Thirty years ago today, I stood in the pulpit at West Genoa Methodist Church and read, word-for-word, my very first sermon to a very attentive crowd of about 15 aging souls. I distinctly remember feeling two very intense emotions: fear and panic. After all, I was a steel industry-marketing guy. If church attendance did not conflict with my tee-time at the local country club, I was a somewhat faithful Sunday pew squatter, but I was a complete “ZERO” when it came to religious knowledge. The church powers chose to inflict me upon those unsuspecting parishes, until a more able body could be found!
About 45 minutes after the benediction at West Genoa, I found myself up-to-the-plate again, reading, word-for-word, the very same sermon to a huge throng of about 40 folks at Ledyard Methodist Church. I survived both without cardiac arrest. Nobody at Ledyard or West Genoa stood to applaud, but nobody laughed hysterically at me either. On the way home, I decided that the whole experience was a lot more fun than peddling metal. Six months later, I resigned from my company and went off to seminary.
I have rarely regretted changing the course of my life at the ripe old age of 33. Since that panic-stricken morning in Upstate New York, I have met and been privileged to fall in love with some of the greatest people on the planet! I still can’t believe it? They actually pay me to love people and flap my gums for 20 minutes every week. It doesn’t get much better than that!
A couple of years ago, I found a copy of that first sermon in an old file box in my attic. I read it. I was horrified by what I said to those long-suffering folks in West Genoa and Ledyard. What I read to them, word-for-word, was AWFUL! CRAZY!! NON-SENSICAL!!! EMBARRASSING!!!! There is, however, no escaping responsibility for my words. I said them. I believed them. I only hope and pray that nobody remembered them. I am afraid to dig any deeper into that old file box for fear that I might have (and probably did) say something even worse. However, I do cut myself some slack, because I know that, when I exhaled the words of sermons past, I believed them to be God’s truth. It’s not my fault that God has changed her mind over the years.
After thirty years of being in the God-business, I have certainly learned that I am NOT a know-it-all, but I did think that I had SEEN it all. Last week, however, while taking a walk with my wife, I saw something new. As we rounded a bend in a deeply rutted dirt road, we saw a dog taking a young man for a walk. Karin, however, noticed that some other critter was walking beside them. Neither one of us was certain what the third person in that trinity was until we got a bit closer. Then, my wife exclaimed with surprise, “I think it’s a duck!”
Well…if it waddles like duck and quacks like a duck, it most likely is a duck. Yes! It was a dog and a duck, with a few feathers out of place, taking their master for an afternoon stroll walk. They were a trio! They acted as if there was nothing unusual about this as they walked and waddled along in formation down that dirt road.
We stopped to talk. We learned that the duck’s name was Shadow. Karin asked the young man if the dog and Shadow got along. He really didn’t have to answer her question, because as we stood there, that dog and duck were obviously enjoying each other’s company. As we moved on, dog, duck and Dad contentedly walked and waddled off in the opposite direction
I have been asking myself, “Why did that odd trio stick in my bill?” I do have an answer. If a dog and duck can get along, why can’t we get along? Even if there are a few ruffled feathers between them, why can’t the Israelis and Palestinians get along? The Ukrainians and the Russians? Muslims and Christians? Hispanics, Caucasians, Asians and African-Americans? Rich and poor? Democrats and Republicans? Why do we have to draw up sides? Even if we quack rather than bark and walk rather than waddle, we ought to be able to paddle together in the same pond or walk down the same dirt road with one another.
A prophet once dreamed of a peaceable kingdom, a world in which a “lion will lie down with a lamb.” I know of a dog and a duck that are bringing to life that prophet’s vision in real time. So whether of fair or dark skin, fur or feather, why don’t we join that dog and duck in living the Prophet’s dream. Can we at least take a “quack” at it?