Last weekend you could say that I went back in time, forty-three years ago in Chicago.
Linda and I spent a long, leisurely weekend with our daughter and son-in-law, Sara and Ryan Wendt. Ryan is working towards his Masters of Divinity degree at North Park Theological Seminary as he aspires to become a Chaplain. Their apartment is located on the same street corner – Foster and Christiana – as the apartment in which I lived during my orientation year.
As you would imagine, a lot has changed over the decades. Their apartment building is far more appealing than mine, and the campus aesthetics have improved drastically. People gather at Tre’ Kronor and at Starbucks on Foster Avenue, taking the place of the two Greek-owned diners from my era – Lori’s and George’s.
I have also changed in these last forty-three years, and the spark for some of them can be traced back to my decision to study in Chicago.
I had a singular purpose in my decision to leave Fuller Seminary in Pasadena for a year. Back then it was the one option – spending time as a resident student at North Park Seminary – for those seeking credentials with The Evangelical Covenant Church, my life-long denominational family.
If we let him, God can use our decisions and our experiences – however big or small – to mold and shape us as he would wish.
Since the 60’s there has been a large sculpture on the North Park University Campus. The title Learn of Me comes from the invitation that Jesus gives to every person:
Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. *
Come to me. Learn from me – you and I are invited to learn from Jesus, and accept his ways, his preferences, the distinctions of his kingdom.
My recent weekend in Chicago gave me the opportunity to see again some familiar sights, a couple of them being campus landmarks. They carry reminders of a couple of ways that Jesus has been inviting me to learn from him – how he has been and is changing me.
Will you learn from me?
Will you follow if I lead you on paths that won’t be comfortable and easy?
For my year in Chicago, three to four nights a week I worked as a waiter at the Marriott Hotel near O’Hare Airport, often getting home around midnight or later. One of the best decisions I made – thanks to some sage advice from a friend – was to rent space in a garage for my car. That spared me from engaging in a delightful late-night Chicago tradition, desperately trying to find a parking place. Great fun in a snowstorm.
There it is. It’s not very pretty, and it wasn’t back then either. But it sure made me smile to turn onto Berwyn Street and tuck my car in for the night, all comfy-cozy, just a couple of blocks from where I lived. I thanked God many times during that year for that small but significant shelter.
Human nature being what it is, I’m still tempted to keep looking for that garage, as it were – seeking out that which is comfortable and easy in life. But that’s not what Jesus has promised or called his people to seek. And there have been years when Linda and I didn’t get the comfy garage we hoped for.
In 1985 I did not want to become the Pastor of Escalon Covenant Church, but said yes to the call. In 1995 I wanted to leave Escalon, but I sensed God was calling me to stay, and did so until 2005. In 2006 I lost my job with the regional conference, and a few months later took a tough assignment, helping River Ridge Covenant Church recover from a nasty church split.
All these years later, I am so grateful for each of these places of service and for the people with whom we served. True to his character and his promise, God was with us in those tough times – just as he promised he would be – and he taught us some wonderful lessons.
Will you learn that your preferences are just that – preferences –
and not necessarily divine principles?
Will you accept that the way others worship
and live out their faith is also acceptable to me?
There were not many similarities between California – my lifelong home through my youth – and the city of Chicago. Adjustment to change was the order of the day. Deep-dish pizza – loved it the first time and still do. Blizzards that bury your car, drivers passing you on the right side, cockroaches almost as big as my thumb – I was not accustomed to any of those.
I had grown up in the Covenant, so I figured that all Covenant churches were the same. Wrong. Simply put, there were no lectionaries and no pastoral robes and stoles in Covenant churches in California. Baptismal fonts? Nope, we dunked ‘em out west. Yeah, I’d been to a Lutheran church or two in my day, but silly me – I had little idea just how Lutheran the Covenant was in the Midwest, even though I knew that was our heritage.
In front of North Park Seminary sits a sculpture of Lina Sandell, one of the Covenant’s favorite hymn writers. She penned one of my all-time favorites.
Children of the heav’nly Father
safely in his bosom gather. Nestling bird nor star in heaven
such a refuge e’er was given.
God his own doth tend and nourish,
in his holy courts they flourish. From all evil things he spares them, in his mighty arms he bears them.
We do well to learn from Lina … who learned a crucial lesson from Jesus, that his sisters and brothers safely gather in his presence. The way we gather – what we sing, the instruments we use (or don’t), how and when we baptize, take the sacraments, dress, kneel or not, recite our prayers or speak from the heart – doesn't need to divide us or cause division. We are all children of the Heavenly Father, and he tends and nourishes all of us, including those who have very divergent customs, differing from our individual preferences.
Over the years I have sensed that Jesus has been teaching me to accept the different ways that his children express their love for God and for each other, and has done so in a variety of settings.
Almost immediately after leaving Chicago, I traveled around Europe for two months, and in later years have been able to travel to or serve in another dozen countries. I’ve sat and learned with and from my Catholic sisters, and convened with Orthodox and Copts, Quakers and Pentecostals.
For several years in Escalon all the churches were invited to the community center on World Communion Sunday. We worshipped and took the bread and cup together as children of the Heavenly Father – Lutherans and Presbyterians and Methodists, Baptist and Assembly of God, Covenant and Christian Reformed … and yes, my delightful friend the Catholic Priest, would slip in the back. Those gatherings were slices of heaven!
A portion of Psalm 119:63 is carved along the bench in a planter near the University Library. I have taken this as my own creed for decades; may it be an inspiration and a blessing to you also.
I am a companion of all who fear you.
Benediction of Blessing
May you accept Jesus’ invitation to come to Him and learn from Him … for the rest of your life.
May you be willing to follow him on paths that are comfortable and those that aren’t.
May you be a companion to everyone who fears God.
* Matthew 11:28-30 King James Version
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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. TM