Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (Matthew 18:1-14) transports me back several years to the little farm of Edna Bryan and her now-deceased husband, Mac, just a few miles outside of Winston-Salem. When they first moved there, it was in the midst of a large swath of woodland and pastures, but as the years progressed they became surrounded by high-end developments and gated communities, and their small agrarian plot was like an oasis of nature in the midst of modernity. It fit them well. It was always such a trip to drive through those developments, and then find the prophetic sign at the driveway that named their five acres: Vine and Fig Tree. Turning into that drive was like entering a time machine, as the woods opened onto a view of the horses and farmhouse and vegetable garden. Many years ago, when they kept sheep, my in-laws, Ed and Jean Christman, visited Mac and Edna on a cold February day not too long after the new lambs had been born. One of the runts of the lambing season had not fared well, and Mac had found it just before Ed and Jean’s arrival, frozen to death, and he had carried it into the house and laid it on the floor of the living room, close to the fireplace. Ed, not knowing the situation, squatted down next to the little lamb, stroked it and said, hello there little lamby. Lo and behold, the little lamb shook itself and jumped up, surprising everyone with the life that was still there. Mac roared with his characteristic mouth-wide-open laughter and immediately named that lamb Lazarus, honoring the resurrection power they had all witnessed.
I think Jesus would have loved visiting the Vine and Fig Tree farm, not only to be around the pastoral scene of sheep and horses, but to be around kindred spirits who shared his love for the little ones of life, the forgotten, the abandoned, the left for dead. Mac and Edna had this capacity to connect the larger than life challenges of peace and justice around the world to the everyday challenges of children in their local community. One demonstration of this is the chicken house that still stands there at the Vine and Fig Tree, a short walk from the house, which Edna remodeled early on to create the first kindergarten in the region. It reminds me that the word for the kind of work Jesus calls us to do is ministry = mini-stry = tending to the small, the miniscule, the minor things. We are, after all, not called to maxistry. Jesus ministered; he tended to the least of these, the belittled, those who shrank down in the face of large oppressive powers. Whether they were the abandoned street children who gathered around him, or the prisoners, or the hungry, or the naked, or the sick, he was able to pay attention to each one as if they were the whole world to him, even as he journeyed toward the cross where he would battle and conquer the larger than life prince and power of the air.
Mac and Edna, like Ed and Jean Christman, give me good models of the kind of pastoral ministry Jesus embodied and called us to follow. While Mac has gone on to his glory, and Edna and Ed and Jean are not able to travel like they used to, their spirits certainly were felt last week at the annual gathering of the Baptist Peace Fellowship, which they attended for so many years. I think they would have celebrated the many stories of resurrection life and the power of the Spirit that was demonstrated there. I think they would have been particularly drawn to the work of the children and youth ministry, and I can imagine Mac leading us all in a mouth-wide-open roaring laugh as the children marched through the cafeteria and sang Eating Chocolate in the Light of God to bear witness to fair trade and equal exchange food, or as two teenage girls started a new social networking group called “It’s Ok to be Gay” as an attempt to counter the bullying and discrimination so many teens face, and to create a safe space that might lessen the troubling statistics of teen suicide among the minority communities. It all reminds me of a great old song I learned from listening to Emmylou, who spent her teenage years not too far from where we were there at Eastern Mennonite. He who once gave His life for the sheep, Out on the mountain still He is searching, Bringing them in forever to keep, Going up home to live in green pastures, Where we shall live and die never more, Even The Lord will be in that number, When we shall reach that Heavenly Shore.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.