A Foretaste of the Feast to Come
If you asked me what my favorite ministry is I would be tempted to answer as any parent would if asked which child was his favorite child. “They all are!” This is the best and safest answer. But I can answer that, although I enjoy all of my ministry opportunities, I do have a favorite.
My favorite is the monthly chapel service at Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital. This ministry is unique in that none of the participants are my members. I don’t have to be there, and they don’t have to attend. There is no collection plate and no budget. They call me pastor as a courtesy and I consider them my flock purely out of affection. I never know who will attend or how I will be received. Some days are a pure joy, such as when the patient choir sings. Other days are more like being a substitute teacher for a bunch of seventh graders on the day before the end of school. I consider it pure ministry.
One of the joys of following Jesus is the happy result of the illogical instruction of the Apostle Paul in his second letter to Corinth, “for we walk by faith, not by sight…” By illogical I am merely stating common human experience. When have you ever been confident, or “of good courage,” while not looking where you were going? There is an evolutionary biology reason we jump involuntarily when something moves at our feet. A snake is the only thing that can bite and kill us from below our feet. Have you ever tried to walk down a stairway in the dark? Did you feel confident or “of good courage?” No, you didn’t. To walk by faith, not by sight, is the exact opposite of normal human behavior.
When I came to Kalamazoo, preaching at chapel at Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital (KPH) was not in my “ministry plan.” I was initially asked to fill in as needed. The ministry was still profoundly the ministry of Pastor Louis Grother, Pastor Emeritus of our mother church, Zion. In the summer, when my schedule was a bit lighter, I would occasionally attend just to be supportive. After Pastor Grother’s death, Pastor Mark Couch took over the ministry (alongside his campus ministry) and invited me to preach once a month. Because of privacy laws, the patient chapel is closed to visitors. However, I would love to film the patient choir singing—I am always moved by the sincerity of their voices—I have thought of it as being a foretaste of the heavenly feast to come.
Pastor Grother retired from Zion at Easter of 1985. He and his wife, Ruth, took an entire three-week vacation and then returned to Kalamazoo. He immediately began to find things to do, one of which was to pick up preaching at chapel at KPH. I was not surprised when I found this quote from Pastor Grother’s book, As Time Goes By.
“And [KPH] Chaplain Boley asked me to come back to State Hospital for the weekly services on Tuesday — and fellowship with Frances, Cindy, Ruth, and Bernice, and cookie ladies. Here you feel again with the good Father (Roman Catholic) and Chaplain Boley — and the ladies — and the patients — a foretaste of what heaven is going to be like.”
Pastor Grother preached at KPH just before his death at 100.
“To walk by faith, not by sight” is to follow Jesus, not knowing where you are going. The instruction given by Jesus in following Him is to “deny yourself and take up your cross.” The promise given by Jesus in following Him is the promise that “I am with you even to the end of all ages.” The joy of following Jesus is found in the experiences we could never imagine but that only Christ could imagine for us. The problem of only walking where you can see is that you are now limited to only your future. Trusting in Jesus and following Him allows you to walk in the future He has planned for you. It can be a very different future.
Blessed Advent and Merry Christmas
PS. Pastor Grother’s favorite story at KPH: While visiting a unit within the main building, sometime in his late 80s (or even early 90s), one of the patients looked at him with a bit of exasperation and exclaimed, “You aren’t dead yet?”