This morning I want to tell you a long story. It doesn't take long to tell, it just covers a long period of time. When I was in the sixth grade, my family attended Christ Episcopal Church, in Cincinnati, Ohio. (My parents had found this church when they had married because my Mother came from a large, outgoing kind of Roman Catholic family, and my Father came from this very stoic German Lutheran family. My father was not about to do anything Pope-ish and my Mother was not about to do anything Protestant, so they wound up at the Episcopal Church.) By the time I came along, the third of three children, they were firmly ensconced there. I was taken every Sunday to Christ Church, Cincinnati.
Those of you who know the City of Cincinnati will recognize that that it is a church very similar to Calvary, right downtown. We drove past a number of Episcopal Churches to get to Christ Church, I kept raising the question with my parents, "Why are we doing this?" They were convinced that it was important to do this because they saw at Christ Church the same kind of energy for the work within the church as for the outreach beyond the church. They were anxious that I should see that the Christian faith was not about me and God. It was about the way in which God was at work in the world, and that I should take my part in making a difference.
I've been very grateful for that all my life because it's given me a kind of vision for that balance. (In many ways it accounts for the fact that when Bishop Johnson asked me to fill in here for a while, I was willing to do that. I see at Calvary a similar broadness of vision.)
One of the great things about going to Christ Church, Cincinnati, was that they had a system of Christian Education in which the same teaching team, beginning at the sixth grade, would follow the same class through high school. It was a great idea. I'm not sure why every church doesn't do this. You really got to know these adults. You saw them as models and mentors, and they moved with you. We kids thought it was because they were learning more, therefore, they were able to teach the next grade.
It was a
wonderful system. I was lucky enough at the sixth grade to be with the
team headed by a man named Don Hogue. Don Hogue worked for a company called
the Garlock Packing Company. (I don't know what it is that they packed
and I don't care. But I tell you that because it figures in this story.)
Sunday School consisted of about a dozen of us sitting around and talking
with Don Hogue. What Don Hogue talked about was his week in review--what
had happened to him, who he talked with, and how he saw God at work in
these relationships of his life with his family and with his colleagues
Let’s sort of speed forward here and come to my senior year of college. I had long since, I think, forgotten about Don Hogue and the New York Thru-way and all of that. But, through a curious set of circumstances, which I won't bore you with, I found myself that August on my way to seminary in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I had loaded up what earthly belongings I had in a U-Haul trailer behind a Chevrolet of questionable reliability. In the car with me were my wife and my six-month-old son, and we were headed across, of all things, the New York Thru-way, on our way to Boston.
It was wonderful going along, because all of those towns that I'd heard mentioned by Don Hogue, suddenly there they were. I felt like I was somehow retracing the steps of Don Hogue who had prepared the way. Everything was just going fine until we got about fifty miles into the State of New York and it began to snow. Now, it is August, remember? This was not a predicted snow. It turned into one of the major snowstorms in the history of New York State. In the course of about five hours, some eight inches of snow fell on the New York Thru-way. As we were going along I began to get a little edgy about what we were going to do. We had no plans, we certainly had very little money, and the snow kept falling. We saw cars pulling off and cars in the ditch.
I decided however much I trusted God and the purpose of going to seminary, I also believed in not testing the Lord your God. So I said to my wife, "We're getting off at the next exit. I don't know what it is and I don’t care. We're not going to stay on this because we will be killed.” So at the very next exit I got off the ramp.
As we came around the turn through the snow I saw (and I'm not kidding you) a twenty-foot angel. I mean an actual twenty-foot angel statute. It marked the place where the beginning of the Church of the Latter Day Saints took place. This is where the angel Moroni gave the tablets to Joseph Smith. Here it was right in front of us. I took that to be a good sign.
We came around the bend to the tollbooth. I applied the brakes, and we sailed through there that like I hadn't even touched the brakes. It wasn't only the snow. We had no brakes! If I had not gotten off that exit, I guarantee you I would not be here today. The master cylinder had malfunctioned or something. We had no brakes. I was able to pull up the parking brake and we sort of skidded into this little town. I sat there, thinking, "Thank you, Jesus." (Now, I would have said that even if I hadn't been a religious person.) We were all alive, and there we were.
We weren’t the only ones having trouble. This terrific, sudden, unpredicted snowstorm had caused chaos in this little town also, and there was nothing open. It was just beginning to get dark when I got out of the car and started walking up and down the street looking around to see if there was anywhere that I could get some help.
About that time a police vehicle pulled up by me with the lights going. The cop gets out and says, "You missed the toll booth." I said, "Actually, I'm glad I missed it, because I wasn't real sure that I wouldn't take it with me." I then explained to him that we had no brakes. He said, "Oh, well, you need to find a garage around here. But I tell you, there's nothing open today." (This was a Sunday on top of everything else.) He said, "You're going to have to wait until tomorrow morning." I said, “I've got my wife and a six-month-old child. Where can we stay?" He said, "Well, there's no hotel here. I don't know what to tell you, but I can call on the radio and see what we can do."
While he called on the radio, I started looking around. On the other side of the street, directly opposite from where the car had come to a stop, there was this big sort of Charles Adamsy-looking house--a big Gothic house. In the front lawn there was a sign that said "Garlock Packing Company," and I thought, "Whew." I walked across the street and rang the bell.
This very nice woman came to the door and I explained to her our situation. I said, "The reason I rang your doorbell is because Don Hogue, this guy you probably have never heard of, twenty years ago was my Sunday School teacher and he worked for Garlock Packing Company.” She said, "I know who Don Hogue is. This is the Don Hogue Executive Training Center. It has been open for three years nows. People come and they live here for a week at a time, and we do a training program with them. We don't have a training event right now. We would love to have you and your wife come and spend the night." We were able to get the brake thing fixed the next day and we were on our way to the seminary.
I can tell you that in three years of seminary with some of the finest academic minds in the country at the Harvard Divinity School, I learned nothing that was more important than what I learned in that twenty-four hour period--that in some unbelievable, wonderful way, we are always and forever in the hands of God. No matter what happens--if terrorists bomb our country, if the economy goes down the drain, if you have lost a loved one, if your job goes down the tubes--you are in the hands of a God who loves and cares for you beyond your wildest dreams. If I wrote the story I just told you as a piece of fiction and tried to sell it, people would say, "Come on. No way."
Over a period of twenty years, God had been present and active in my life preparing a scenario, delivering a message that was beyond any belief or plan. It is stunning. It is awesome. It leaves you speechless.
I recall that story in the New Testament where the men have been fishing all night long with no success and they're giving up. They’re saying, "When they're not biting, they're not biting, you know? We're going home." And Jesus says to them, "Put the net down on the other side of the boat." They say, "Okay. You don't know a thing about fishing, but we'll humor you. We'll put the net down on the other side." Suddenly, the thing is so full of fish the boat starts sinking, and they say, "Wow. This is not normal. Something is happening here." They fall on their knees there in the boat and they say to Jesus, "We are not worthy. We are not worthy."
Packing Company, Don Hogue, seminary, snowstorms. We are not worthy, and
yet God counts every hair on your head. Whatever happens to you--whether
in this life or in the world to come--you are in very good hands.
Copyright 2002 Calvary Episcopal Church
Gospel: John 14:15-21
Copyright ©1999-2006 explorefaith.org