Growing up outside the church, I never would have imagined that one day, a pastor would use my story as a sermon illustration. However, I was honored when Rev. Dixie Brachlow, the Associate Pastor of Fairfield Presbyterian Church asked if she could quote a portion of my post “Healing the Wounds of the Bible Belt” in her sermon this past Sunday titled, The Extravagant Gardner. I love the way in which she tied my story to Jesus parable about seeds in Matthew 13:1-23. Below is an excerpt from Rev. Brachlow’s sermon which she has graciously allowed me to share with you:
“Wendy McCaig is a person I’ve admired from a distance, a wonderfully gifted woman. In 2004, she founded a Christian organization called Embrace Richmond, which has helped hundreds of Richmond residents. It has as its mission: To strengthen impoverished communities by empowering community-based leaders and engaging people of faith in works of service. Her first book about it just came out, called From the Sanctuary to the Streets. But I was surprised by Wendy’s personal story. In a recent online blog, she said:
“I grew up un-churched in the heart of the Bible belt. I became a Christian in my late twenties after a series of miscarriages launched me on a spiritual journey. Even though I have been a part of the local church for more than 15 years, I still approach the church with the eyes of an outsider and a heart for those who, for whatever reason, have not found a home within the walls of the church. I am particularly drawn to those who feel unwelcome and judged by the church.”
She goes on to tell of her childhood experience with a beloved Uncle Doug who was sent to war in Vietnam. After his return, he went through times of deep depression and drank heavily. Vietnam had, she overheard adults around her whisper, “messed him up.” Nowadays, we recognize he suffered from PTSD. With no help available, he took his own life. She explained:
“He was the first person I can remember losing to death. Dealing with death is never easy, especially for a ten year old, but adding suicide to that equation makes it even more difficult. As I mentioned, my family did not attend church so the only images of God available to me were those shared by family and friends who claimed to be Christians. I will never forget hearing the words “Your uncle is going to go to hell for what he did,” spoken by a child I thought was my friend. This was the message the Church gave me during my time of grief. These words wounded me so deeply that it was more than twenty years before I was willing to step foot in a church.” (Wendy McCaig, “Healing the Wounds of the Bible Belt,” 5-28-10)
The words that wounded her as a child. I think of the way the birds came and ate the seeds that fell on the path. An unchurched youngster, instead of hearing the church’s message of God’s compassion and the hope of resurrection, was repelled from it for decades. Especially in times of grief and loss, people thirst for meaning and a word of hope and good news of love and mercy. But alas! For Wendy, the birds descended upon that path. Jesus explains in verse 19, When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. Do you see? The birds who pecked away at the seeds of faith were the very Christians who passed judgment upon that uncle.
Such judgments too often serve to twist the Christian message of a welcoming God who came to save the sick and the lost; instead, they serve to shut the door. Whenever there is a suicide, both my theology and my familiarity with mental illness tempers my response. I hold that the person was not “in his or her right mind” to make that choice. Moreover, I believe God’s mercy is more than wide enough to embrace one who is suffering. God’s compassion far transcends our human understanding, which is so inadequate, especially in matters of death. Who are we limited as we are, to judge?“
I never know how my stories will be received by those who read what I write. I see in my blog tracker that you are all out there reading, but I do not get much feedback. Thank you Dixie for sharing how God used my story in your setting. I am honored to be a sermon illustration and I pray God uses the words I write to transform peoples lives and ultimately to transform the church into a welcoming community of hospitality that embraces the stranger.
So here are my questions. Have you ever had the judgments of others snatch away the seeds of God?
I think this can happen in both big ways as in my story but also in small ways. God could plant a seed in your heart calling you to follow, yet the judgments of others snatch that seed up before it grows roots. For example, early on in my blogging, people would ask in a condescending tone, “Why do you want to spend your time blogging?” and I would hear “What a waste of your time!” and question God’s call. Thankfully, there are those in my life who continually speak truth into my life and encourage me to stay faithful no matter what I feel God is calling me to do. Even when it makes no sense at all.