the ultimate symbol of love? That’s the level of love toward which every Christian and every church should strive. It was an instrument of death. Everyone who saw a man carrying one knew where he was going. Jesus says to His followers “pick up YOUR cross and Follow Me.” His love for us put Him on that cross. And because He gave His life in love for us, we are called to “lay down our lives for the brethren.” (I John 3:16)
Love is risky. Love is costly. Love is often misunderstood or misinterpreted. In pastoring it defines the difference between a shepherd and a hireling. The one lays down his life for the flock; the other looks out for himself. In your life you will find yourself in situations in which self-sacrificial love is the cross you are called to bear. Are you ready to die so that Christ can truly live in you? Are you ready to lay it all down for what really matters?
Pastor Whitmore serves God at The First United Methodist Church in Laurel, MD. Visit www.fumcl.org.