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Walking Through Fire

Stories
Contents
“Walking Through Fire” by Peter Andrew Smith
“Living with More Power” by Keith Wagner
“Dove Power” by Keith Wagner


Walking Through Fire
by Peter Andrew Smith
Isaiah 43:1-7

Linda stopped in front of the courtroom door.

“Are you nervous?” Kelly asked.

Linda nodded. “I’m thinking that coming here was a mistake. What do you think?”

“I think this is your decision to make.”

“Everything seemed so clear yesterday.” Linda sighed. “I knew what happened was wrong and I needed to do something about it. Even when I talked to the prosecutor, I was certain that coming forward and telling my story was the right thing to do.”

“So what changed?”

“Did you see the firestorm on social media?” Linda held up a newsfeed on her phone. “Lots of people think that I should just let it go and not make a fuss about it. Some even say that I am over reacting.”

“Is that what you think?”

Linda shook her head. “That type of hate has no place in this community. If I let it go what am I saying to the poor people who suffered because of what they did?”

Kelly tilted her head. “Then what’s the problem?”

Linda sat down on the bench outside the door. “I’m scared.”

Kelly sat down beside her. “Are you scared of testifying?”

“No. That’s probably the only thing that I’m not scared about. I saw what they did and had no problem picking them out of the photographs. I know the defense if going to try to discredit me but I know what I saw and I’m not afraid to say that on record.”

Kelly looked at her friend. “Then what are you afraid of?”

“All the fuss,” Linda said. “I mean Paul came home last night and it’s all anyone is talking about at his school. What happens when this hits the front page of the paper and everyone knows that I’m the one who saw and came forward? Is he going to get bullied at school?”

“I don’t know.” Kelly shrugged. “Maybe some kids will give him a hard time about it. Maybe some people in the neighborhood will blame you for standing up. Maybe some will resent the bad press our town is getting as a result.”

“You’re not making me feel any better.” Linda paused. “Maybe I shouldn’t testify.”

Kelly rubbed her chin. “What happens if you stay quiet and the people who did this get away with it?”

“I think the people affected will assume that no one cares about them. I know that what those boys did was wrong and they should be held accountable,” Linda said. “But maybe they don’t need me to make the case against them.”

“Is that what the prosecutor said to you?”

“No, he actually said my testimony was crucial.” Linda sighed again. “I guess I’m not sending a good message if I don’t do something. It just feels wrong for people to blame me because I refuse to turn a blind eye to a terrible action.”

“So how about you do something right in response?”

Linda raised her eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

“What happens if you testify and say in open court what you saw them doing?”

“Then the boys will probably be found guilty.”

“More than likely.” Kelly nodded. “Which means that our community will say very clearly that what they did was evil and there is no way it can be excused or tolerated. The people affected will also know that they haven’t been abandoned and forgotten.”

“I guess. I worry though...” Linda sat quietly for a moment. “I just don’t know what to do.”

“Where do you suppose God is in all of this?”

“I suppose God is with the people hurt by what they did. Jesus taught that God was with those who were suffering unjustly.”

“True but don’t forget that God is also with you.”

“Me?”

“Yes, God promises to be with us when we go through difficult times especially when we are following in the way Jesus calls us to walk. Standing up and making sure that people are protected from hatred is certainly the Christian thing to do. There is no doubt in my mind about that.”

Linda closed her eyes for a few moments. When she opened them, she stood up and stepped toward the courtroom door. “I know what I need to do.”

Kelly stood up and opened the door for her. Linda took a deep breath and walked into the courtroom to tell her story. As she entered she saw the cameras and microphones but more importantly she saw the victims targeted by the hate crime. She felt a certainty wash over her and she stepped forward to tell the truth and witness as a follower of Jesus.

* * *

Living With More Power
by Keith Wagner
Acts 8:14-17

When I was ordained in 1983, hands were laid upon me by a bishop and several other clergy of the United Methodist Church. Over the course of my ministry, or during my whole life for that matter, I never gave much credence to my receiving the Holy Spirit.

This past summer I visited the city of Worms in Germany. I had the unique opportunity to visit the site where Martin Luther refused to recant his opposition to the Catholic Church. In that place they have erected a monument to Luther. Not far away, in a garden area, the actual place where he recanted, there are Luther’s shoes, which have been casted in bronze. They are large enough for people to stand in them and have their picture taken.

While in Europe this summer I became friends with a retired minister from Michigan. As we chatted we discovered that it was very likely that our grandfathers knew one another in the Evangelical United Brethren Church. We had much in common and we both took the tour to Worms. He offered to take my picture as I stood in Luther’s shoes and I in turn took his. It was a meaningful moment for both of us.

During that moment I felt a real sense of connection with my new friend, with Luther and all those who followed him who have been ordained. I believe that the apostles whom Peter and John laid their hands on must have experienced a similar connection.

“They received the Holy Spirit.” First and foremost they showed love for one another by accepting each other. There was a great amount of tolerance and grace. They most likely greeted one another with warm handshakes and embraces. I would imagine their facial expressions and tone of voice communicated warmth and love. I’m guessing there was a lot of hugs and hand holding. There was a power present unlike they had ever experienced before. It was such a moving experience that it energized the believers to build Christ’s church.

One time I observed a couple who had come to the YMCA to walk on the track. I watched as they hung up their coats and made a few stretches. Then to my surprise the man started walking. I thought his wife would join him on his first round, but instead she started walking by herself. The two walked around the track but not together. At one point during their walk the man passed his wife but kept walking his own pace. She was walking at a slower pace. The two never walked together.

In order for the people of the faith community to be together we have to walk side by side. To be together some folks may have to be patient, slow down, and let others catch up. At the same time, those who are moving slower need to push themselves to keep up. The spirit of God is held at bay when everyone is going at a different pace.

One of the great classics in American literature is the book, The Scarlett Letter. I doubt that most people know what led to the book’s creation: One time there was a man who was discouraged and had a broken heart. He went home and told his wife, Sophia, that he was a failure because he had been fired from his job at the customhouse. Upon hearing the news, she startled him with an exclamation of joy. “Now,” she said triumphantly, “you can write your book!” To that he responded with the question, “What are we going to live on while I am writing this book?” To his surprise and delight, she opened a drawer and drew out a substantial sum of money. “Where did you get that?” he asked. She replied, “I’ve always known you to be a man of genius and I knew that someday you would write a masterpiece. So every week, I saved some of my housekeeping money that you gave me. There’s enough here to last us for a whole year.” Because of his wife’s trust, confidence, thrift and careful planning, one of the great classics of American literature was created.

For me, the laying of hands is mostly symbolic of relationships where people of faith share their resources with one another, make sacrifices, and are generous. When we look back at the apostles we can relate to their ministry and the kind of lives they lived. The laying on of hands gives us an opportunity to claim the power of the spirit that has driven those before us and propels those ahead of us.

* * *

Dove Power
by Keith Wagner
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

We have a tendency to underestimate the power of peace. We normally associate power with force, military advantage, superior knowledge and wealth. But, what enabled Jesus to be in ministry and spread the good news was the power of peace. Following his baptism Jesus received this power from above in the form of a dove. Hence the dove is a symbol of peace.

Notice that Jesus did not receive his dove power from his baptism. It came while he was praying. Baptism may have been the initiator but it was through prayer that the power of the Holy Spirit descended upon him. God’s power of peace is realized not from a single event but through an ongoing relationship with God.

What is dove power? It is the power that helps us to prevail against overwhelming odds. Some may remember the young man who stood in front of the tank at Tiananmen Square? He was committed to peace and thus stood his ground. A human being, without any weapons or armor caused a huge tank to come to a complete halt.

However, you don’t have to bring a tank to a halt to have “dove power.” Anyone who is in relationship with God can make a difference. In Chicken Soup for the Soul, No. 4, Tim Kimmel tells the story about Catherine Lawes. She was the wife of Lewis Lawes, who was the warden at Sing Sing Prison in the l920’s, one of the toughest prisons in the country. After his retirement the prison had been transformed to a humanitarian institution. Lawes credited his wife and mother of three children, who got acquainted with the prisoners, for bringing about the change. She taught a blind man on death row how to read Braille. She learned sign language so she could communicate with a prisoner who was deaf. Many said she was Jesus who had come to live in the prison.

Unfortunately she was killed in a car accident in 1937 and the next day Lawes didn’t report for work. The prisoners sensed something was wrong. Her body lay in state at her home only a mile away. The substitute warden that day noticed that all the prisoners had gathered at the gate with tears of grief and sadness. He was aware of how much they all loved Catherine. He gave his permission for them to go to the house to pay their respects. They all walked to the house, without any guards, and every one of them returned.

When people are dedicated to love and peace, amazing things can happen. Not only does dove power enable us to do extraordinary things, it also enables us to rise above those who persecute us. Those who have the power of the dove are those who “love their enemies, do good to those who hate them, bless those who persecute them, pray for those who abuse them.”

Dedicated and impassioned people of the faith, using their dove power can make a difference. It is that kind of power that God gives the faithful followers who remain in relationship with God and act out their faith with fiery faith.

As I was waiting at a red light, one day, a pick-up truck pulled up next to me. It was painted orange and brown and had “GO BROWNS” painted all over it. The guy was obviously a football fanatic. This impassioned fan was outwardly demonstrating his allegiance to the Cleveland Browns football team. Imagine what that kind of passion could do for the church. When we have dove power we are able to make outward statements of who we are knowing that others in society are going to criticize or make fun of us, yes, even persecute us.

Dove power makes us passionate. Dove power enables us to do extraordinary acts of love, like Catherine Lawes. Dove power causes us to encounter overwhelming odds and even bring the opposition to a complete halt, like the young man at Tiananmen Square. When the people of God have been baptized with the power from on high there is no limit to what they can do.


*****************************************

StoryShare, January 13, 2019, issue.

Copyright 2018 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to the StoryShare service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons, in worship and classroom settings, in brief devotions, in radio spots, and as newsletter fillers. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to permissions@csspub.com or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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