A New Look at a Great Book:
March 22, 2009
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
If thou shalt seek the LORD thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! Our title and our topic for today is “A New Look at a Great Book.” And we’re talking about “crossroad” scriptures – scriptures that changed our lives. Our resident clergy, Rev. Dave and Rev. Marion, have talked about, and today I will talk, about scriptures that have made a difference in our lives. I want to tell you today about a scripture that I had to confront with enormous energy, a scripture that was so powerful to me and so life-changing that I want to share it with you this morning.
I grew up in the church. I was very fortunate. I have a little black and white picture which I cherish of a dark-haired gentleman and his wife standing proudly next to an old Studebaker, along with my mother and father. The gentleman is holding a little bundle in his arms. You can see some black hair from underneath that blanket. Yeah, it was me. It was my baptism day, in October of 1951. I cherish that picture. I love it. The people in my life cared enough to bring me to church. They let me know that God loved me from a very early age.
I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church and served as an altar boy. Later, when I turned 11, I became the assistant organist at that church. I love the church! I always have. I love its services; I love its scripture; I love its beauty; I love its people. But as I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church, I found there was something missing in my heart. There were two things that I missed. One of them was a sense of community. I don’t know what churches were like when you grew up, but in the particular church I was a part of at the time, nobody seemed to talk to anybody much. If you were walking into the church and you said hello to someone, they might look at you as if you’d said hello to them in a supermarket. I missed something about the fellowship of the church.
And I missed a certain aspect of a personal relationship with God. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but it was missing. But God knew that that emptiness was there, and God was taking care of it. There were certain challenges in my relationship with the church as I grew up. When the pastor announced that the principal organist and choir director was leaving and that a 16-year-old kid was going to take over as choir director and organist, there was a certain amount of misgiving in the choir. So things were a little bit tense.
Enter the Methodist church. A neighbor friend came up to me and said, “Linden Methodist Church is looking for an organist. Why don’t you go audition?”
I said, “Okay.” The Methodists were a very kind people, then as now. They gave this 16-year-old a try and a break. I became organist at that church and discovered some things. First of all, there was a remarkable, warm sense of community. People said hello to me. People were kind. They were gracious. They invited me to their picnics. Virginia Thorp made coffee for me in a percolator between services every Sunday. It was good coffee; it was strong coffee, and the hymns were faster at the second service.
They were so kind. Come Communion Sunday, they said, “Won’t you come take communion with us?”
I said, “What? I’m not a Methodist! I can’t do that!”
And they said, “Oh yes, you can.” And I took communion with them. I loved the pastor. Fred Jenkins was a cheerful, gray-haired fellow with blue eyes. He had a nervous condition and when he spoke from the pulpit he had a speech difficulty, and he preached from index cards which regularly spilled on the ground. He’d have to retrieve them. But he spoke from the heart, with sincerity and with a great love for God and for people. I’m grateful for him and for that congregation.
By and by, I said, “I think this is for me.” But that spiritual longing was still there. And now, let me tell you about that special scripture…
One Saturday afternoon, I was practicing the organ for the service the next day. I was waiting for the arrival of the tenor who would be singing the solo from Mendelssohn’s “Elijah”, and I was playing the piece and reading the words to it:
“If with all your hearts ye truly seek Me, ye shall ever surely find Me. Thus saith our God. Oh! that I knew where I might find Him, that I might even come before His presence!”
“If with all your hearts you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me. Thus saith our God,” based on Deuteronomy 4:29, “If thou shalt seek the LORD thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul.”
I stopped playing, and I thought about it. I felt directly confronted and challenged by that scripture. And I said, “This is the entrance, and this is the challenge.” I prayed, and I said, “Dear God, if it is so, if this challenge is true, then at this very moment I declare that I truly seek You. Let it be so. Let me find You. Amen.”
I took a breath. And I confess to you, there were no streams of light through the stained-glass window. There was no angel choir in the distance. But there was an assurance in the heart that things would be different from now on. And I can tell you, my friends, that they have been. It was the beginning of an intense spiritual journey, and intense love for God that has grown and grown and taken me along many paths, including the wonderful blessing of being your pastor. The journey goes on.
And I remember that initial moment to this day, forty years ago but still powerful in my heart. It was a crossroads scripture for me that brought me into a unique relationship with God.
Next week, I want to talk with you about the rest of the story and about my encounter with Jesus Christ. But for this week, let me say this: what is the key scripture for you? What has your faith journey been like? What has your faith history been like? Is there a verse of scripture that you hold dear, that has challenged you and opened the door for you?
I invite you to think about it, because God is knocking at your door, too, and inviting you to a relationship with Him that lasts forever. More next week. God loves you. I do, too. Have a blessed week. Amen.
© 2009 Anthony J. Godlefski