Sermon 2-26-2017 ‘Companioning with Christ’
Sydney Carter’s Obituary by Paul Oestreicher in The Guardian Unlimited (17 March 2004)
This past Monday I took my sister Carol Jean to the airport. I knew the way, but we got a bit lost, trying to use my car’s GPS. (Coey likes to fiddle with gadgets!) Somewhere out there, I drove past two streets: Melody and Harmony. That’s had me thinking all week long. When my sister came, I had such fun singing harmony with her! As wonderful as it was to sing our offering to God last Sunday in Meeting for Worship, the real fun was practicing together on Saturday night. We goofed around at the piano, singing two or three hymns, until we chose the ones that fit best together, and then we had to decide who would sing what when. Trading parts back and forth – soprano, alto, tenor high, descant and melody. You just never know what’s going to happen when Ruth Ann and Carol Jean get together!
And that’s just the way it is when God companions with us. We just never know what’s going to happen. But one thing’s for sure – we’re no longer a solo act. Someone is there to add another line – to give depth and fullness to what we’re trying to express, to what we’re trying to learn, to what we’re trying to be.
Those travelers on the road to Emmaus eventually got home, but they never expected to travel with such a companion as Christ Jesus – God with them. In fact, they were sure God was dead to them. What had started as a Passover Party had ended with a Crushing Crucifixion. They were certain Christ had left them, hopeless. That there was no companion left. No spiritual accompaniment to be had.
Sydney Carter was not a Quaker, but it was said at his death, “If any church could come to holding Sydney's allegiance, it was the Society of Friends, with its rejection of dogma, and its reliance on personal experience and social activism, and its affirmation of God's presence in every human being.” In a survey of schools in the United Kingdom, it was found that ‘One More Step’, ‘Lord of the Dance’, and ‘When I needed a Neighbor’ were the first, fifth, and sixth most sung of songs under copyright used in school assemblies. [The Times [London] (29 August 1996)] One that our Meeting loves is “The George Fox Song” with its ‘shaggy, shaggy locks’. Five of Sydney Carter’s songs are included in our Friends Hymnal, and we’ve sung an additional one, One More Step, this morning as our opening song. During a lecture tour in Perth, Australia, Carter attended a Quaker meeting at which a woman stood up and sang "When I Needed a Neighbour, Were You There?" She was unaware that Carter was present; he was deeply touched and greatly delighted.
The truth is, we need neighbors. We need companions. We need sisters and brothers who can sing the songs of Zion with us, hanging our lyres, our lutes, our harps on the willows when we grieve. Just as those disciples walked those seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus, we need someone to walk with us.
And not only when we grieve. It’s just as important to have a fellow traveler with us when we have something joyful to share! A new job, a child or grandchild born, a funny story, a trip we’ve taken… the list goes on and on. The picture on the front of the bulletin is an icon from centuries ago. It represents Christ and a companion. It was given to me and my fellow pastors as we completed a two-year journey together as “Companions in Ministry”. Research had shown that pastors stay longer in churches, have fuller relationships, and more productive ministries when and if they companion with other pastors. I was part of a group of pastors from across the nation who tested that theory. We were challenged with forming our own ‘companions in ministry group’ gathering on a regular basis for support, encouragement, study, and prayer. I did in Iowa, and walked with them for three years, before coming to First Friends. Since then, I’ve traveled with Diane, Chris, Bill, Jim, Tom, and Doug once a month. They’re all pastors in our neighborhood – our Shalom Zone – and they’ve been my pastoral companions in ministry.
In the song about the neighbor, Carter asks a question: ‘When I needed you, were you there?’ By the end of the fourth verse, the question is answered with an emphatic statement – ‘I’ll be there.’ Christ has already answered that question for each one of us, but continues to ask us the same for our neighbors. Who is walking beside us, grieving and hopeless? Who is on their way to Coburn Place, battered and afraid for their life, and the lives of their children? Who is working beside us, stressed by their job and the expectations it makes on their time and responsibilities? Who needs to know what Christ is doing, how Christ has taught you, what you’ve learned from your experiences in God? Who needs to know that Christ is there? That it’s Jesus – not the dead Jesus in Jerusalem – but the real, living Christ in us – that’s walking with them?
Remember friends, that we are Friends. We take seriously – or need to - the understanding that Christ doesn’t only walk beside us, but that Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, inhabits and indwells us. Christ walks in us. God sings in us. God accompanies us, and asks us to accompany the world we live in. This is no small thing. It is something I see in you all the time. It is something I hear about you, as I move through the community.
As I look out at you, all these stories flash in front of me. One that I remember this morning is when I was being picked up to be taken to the airport. I was talking to the driver, and he found out I was a Quaker, and found out that I worked at First Friends. He said, “You know, my mother lives at this place—it’s a wonderful facility—it’s called The Forum. She gets the best care there. And I think the man that administrates it is a Quaker.” And I said, “Oh yes, that’s our Tim. That’s Tim Yale. He’s an incredible person.” And I got to brag about Tim. And I got to tell him about Suzi Davis, and all the other friends we’ve known who’ve stayed at The Forum. People we know, people we love. He didn’t remember Tim’s name, but he knew he was a Friend. This happens to me all the time.
Whether people first recognize the Lord in you, or as the Lord reveals himself in time, people see God in you. I know I have. I know I do! You have been my good companions in this journey we’ve shared in ministry. You’ve been good friends. You’ve been merciful, and helpful to me – in times of sorrow, confusion, loneliness, and boundless joy. This is what Christ-in-us is for each other. Christ walks in us. God sings in us. God accompanies us, and asks us to accompany the world we live in. Do we companion with Christ? Do we walk the long distance until Christ reveals himself in us? Are we willing to do the same for others?
The Servant Song; Richard Gillard
Will you let me be your servant
Let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I might have the grace
To let me be your servant too.
We are pilgrims on the journey
We are brothers on the road
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load.
I will hold the Christ light for you
In the night time of your fear
I will hold my hand out to you -
Speak the peace you long to hear.
I will weep when you are weeping
When you laugh, I'll laugh with you
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we've seen this journey through.
When we sing to God in heaven
We shall find such harmony
Born of all we've known together
Of Christ's love and agony.