Of Dogs and Death

walter closeup

Walter (racing name Pj’s Pasadena) 8/20/2006- 7/14/2020

(Author’s note: this article first appeared in the August 2020 FUMC Winnfield newsletter The Cross and Tower)

On July 14, 2020, my wife and I made the difficult decision to put our almost 14 year old retired racing Greyhound, Walter, to sleep. He had a good life, a successful racing career (view Pj’s Pasadena’s racing career here Pj’s Pasadena Racing Career), love and a comfy dog bed at our house for almost 9 years. Over the last few months, we had witnessed his daily decline due to spinal stenosis, cataracts, gum disease, and hearing loss. It had become difficult for him to have a quality life, even to stand, walk, or run. Still, the decision and the finality of the moment was and is very difficult.

As a pastor, one of the questions I am asked is will we see our pets in heaven? Do “all dogs go to heaven” as the movie says? In short, I don’t know. There is no direct indication in the Bible that our pets will or will not meet us in heaven. Theologians are split on the issue. Some say that animals do not have a soul in the same way as humans, thus they will not experience the afterlife in the same way that we do. Others say that since God created all the animals (Genesis 1-2), saved them during the great flood (Genesis 6), and made a covenant not only with Noah but all creation in Genesis 9, that animals could experience an afterlife similar to humans. Some also make a case that God promises us that heaven will be a happy place and if seeing our pet again will make us happy, then surely God has the power and the capability to make that happen. In Isaiah’s description (Isaiah 11) of the new heaven and new earth, several different kinds of animals are present. Revelation 19 describes Jesus’ return on white horses. It appears that animals could be  present in heaven and the afterlife.

1973_00004_Kevin_s_first_year_ 1 (00.01.10.666)

The author with his family’s American Samoyed, Cotton at less than 1 years of age.

As one who learned to walk by pulling up and holding on to our American Samoyed,  Cotton, who always dreamed of becoming a veterinarian and started college as a pre-vet major, one who visited the LSU Veterinary school on many occasions, volunteered at the Baton Rouge Zoo, and has been owned by many dogs and cats through the years, I hope to see them again. But whatever comes, my trust is in Jesus and his grace, mercy, and love. Whatever comes, the animals I have known and loved have made me a happier and better person.

A veterinarian was called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolf hound named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife Lisa, and their little boy Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle. Belker was examined and found to be dying of cancer. The veterinarian told the family we couldn’t do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.

As they made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told the vet they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience. The next day, The veterinarian felt the familiar catch in his throat as Belker’s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that he wondered if the boy understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.

The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion. They sat together for a while after Belker’s death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives. Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, ‘I know why.’ Startled, they all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned them. He said, ‘People are born so that they can learn how to live a good Life – – like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?’ The six-year-old continued, ‘Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.’

Do all dogs and pets go to heaven? I don’t know, but I certainly hope so.

Thinking about dogs and death,

Kevin Smith

The Birds of the Air

busy place

The bird feeder is a popular place in the mornings and evenings!

One of the benefits of the pandemic for most of us (except for essential workers- thank you!) has been to spend more time at home with friends and family. Many (including me) have also spent more time in the yard or finding ways to enjoy God’s great outdoors. While I have been spending more time at home, I have enjoyed watching the birds at my backyard feeder.

cardinal fly away

Female Cardinal flying away

As a child, I was an animal lover. My favorite show was Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom hosted by Richard Perkins. The closest I could get to Wild Kingdom was our backyard bird feeder outside our large dining room window in Beaumont, Texas. We would eat meals, visit, and watch the birds. We even got a Peterson’s Book of Wild Birds and would check them off as we saw them, marveling at the many species and colors.

tufted titmouse

This Tufted Titmouse came in for a quick bite

I still have several birdfeeders in the yard. During the pandemic stay at home order, I saw cardinals, sparrows, chickadees, tufted titmouse, mourning doves, blue jay, mockingbirds, house wrens, house finches, white headed nuthatches, brown headed nuthatches, brown thrasher, red bellied woodpecker, hummingbirds, and even a few migratory rose breasted grosbeaks. Maybe even a few other species that I missed or forgot along the way. That is at least 15 species of the birds of the air who have visited my backyard!

brown thrasher

Brown Thrasher- a rare treat!

Thinking about all of these birds reminded me of a favorite passage of Scripture in Matthew 6. “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” Mathew 6:26-27 (KJV). We have had much to worry about during the pandemic. Will someone I love get sick or die? What will happen with my job? What about our students and schools? When will be able to return to church? These and a thousand other questions worry us. But every time I looked out of my window at the birds, I was reminded that God takes care of them. How much more so will God take care of me?

Every time you are worried or stressed or concerned, maybe simply look out of your window at the birds of the air and remember that God takes care of them. Since God takes care of them, surely He will take care of us!

sunset snack

Sunset snack for a male and female Cardinal

Doing Life and Church in a New Way

Who could have imagined that life could change so quickly for our world, our nation, our state, and our community? Because of the COVID-19 virus, our lives have changed. Social distancing has become a buzzword and a way of life. For a while at least, we cannot gather in large groups. Almost all large group gatherings, including church services, have been postponed or canceled. We have had to live in a new way. We have been forced to do church in a new way.

church-online-heroInstead of preaching to a congregation, I am preaching to a screen. Instead of gathering in person for worship, we sit in front of a screen. Instead of leading a Bible Study live with a small group, I am prerecording it for viewing later. Like you, I have been forced to do things out of my comfort zone, such as speaking to a camera or becoming a video editor.

isaiah 43_19The good news is that we follow a God who is always asking us to do things in a new way. Isaiah 43:19 says “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” God is always in the process of doing new things, but we do not always see it. God’s promise is that even in the darkest of days, in the wilderness or in the desert, God will make a way for us.

Who knows? Maybe we will slow down. Maybe we will spend more time with our family. Maybe through living and doing church in a new way, God may speak to us in ways that would not have happened if life was “normal.” Maybe someone will see and know the message of God’s love and grace online, who would never physically venture into a church. Honestly, I am still uncomfortable with this “new” way, but it is what we must do right now for the safety of our families and our community.

There is much unknown about the future. What I do know is that even while living and worshiping in a new way, God has not left us or forsaken us. And maybe, this new way of living and doing church could be God doing a new thing in our hearts and lives. Do we perceive it?

Doing Life and Church in a New Way,

Kevin Smith

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

March means that spring is here. The days warm and lengthen. The flowers bloom. But the surest sign of spring, may be at the ballparks all over the country. The sound of ball hitting leather, bat hitting ball, and the umpire yelling “play ball” brings to mind memories of days and evenings spent at the ballpark. Spring training for Major League Baseball has commenced, and my beloved LSU baseball tigers are already several weeks into another season.

One sound you’re likely to hear at the ball park is the coach sayinbaseballg “keep your eye on the ball!” “Watch for your pitch!” “Focus!” Of course, focus is not exclusive to baseball and is needed for all sports such as basketball, football, track, and many others. What is true at the sports field and basketball court is true for life, we must maintain our focus and keep our eye on the ball on all things in life, including our faith.

 

Hebrews 12:2 reads “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, hebrews 12_2the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” It is easy to become distracted while playing ball, and it is easy to become distracted in life. In life, we can become distracted by the busyness of life, work, school, family, and so many other things. While those things are not bad things, they can distract us and take our focus off of Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

Consider where your focus is. Is it on Jesus? Why or why not? What is keeping you from focusing on Jesus? Like the coach saying to his ball player “keep your eye on the ball! Focus!”, we cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by anything around us. Keep your eye on the ball and, most of all, on Jesus!

Keeping my eyes on the ball and on Jesus,
Kevin Smith

Finish Strong

(Author’s note:  this article first appeared in the January 2020 edition of “The Cross and Tower” newsletter published by FUMC Winnfield)

It has been a successful and historic season for LSU football. As a passionate LSU fan and proud LSU Alum who witnessed one, count them, one, winning season dulsu football helmetring my three years at LSU (1992-1995), it is almost heaven to witness an undefeated regular season, a SEC Championship, many postseason awards, number one ranking, and a chance to win a national championship. Yet with those successes come high expectations. It would be a great season, but a disappointing one, if the Tigers fail to finish the season strong and come up short in the college football playoff. They must finish what they started.

So it is with Christmas. Christmas, with all of it’s wonder and cheer, wise men and shepherds, poinsettias and lights, and the wonderful gift of Jesus, God’s only son, is only the beginning. We cannot leave Jesus in the manger. The one born on Christmas grows to be a great teacher and leader, was crucified and buried for our sins, then rose on the third day, and now He lives in us. We remember and celebrate all of these facets of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection through the Christian year, which begins with Advent instead of a calendar that reads January 1.

My encouragement to the LSU Tigers is to finish strong! Play hard! Finish what you’ve started.

My encouragement to you and I after Christmas is to finish strong! Watch Jesus grow. Listen to his teachings. See him die for you and me. Witness the empty tomb. Watch for his return. Spread the good news about Jesus. It is our task to finish what Christmas has begun.

I found this Christmas poem by Howard Thurmon many years ago and it has become a favorite of mine.
The Work of Christmas
When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and the princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock, The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among brothers, To make music in the heart.

GEAUX TIGERS! Finish strong!

Go Christian! Share the good news about Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection!

Finishing Strong,
Kevin Smith

THE Way Forward

winding-road-1556177_960_720(Author’s note- this article was written for the October edition of The Cross and Tower Newsletter for FUMC Winnfield)

For over 40 years now, the United Methodist Church has been in turmoil over homosexual marriage and ordination of homosexual clergy. In 2016, the General Conference, the worldwide meeting of the United Methodist Church, elected a group of 23 persons from a range of theological perspectives, called the Commission on a Way Forward, to help us (hopefully) reach a solution to this impasse. They have presented three options to a called session of General Conference will take place February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis. You can access the entire 93 page report here: Commission on a Way Forward or a shorter 2 page infographic summary here: Overview of Proposals for 2019 General Conference. Other options and petitions could also be presented, discussed, and voted on at the General Conference meetings.

What will happen at General Conference? Will one of the plans be approved? Will the United Methodist Church split or dissolve altogether? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone else knows either.

But I do know the answer to the question is there a way forward. The answer is clearly YES! Actually, I know not only A way forward but THE way forward. THE way forward is to follow Jesus each and every day. THE way forward is to follow the one who said “I am the way the truth and the life” in John 14:6. THE way forward is to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” in Hebrews 12:2. THE way forward is to follow Jesus.

THE way forward is to be faithful to our mission. Our mission is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Our mission is to make a difference, to make disciples, in our community and around the world. We accomplish this through the many ministries and programs of our church- Sunday School, Sunday morning worship, Wondrous Wednesdays, acolytes, youth, Kids World, Helping Hands, Kairos, Chancel Choir and so many others. This is our mission. This is our task. Obviously, this mission falters or even fails without your support through the giving of your prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. We cannot forsake our mission. Jesus is depending on us.

What will happen in February? I don’t know. But I do know that I plan to come to work on February 27. I do know that we will have Sunday morning worship on March 3. I do know that Jesus will still be Lord, working and moving in the world and in my life. I do know that our mission will still be the same- to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

I want to encourage you (and me) to not be distracted or in despair over the called session of General Conference and a way forward. Instead let us focus on THE way forward, following Jesus and being faithful to our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Following THE way forward,

Kevin

Carolyn Sue Smith Window (Lyre-Dove with Olive Branch and Ark- Lamb on Book of Seven Seals)

IMG_2741(Author’s note: This is the manuscript for my message on August 5, 2018 at FUMC Winnfield and is the ninth in my “Windows to the Soul” sermon series expounding on the Christian symbolism present in our church buildings and sanctuary windows at FUMC Winnfield. My sources are listed at the end. Much of this information is from “FUMC Winnfield: Christian Symbolism and History” published in 2012. I decided to publish in case some were absent and would like to read my message.)

I. Introduction

Over the last weeks we have been looking at the reminders of God all around in the symbolism of our church building and stained glass windows.  Today we come to window number 8 in memory of Carolyn Sue Smith.

Carolyn Sue Smith was born March 23 1939 in Winnfield.  She died Sep 6 1950 (aged 11) in Winnfield.  She is buried in the Winnfield Cemetery.

Her obituary reads: Tragedy struck suddenly this week in Winnfield with the untimely death of Carolyn Sue Smith, 11 year old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Troy Smith. Carolyn became very ill Tuesday afternoon at her father’s store, the Jitney Jungle supermarket, and was taken to a local hospital, where she died at 2:45 a.m. Wednesday.

Funeral services were conducted at the First Methodist Church with the pastor, Rev. P. M. Caraway, the former pastor, Rev. Fred S. Flurry, of Hammond,, and Rev. Alwin Stokes, officiating. The Methodist choir sang, “Lead, Kindly Light.”

Carolyn was born in Winnfield on March 23, 1939 and had lived here all her life. She was in the sixth grade in Winnfield School, where she was especially interested in science and math and did excellent work in this field.  She was everyone’s friend, having a sweet disposition and a habit of being kind to everyone. Her classmates loved her and showed this by electing her to several positions of honor in her classes.

She was a member of the elementary chorus and the band at school, and was a member of the Girl Scouts. She was active in the Junior Department of the Methodist Church and was a member of the Methodist junior choir.  Surviving, besides her parents, are one brother, Troy Lynn; her grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. F. O. Lattier, Winnfield, and Mr. and Mrs. J. L. Smith, Timpson, Texas.[i]

Carolyn was the sister of Troy Lynn Smith- Missy Smith’s husband. She had an Aneurysm upstairs at the store and died next day.  Died Sept 6 on Missy’s birthday, whom she had just met. It was a tragedy that affected their family for many years to come.  But even in her few years on this earth, she seems to have made a positive impact on those around her.  We remember and celebrate her short life, as well as the beautiful gift of this window in her memory.

II. Body

A: Lyre

IMG_2733The lyre again represents praise or worship. Psalms 33:2 reads, “Praise the Lord with the lyre, make melody to Him with the harp of ten strings!”

The lyre dates from before the Bronze Age (400-3200BC) and may have evolved from ancient harps.  “The fundamental difference between a lyre and a harp, is that in a harp, the strings enter directly into the hollow body of the instrument, whereas on a lyre, the strings pass over a bridge, which transmits the vibrations of the strings to the body of the instrument – just as on a modern guitar.”  Concerning the number of strings, each lyre varied in design. Typically there were three, four, seven and sometimes ten strings, each representing certain patterns of frequency (sound) considered appropriate in the design of the instrument i.e. meaning and purpose of the communication.[ii]

The ancient Hebrews had two stringed instruments, the “kinnor” (harp) and the “nebel” (lyre).  In both instruments the strings were set in vibration by the fingers, or perhaps by a little stick, the plectrum (as Josephus says). The strings were made of gut, metal strings not being used in olden times. The body of the instrument was generally made of cypress (II Sam. vi. 5) or, in very precious instruments, of sandalwood (I Kings x. 11; A. V. “almug”).

The kinnor and nebel are often mentioned together. As in the case of all instrumental music among the Hebrews, they were used principally as an accompaniment to the voice. Instruments were used on joyous occasions, such as banquets and festive processions (Gen. xxxi. 27; I Sam. x. 5; II Sam. vi. 5; Isa. v. 12), and especially in the Temple service (Ps. xxxiii. 2, xliii. 4; Neh. xii. 27; I Chron. xvi. 5); here also in accompaniment to songs of praise and thanksgiving (I Chron. xvi. 16; II Chron. v. 12; Ps. xxxiii. 2, lvii. 9, lxxi. 22). They were never used on occasions of mourning (Isa. xxiv. 8; Ezek. xxvi. 13; Lam. v. 14; Ps. cxxxvii. 2; Job xxx. 31). The nebel, the lyre, seems to have been reserved exclusively for religious occasions (Amos v. 23; Ps. cxliv. 9). In connection with secular events (Amos vi. 5; Isa. xiv. 11), its use appears to have been regarded as unseemly and profane. It is evident from the Old Testament that the lyre could be played while the performer was walking (I Sam. x. 5; II Sam. vi. 5; Isa. xxiii. 16); hence they must have been easy to carry.[iii]  The lyre reminds us of the joy of music and praising God through song.

B:  Dove with Olive Branch and Noah’s Ark

IMG_2735The dove with olive branch is a symbol of peace. When Noah’s ark is used, it stands for salvation or more particularly the salvation which the Church affords. Thus it is often used as a symbol of the Church.

We already examined the symbolism of the dove on two prior windows, so this morning I’m going to focus on what Noah’s Ark Represents. This morning we shall examine briefly certain aspects of the story of Noah’s ark and how it relates to Christ. If we fail to see Christ in the story of Noah’s ark, we miss the point.  The image of Christ portrayed in the Ark offers many parallels.

-The ark was constructed of wood.  The cross upon which Jesus died was constructed of wood.

-Noah was instructed to make a single door in the side of the Ark; it was the only entrance into the Ark, and access was controlled by God.  Likewise, Jesus said that He is the door, and that no one comes to the Father except through Him.

-The Ark carried all of its passengers safely to the destination that God had prepared for them.  Jesus said:  I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. (John 14:1-3)[iv]

-The word Noah means rest or comfort. Christ is our comfort and rest (Heb 4:4-11).

-Noah built the ark according to God’s revelation, not his own wisdom or imagination (Gen 6:15). This is symbolic of Christ and Christ’s workers, building the church according to God’s plan and not their own plan (Matt 16:18, John 6:38, 1 Cor 3:10-15, Eph 2:20-22).

-The dimensions of the ark was 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high (Gen 6:15).  We lose the significance of these measurements when we translate them into English dimensions. The number 3 signifies the Trinity (Matt 28:19). The number 5 signifies the creation (four, Rev 4:6-9) plus God (one). 5 (four plus one) is creation in God, or strengthened creation. God created humans with 5 fingers, 5 toes and 5 senses (hear, see, smell, taste, touch).

-Like Christ, the ark was for the salvation of all living things, not just mankind (Col 1:20).[v]  Pictures depicting the ark can even be found in the catacombs where the early Christians gathered.[vi]  Noah was saved from the water, but through the waters of baptism we are saved.  The dove with olive branch and Noah’s ark reminds us God’s salvation through the ark and through Jesus.

C: Lamb on book of seven Seals

IMG_2738According to John 1:29, when John the Baptist saw Jesus, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” This and a similar statement in John 1:36 have brought into being two of our most meaningful symbols of Jesus Christ. One form of this symbol shows a lamb reclining on the Book of the Seven Seals mentioned in Rev. 5:1. The Easter banner symbolizes Christ’s victory over death.

The lamb represents Jesus. A lamb summed up all the sacrifices of the Old Testament.  A lamb was described it as “the theological shorthand for all the sacrifices of the Old Testament.” This lamb showed the evidence of having been killed, yet it was alive! Here is Jesus, the One spoken of in prophecy; He is a man, yet sinless; He has been crucified and has been resurrected! Death could not hold Him! He is worthy to break the seals and shower blessings upon the human race by redeeming it.  A lamb is the epitome of weakness. As the Lamb of God, Jesus portrayed perfect weakness – He did nothing in His own power; He remained on the cross and died for His enemies!

What do the seals signify? Only the Lamb, whose very life has overcome death, is worthy to open the seals and to redeem humanity. [vii]  This seems to be an appropriate end to the windows ringing our sanctuary, for this window panel, more than any other, looks toward the victorious second coming of Christ when the lamb shall become the lion of Judah.  The lamb reminds us of the sacrifice of Jesus and that he is coming again.

III.  Conclusion

We love our stained glass windows and we should.  But what do people see in us?  Does the light of Christ shine through us?  The lyre reminds us of the gift of music and the songs of praise to the Lord. The dove and Noah’s ark remind us of God’s salvation through Noah and Jesus. The lamb and the seven seals remind us of Jesus’ sacrifice and the day when he will return.  The short life of Carolyn Sue Smith reminds us that there are no guarantees in life and that we can impact lives in only a few short years.    The question is will we allow the light of God to shine through us as brightly as it does these windows?

[i] https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/59211940/carolyn-sue-smith

[ii] https://designconsciousness.blogspot.com/2017/01/the-significance-of-lyre.html

[iii] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7266-harp-and-lyre

[iv] http://www.icr.edu/what-noahs-ark-represents

[v] https://www.talkjesus.com/threads/the-significance-of-noahs-ark.49679/

[vi] https://earlychurchhistory.org/christian-symbols/the-deluge-as-a-biblical-symbol/

[vii] http://www.thegoodseed.org/insights/revelation5.html

F.C. Wren Window: Winged Lion of St. Mark-Faith, Hope, and Charity-Winged Man of St. Matthew”

IMG_2631(Author’s note: This is the manuscript for my message on July 8, 2018 at FUMC Winnfield and is the fifth in my “Windows to the Soul” sermon series expounding on the Christian symbolism present in our church buildings and sanctuary windows at FUMC Winnfield. My sources are listed at the end. Much of this information is from “FUMC Winnfield: Christian Symbolism and History” published in 2012. I decided to publish in case some were absent and would like to read my message.)

Introduction

Wren 1Today we will focus on Window Number four in honor of Dr. and Mrs F.C. Wren.  Funeral services for Dr. Floyd Carr Wren, prominent retired dentist and civic leader, were held at 3 p.m. Friday, February 10, 1967 in the First Methodist Church of Winnfield with the Rev. Richard Walton, pastor, officiating. He was assisted by Rev. Fred Flurry, Sr., and the Rev. R. H. Staples, former pastors.  Dr. Wren died at 12:20 p.m. Thursday, February 9, 1967, in a Winnfield hospital following an apparent heart attack. He was 87.

A native of Webster Parish, Dr. Wren received his degree in dentistry from Vanderbilt University, and first located in Jonesboro, where he served as Mayor while also practicing dentistry.  He came to Winnfield in 1916 when he became a part of the religious and civic life in the community being active until the time of his death.  He practiced dentistry until his retirement in 1945. At one time during his career he experienced an arthritic condition and operated a Winnfield dairy until his recovery.

Dr. Wren was Winn Parish registrar of voters from 1940 to 1948, and served as chairman of the Red Cross for 12 years. He was also active in the Salvation Army and other civic movements and was honored by the Winnfield Jaycees and Woodmen of the World for his vigorous activities as a senior citizen.  A charter member of the Winnfield Rotary Club, Dr. Wren also served on the City Council and was a member of the local school board in the early years.  He served as Sunday School superintendent for 30 years and was a retired steward of the church.[i]

wren 3Funeral services for Mrs. Leta O. Wren, 87, of Winnfield, were held at 3:30 p.m. Friday, June 5, 1970 at the First Methodist Church of Winnfield with Rev. J. C. Skinner and Rev. Robert Gage officiating. Mrs Wren died at 11:15 a.m. Thursday, June 4, 1970, in a Winnfield hospital. She was a native of Caldwell, Ark., but lived in Tennessee during the early years of her life.

The widow of the late Dr. F. C. Wren, a Winnfield dentist, Mrs. Wren was an active and devoted member of the First United Methodist Church where she taught for many years. She held other offices in the church, including the presidency of the W. S. C. S., a women’s organization of the church. She was also a member of the Reader’s Review Club.[ii]

Dr. and Mrs. Wren were survived by; a daughter, Mrs. Thomas H. (Margaret) Harrel, Sr. of Winnfield, and two grandsons, Thomas Harrel, Jr., and George Harrel, all of Winnfield.  They were preceded in death by a son, Floyd C Wren Jr, who died in a fire in August of 1953.  The Wren’s were pillars of the church and were often relied on by the pastors.  Dr. Wren was a fine Christian man who rarely uttered a cross word and actively gave out tracks to talk to others about faith.  Their grandson, Tommy, described Dr. Wren as one of the greatest men he has ever known and is still his hero to this day.  The Dr. Wren Sunday School classes was started and named after him in his memory.  Dr. Wren wrote much of the original history of the church that I am using as a source for this series.  The Wren’s and their family have passed a great tradition of faithfulness to us, as well as a wonderful gift in their beautiful window.

Body

A: The Lion of St. Mark

img_2632.jpgThe lion, as king of beasts, represents the royal character of Christ and refers to the opening verses of the Gospel in his reference to John the Baptist, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness . . .” The halo of light, the nimbus, behind the head denotes sanctity.

Who was St Mark? While we are not certain, most scholars believe St. Mark the Evangelist was most likely a Hebrew and likely a priest of the tribe of Levi (as St Bede the Venerable teaches). Most scholars believe that St Mark did not know Christ during his earthly life but was converted to the faith by St Peter some time in the first years after Pentecost. This is the most natural read of Scripture, when St Peter testifies that St Mark is his spiritual son (“Mark, my son”, 1 Peter 5:13).   He accompanied Peter to many places, even to Rome. Later, he was sent by St Peter to preach the Gospel in Egypt and was Bishop of the Church in Alexandria. Here he gave witness to Christ through martyrdom.

Why is St Mark pictured as a lion?

The images of the four Evangelists are taken from Ezekiel 1:5-10 and Revelation 4:7-8 and in large part from the manner in which they begin their Gospels. In Mark, interestingly, there is no birth narrative of Jesus or description of his early years.  Instead, the Gospel of St Mark opens with the mighty roar of St John the Baptist’s call to repentance.  So the gospel of St. Mark is often pictured under the powerful image of the lion.  St Mark is also thought of as the founder of monastic life and of the desert fathers. Since St Mark is the father of the Church of Alexandria and this Church produced the great movement of consecrated religious life as hermit, anchorite, monk, or nun, St Mark is rightly considered by St Jerome and John Cassian to be the founder of monasteries and hermitages. Therefore, the image of the lion calls to mind St Mark’s connection with Alexandria and his role as the spiritual father of religious life in the Church.[iii]

The Lion of Saint Mark, is the symbol of the city of Venice and formerly of the Republic of Venice. It appears also in both merchant and military naval flags of the Italian Republic. The Lion of Saint Mark is also the symbol of the award of the Venice Film Festival, the “Golden Lion”, and is prominently featured in the city of Venice.[iv]

The oldest and the shortest of the four Gospels, the Gospel of Mark emphasizes Jesus’s rejection by humanity while being God’s triumphant envoy. Probably written for gentile converts in Rome—after the death of Peter and Paul sometime between A.D. 60 and 70—Mark’s Gospel is the gradual manifestation of a “scandal”: a crucified Messiah.[v]  The lion of Mark is the roar to repentance by John the Baptist and throughout his gospel.

B. Faith, Hope, and Charity

Faith, Hopimg_2633.jpge, and Charity are referred to by Paul in I Cor. 13:13- “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”KJV Faith is belief and trust in the triune God; Hope signifies our promise of eternal life and triumph of truth and justice; Charity, or love, is the center of our religion as taught by Jesus in many ways.

Faith

Representing faith is the cross. We spoke quite extensively about the symbolism and meaning of the cross last Sunday.  Often when faith, hope, and charity are shown together the cross often stands taller than the other symbols.  Faith is also the confidence and the strength to complete a larger task. The symbols of faith, hope and charity together in harmony remind us that God is there to help us each and every day.[vi]

Hope

The anchor represents Hope. It was a relevant popular symbol at a time when seafaring meant that a loved one may never be seen again.  The anchor to moor the ship gives solace and comfort to the wayward ship, as it finds a home. Hope is fundamental to the principals of what it is to believe in a better future.  At a time when danger was typical for travel, the anchor represented hope for home in this life and in the life to come.

Charity

Charity is often represented by the heart, though in our window it is symbolized by an open Bible.  Charity is a derivative of ἀγάπη (agapē), the word used by the English translation of the Bible in the 16th century. It was only in the Challoner Douay Rheims Bible of 1752 and the King James Version of 1611 that the term ‘charity’ was used for the similar ideal of Christian love.  Today, many modern translations use the word “love” instead of charity.  Charity represents the idea the believers should strive to love God and to love others as God loves them. Charity symbolizes the desire to love everyone, including one’s enemies, neighbors and the poor. The three symbols are bound by charity. Charity cannot be achieved without faith and hope because charity is love for all.[vii]  Faith, hope, and charity go together to teach us about our faith and the way that we should live.

C: The winged man of St. Matthew

img_2634.jpgMatthew traced the human lineage of Jesus; therefore, the symbol used for him is a winged man. He emphasized the humanity of Christ. Here again is the nimbus of sanctity.

St. Irenaeus saw Matthew as corresponding to the man’s face because the gospel opens with a human genealogy of Jesus and because, in the view of Irenaeus, Jesus’ humanity is emphasized throughout the book.[viii]

Matthew, meaning gift of God, was a common Jewish name after the Exile. He was the son of Alphaeus, and was a publican or tax-gatherer at Capernaum. On one occasion Jesus, coming up from the side of the lake, passed the custom-house where Matthew was seated, and said to him, “Follow me.” Matthew arose and followed him, and became his disciple (Matt. 9:9). Formerly the name by which he was known was Levi (Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27); he now changed it, possibly in grateful memory of his call, to Matthew. The same day on which Jesus called him he made a “great feast” (Luke 5:29), a farewell feast, to which he invited Jesus and his disciples, and probably also many of old associates. He was afterwards selected as one of the twelve (6:15). His name does not occur again in the Gospel history except in the lists of the apostles. The last notice of him is in Acts 1:13. Although traditionally regarded as the author of the Gospel According to Saint Matthew, modern scholarship questions this attribution. Matthew’s symbol as an evangelist is a man, and in art he is often depicted with sword and money bag.

What happened to Matthew after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension we have only legend. St. Irenæus tells us that Matthew preached the Gospel among the Hebrews, St. Clement of Alexandria claiming that he did this for fifteen years, and Eusebius maintains that, before going into other countries, he gave them his Gospel in the mother tongue. Ancient writers are not consistent as to the countries evangelized by Matthew, but almost all mention Ethiopia to the south of the Caspian Sea (not Ethiopia in Africa), and some Persia and the kingdom of the Parthians, Macedonia, and Syria.  There is a disagreement as to the place of St. Matthew’s martyrdom and the kind of torture inflicted on him, therefore it is not known whether he was burned, stoned, or beheaded.

His Gospel was probably first written in Aramaic and later translated into Greek.  Since Matthew was a Jew, he wrote with other Jews in mind. His gospel spends much time discussing the Old Testament prophecies and pointing out how Jesus fulfilled them.  Mathew’s gospel contains more than 130 Old Testament quotes and allusions[ix].  The man of St.Matthew reminds us of Jesus’ humanity and fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah.

Conclusion

We love our stained glass windows and we should. But this song from Johnny Cash reminds us that they are not the most important things.  God Ain’t No Stained Glass Window God never keeps His window closed.  What about us?  Do we keep our window closed or allow the light of Christ shine through?  The lion of St. Mark reminds us of his roar to repentance by John the Baptist.  Faith, hope, and charity are central themes to our faith from 1 Corinthians 13.  The man of St. Matthew reminds us of the humanity of Jesus through his grand genealogy and fulfillment of scripture.

I close with this editorial by George Larson, editor of the Winn Parish Enterprise.  “Dr. F.C. Wren is gone from this earth but the memory and influence of this rare man will live long in this community and wherever his life touched other people.  He lived unselfishly and fully, holding fast to high principles in every endeavor he undertook.  He was a true Christian, a ‘prince of a man and a great man’ as Rev. Richard Walton of the First Methodist Church described him.

Dr. Wren’s kindness to all men was one of his outstanding traits.  Always interested in his community and its progress, he never ceased to talk and write about its good points and its future possibilities.  He had the courage to speak up for what he believed, whether it concerned a political question, a local bond proposal, or some other controversial issue.

Dr. Wren’s life really centered around his church, to which he gave a lifetime of service in nearly every capacity a layman could fill.  Living, working, and serving were joyful to him.  He was a participant and not just a spectator.  He remained young at heart.

He died as he wished it- being useful and active until the last days of his 87 years.  His passing leaves a void, but his life will always be an inspiration to those who knew him.  Dr. Wren was a great and good man.”  The Wren window reminds us of their faith and generosity.    The question is will we allow the light of God to shine through us as brightly as it does these windows?

[i] https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/25613536/floyd-carr-wren

[ii] https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/62098564/leta-wren

[iii] http://newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.com/2016/04/who-was-st-mark-and-why-is-he-pictured.html

[iv] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lion_of_Saint_Mark

[v] https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-mark/

[vi] https://artofmourning.com/2014/12/25/faith-hope-and-charity/

[vii] https://www.reference.com/world-view/symbols-faith-hope-charity-e40cce894175cf56

[viii] http://www.moodycatholic.com/Saints_Symbols_of_Gospel_Writers.html

[ix] https://www.jesusfilm.org/blog-and-stories/gospel-of-matthew.html

Dickerson Window:(Dove with Olive Branch- Bible over Cross- Easter Lily)

 

IMG_2377(Author’s note: This is the manuscript for my message on July 1, 2018 at FUMC Winnfield and is the fourth in my “Windows to the Soul” sermon series expounding on the Christian symbolism present in our church buildings and sanctuary windows at FUMC Winnfield. My sources are listed at the end. Much of this information is from “FUMC Winnfield: Christian Symbolism and History” published in 2012. I decided to publish in case some were absent and would like to read my message.)

Introduction

Today we will focus on Window Number three in memory of Mr. and Mrs. J.J. Dickerson.  John Joseph “J. J.” Dickerson was born October 6, 1824 in North Carolina and died August 9, 1913 at the age of 88 in Winnfield.  He is buried in the Winnfield Cemetery.  Because of the age, I was unable to find an obituary for Mr. Dickerson but his wife’s obituary also tells us about him.

dickersonHis wife, Mary Margaret Jackson Dickerson died at 8 a.m. Tuesday, May 19, 1925, age 90 years.  Mrs. Dickerson was born in Tennessee February 25th, 1835, moved in early childhood with her parents to Spanish Lake, Natchitoches Parish, where they lived until they moved to Winn Parish, La., in 1859.

On February 5th, 1861, she was married to John J. Dickerson, who soon after the marriage enlisted in the Confederate States Army and served faithfully and loyally during the four years of the Civil War.   Mrs. Dickerson joined the Methodist Episcopal Church South at the age of nine years and gave eighty years of her life in service to Christ and His church. Those who knew her well know that hers was not a profession without possession, for every day of her life was a testimonial that the spirit of Christ filled her soul being daily reflected in her Christian living. The Dickerson home always had a preacher’s room in it where the preachers were received and entertained, such godly men as John Hearn, John F. Wynn, Eddie and Albert Galloway, Dan C. Barr, and others down through the years. Hers was a consecrated, Christian life, opposed to sinful worldliness, in dress, in speech, in manners or any form, always striving to influence those with whom she was associated to lives of simplicity and holiness.

After funeral services at the Methodist Church conducted by her pastor, Rev. P. M. Caraway, assisted by the Presiding Elder Rev. K. W. Dodson, and a former pastor and special friend, Rev. Dan C. Barr, of Oak Ridge, La., her remains were buried in the Winnfield Cemetery amidst a host of grief stricken relatives and friends. The abundant and beautiful floral offerings attested the high esteem in which she was held in the community.

The Dickerson’s were survived by their children: Mrs. H. L. Brian of Verda, La., Mrs. G. M. Wyatt of Couley, La., M. M. Dickerson, Mrs. J. R. Hall, Mrs. B. W. Bailey, and William F. Dickerson, of Winnfield, La.  Published in The Winn Parish Enterprise (Winnfield, LA), May 21, 1925.  The Dickerson’s and their family have passed a great tradition of faithfulness to us, as well as a wonderful gift in their beautiful window.

  1. Body

A: The dove with the olive branch

IMG_2371The dove with the olive branch depicts peace, victory, and the expectation of new life. This symbol comes from the account of the cessation of the flood recorded in Genesis 8:11 (Noah sent out the dove to see whether the flood was receding. When the dove returned with a “freshly plucked olive leaf” in her beak, Noah knew that the waters were receding). Hence the olive branch may be said to symbolize deliverance from the hardships of life and a peaceful life with God in the world to come.

The dove and olive branch is one of the most ancient symbols of peace.  We looked at the dove a few weeks ago in the Hyde window, so this morning, I will focus on the symbolism of the olive branch.  The olive branch symbolizes deliverance from the hardships of life and a peaceful life with God in the world to come.  The olive tree was so important that the reward for winning an event in the ancient Olympic Games was not a gold medal, but a wreath of olive leaves with which the winner was crowned.  The olive also appears in many ancient texts in relation with peace. In Virgil’s Aeneid, for instance, the main character holds an olive branch to offer peace, and in other texts there are records of Roman generals holding up an olive branch to ask for peace after being defeated in battle.

Extending an olive branch meant the ending of hostilities between two parties and signaled the end of the conflict. The United Nations flag contains an olive branch for this very purpose; to end all hostilities between waring nations.  It’s also found on many of the nation’s symbols, like in the 1885 Great Seal of the United States.

In an olive grove, called The Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot. The name Gethsemane means “olive press” and there Jesus had all the world’s sin all pressing down upon Him, as if to crush Him. Here it was that Jesus, “being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44).  It’s as if the olive press was squeezing Jesus by the weight of all of the sins of humanity that have ever been committed and will yet be committed. Olive oils are extracted from olives when they are pressed and Jesus was hard pressed in a garden of olives which are pressed or crushed to produce oil. In this same way, Jesus “was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5).  The dove and olive branch remind us of peace, victory and new life.

B: The Bible and Cross

IMG_2373The Bible and the Cross go hand in hand—both represent knowledge of God’s redeeming love. Bible is Greek for “book” and is accepted by Christians as inspired by God with the divine authority on which the Christian religion is based. With 39 Old Testament books, 27 New Testament, it has been called the window through which we see God and the mirror that reflects our true selves. The cross is the focal point of the Bible—everything before Christ set the stage for His coming; the deeds thereafter pay tribute to His power on earth.  We spoke extensively about the Bible in the Hyde window.  I will focus on the cross this morning

What is the meaning of the cross? Simply put, the meaning of the cross is death. From about the 6th century BC until the 4th century AD, the cross was an instrument of execution that resulted in death by the most torturous and painful of ways. In crucifixion a person was either tied or nailed to a wooden cross and left to hang until dead. Death would be slow and excruciatingly painful; in fact, the word excruciating literally means “out of crucifying.”           Using the cross as a symbol of Jesus is like using a gun to symbolize John F. Kennedy.  The cross was the instrument of Jesus’ death, yet it is the nearly universal symbol of Christianity.

Why did Jesus have to die?  To redeem us. In Genesis, God created a perfect heavens and earth, yet because of sin, our relationship with God was broken and marred.  God the Father sent Jesus to take on human flesh and to be the Savior of His people. Born of a virgin, Jesus avoided the curse of the fall that infects all other human beings. As the sinless Son of God, He could provide the unblemished sacrifice that God requires. God’s justice demanded judgment and punishment for sin; God’s love moved Him to send His one and only Son to be the sacrifice for sin.

The cross not only describes Jesus, but his followers who Jesus called to take up their cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). This concept of “cross-bearing” today has lost much of its original meaning. Typically, we use “cross-bearing” to denote an inconvenient or bothersome circumstance. However, we must keep in mind that Jesus is calling His disciples to engage in radical self-denial. The cross meant only one thing to a 1st-century person—death.  There are places in the world where Christians are being persecuted, even to the point of death, for their faith. They know what it means to carry their cross and follow Jesus in a very real way. For those of us who are not being persecuted in such fashion, our task is still to remain faithful to Christ. [i][ii]  .  The Bible tells us the story of the cross, of Jesus’ sacrifice for us and call to take up our own cross

C:  The Easter Lily

IMG_2375No specific scriptural justification is found for using the Easter Lily but it does aptly describe our hope in the resurrection. When the bulb is buried in the earth, a rebirth comes forth in the beauty of these white lilies with a new bulb for future”

The Easter Lily is the traditional flower of Easter and is highly regarded as a joyful symbol of elegance, beauty, spirituality, hope, and life. The lily has come to symbolize the resurrection of Jesus because of its delicacy of form and its snow white color. The popular Easter lily we use today to celebrate the holiday is referred to as ‘the white-robed apostles of hope.[iii]  Their color symbolizes the purity of Christ, who was free from sin. In many paintings, the angel Gabriel is depicted as handing Mary white lilies, which symbolizes her purity as well. The trumpet shape of the Easter lily represents a trumpet sounding the message that Jesus has risen, and the nature in which lilies grow is symbolic of the resurrection as well. From ugly bulbs that are underground for three years or longer, they become beautiful flowers. This process is reminiscent of Jesus’s brutal death and holy resurrection. Thus, lilies represent rebirth and hope, just as the resurrection does in the Christian faith.

Although Easter lilies are symbols of new life and purity, their history of getting to America is actually rooted in war. Following World War I, soldier Louis Houghton brought a suitcase of lily bulbs from Japan back to the U.S., specifically to his home state of Oregon. Houghton gave the lily bulbs to his horticultural friends, and soon enough, the area along the California-Oregon border, which happened to have prime growing conditions for the flowers, became known as the Easter Lily Capital of the World. After Pearl Harbor, Japanese shipment of Easter lilies was cut off, which brought high demand to the Oregon and California growers, giving the flowers yet another nickname—White Gold.

Oregon and California now produce the majority of the world’s Easter lilies, although there are only about 10 growers left. Easter lilies are difficult to grow, and the process to the final product is a long, precise one. The bulbs have to be cultivated in fields for at least three years, during which they require care, moving, and tending as they progress through growth stages. Once the bulbs are ready to be shipped, they’re placed under strict temperature restrictions to ensure they bloom on time for Easter, which can be a gamble, considering Easter doesn’t fall on the same day each year. So when you pick up an Easter lily at the store, keep in mind the years of work that got it to you.

The following poem by Louise Lewin Matthews captures the spiritual essence of the Easter Lily:  Easter morn with lilies fair  Fills the church with perfumes rare, As their clouds of incense rise, Sweetest offerings to the skies.

Stately lilies pure and white Flooding darkness with their light, Bloom and sorrow drifts away, On this holy hallow’d day.

Easter Lilies bending low in the golden afterglow, Bear a message from the sod To the heavenly towers of God.  -Louise Lewin Matthews[iv]

  Conclusion

People are a lot like glass.  Glass can reflect, like a mirror, or transmit light, like a window.  Our windows are at their most beautiful when they permit the light to flow through them.  The light also shows the flaws and quality of the glass.

Like glass, we need to have the light of God shining through us.  Like glass, we can merely reflect, or transmit light.  Jesus offers inner light to those who accept him.  He is the light of the world according to John 1.  We can accept the light, or reject it.  If we believe, that inner light becomes ours.

We love our stained glass windows and we should.  But what do people see in us?  Does the light of Christ shine through?  The dove with the olive branch reminds us of peace, victory and new life.  The Bible tells us the story of the cross, of Jesus sacrifice for us and call to take up our own cross.  The Easter lily reminds us of the resurrection of Jesus following his death on the cross.  The Dickerson window reminds us of their faith and generosity.    The question is will we allow the light of God to shine through us as brightly as it does these windows?

 

[i] https://www.gotquestions.org/meaning-of-the-cross.html

[ii] https://www.crosswalk.com/special-coverage/lent/what-is-the-meaning-of-the-cross.html

[iii] http://www.dgreetings.com/easter/easter-lily-history.html

[iv] http://www.appleseeds.org/easter-lily.htm

Heard Window- Eagle of St John/Baptismal Font/Winged Ox of St. Luke


IMG_2363(Author’s note: This is the manuscript for my message on June 24, 2018 at FUMC Winnfield and is the third in my “Windows to the Soul” sermon series expounding on the Christian symbolism present in our church buildings and sanctuary windows at FUMC Winnfield. I tried to include my sources but my end notes did not transfer well. You’ll find the sources listed at the end. Much of this information is from “FUMC Winnfield: Christian Symbolism and History” published in 2012. I decided to publish in case some were absent and would like to read my message.)

Today we will examine Window Number three (Eagle of St John/Baptismal Font/Winged ox of St. Luke) in Honor of Mr. and Mrs. J.R. Heard.  Joseph R Heard joined FUMC October 26, 1911 by Profession of Faith.  He died March 30, 1956 when Luther Booth was Pastor.  Lena Ewing also joined October 26, 1911 by Profession of Faith.  She died January 25, 1974 when Jack Midyett was Pastor.  The obituary reads Joseph R. Heard, widely known Winnfield banker and civic leader, died March 30, 1956.  Mr. Heard, a native of Shiloh in Union Parish near Bernice, was president of the Bank of Winnfield and Trust Co. He had held that position since 1934.

Mr. Heard came to Winn Parish in 1901 as bookkeeper for a Dodson lumber company. He became vice president and treasurer of the People’s Hardware and Furniture Co. of Winnfield in 1906, a position he still held at the time of his death. In 1907 he was named cashier of the Bank of Winnfield and Trust Co., elevated to vice president in 1916, and named president in 1934.  He was treasurer of the First Methodist Church and a member of the church board of stewards. In addition to various church and civic undertakings, he had worked actively with state and southern banking associations.[i]

Lena Ewing Heard died Friday, January 25, 1974 at age 85 in the Winnfield General Hospital following a brief illness.  Mrs. Heard, the former Lena Ewing, was the widow of the late Joseph R. Heard, Sr., president of the Bank of Winnfield and Trust Co., a member of the First United Methodist Church, and a native of Texas.

The Heard’s were survived by three sons, J. R. Heard Jr., Robert Heard, and Richard C. Heard.  They are the grandparents of Dickie and Buddy Heard.  The Heard’s and their family have passed a great tradition of faithfulness to us, as well as a wonderful gift in their beautiful window.

Body

A: The eagle denotes the Evangelist, John.

IMG_2352Formerly considered to be the Apostle John, he is like an eagle soaring to the Throne of Grace. Reference to the eagle is found in Rev. 4:6-8, and Ezek. 1:10.

“Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a man, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle.”  Ezekiel 1:10[ii]

“Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: 7 the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle.” Rev 4:6-7 These scriptures from Ezekiel and Revelation are usually interpreted to represent the four gospels.  Consequently, each of the gospels has been assigned a symbol based on those scriptures.  We’ll get to all four symbols eventually but today we begin with the eagle of St. John.   St. John was one of the original twelve apostles and has been traditionally taken to be the author of the fourth gospel. The eagle is often used as a symbol representing him. The eagle goes back at least to Jerome’s Commentary on Matthew, which says it signifies “John the Evangelist who, having taken up eagle’s wings and hastening toward higher matters, discusses the Word of God” (55).[iii]  John’s Gospel begins with the “lofty” prologue and “rises” to pierce the mysteries of God, such as the relationship between the Father and the Son, and the incarnation: “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was in God’s presence, and the Word was God. He was present to God in the beginning. Through Him all things came into being, and apart from Him nothing came to be” (Jn 1:1-3). And “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, and we have seen His glory: The glory of an only Son coming from the Father filled with enduring love” (Jn 1:14). The Gospel of St. John, unlike the other Gospels, engages the reader with the most profound teachings of our Lord, such as the long discourses Jesus has with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, and the beautiful teachings on the Bread of Life and the Good Shepherd. In John, Jesus identifies Himself as “the way, the truth, and the life,” and anyone who embraces Him as such will rise to everlasting life with Him. iv

The eagle of St. John reminds us of his gospel, his lofty teachings and language, and to rise up to meet God.

B: The baptismal font

IMG_2358“The baptismal font is a vital part of the furnishings of the sanctuary. If the font has seven sides, it represents creation; eight symbolizes the new creation-—regeneration; a circular font indicates the beginning of eternal salvation. A quadrilateral shape speaks silently of people coming from four directions.  It is seen on stained glass windows as a symbol of the regeneration of man.”

In her wonderful book, A Place for Baptism, Regina Kuehn reminds readers that the baptismal font’s shape reveals baptismal truth, and the font points to baptism’s key element, water. She invites churches to think more about baptism’s sacramental weight and “the radical nature of our baptismal promises,” than about whether the font is pretty.  “The baptistry is an abiding reminder of what we once were, what we now are, and what we shall one day yet be,” she states.

Kuehn says that putting more thought into the design of a baptismal font can “make a permanent visual imprint on our memory… Such a font will not escape our mind and memory; our one-time baptismal event then will develop into a baptismal way of life.”  Baptism celebrates becoming that new person. That is why the church’s ritual begins with putting off the old, renouncing sin and the evil powers of the world, and pledging our loyalty to Christ.

In the United Methodist Church, we also believe that in baptism God initiates a covenant with us, announced with the words, “The Holy Spirit works within you, that being born through water and the Spirit, you may be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.” This is followed by the sign-act of laying hands on the head, or the signing of the cross on the forehead with oil or water. The word covenant is a biblical word describing God’s initiative in choosing Israel to be a people with a special mission in the world, and Israel’s response in a life of faithfulness. The baptismal covenant calls us to a similar vocation.

Christians have also understood the baptismal covenant in light of Jesus’ baptism. At Jesus’ baptism, God said: “This is my son.” While Jesus’ relation to God as Son is unique, for Christians baptism means that God has also chosen us as daughters and sons, and knows us intimately as a parent.

So the most important things about us, our true identity, is that we are now sons and daughters of God. That is why the introduction to the United Methodist Baptismal Covenant states, “We are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation and given new birth through water and the Spirit.”  The introduction also says, “Through the Sacrament of Baptism, we are initiated into Christ’s holy church.”

From the beginning, baptism has been the door through which one enters the church. It was inconceivable to be baptized without joining the fellowship of those who are committed to mature in that faith. As the “Body of Christ” in the world, baptism commissions us to use our gifts to strengthen the church and to transform the world.

You have heard people say, “I was baptized Methodist,” or “I was baptized Presbyterian,” which could mean that in baptism they got their identity papers and that was the end of it. But baptism is not the end. It is the beginning of a lifelong journey of faith. It makes no difference whether you were baptized as an adult or as a child; we all start on that journey at baptism. For the child, the journey begins in the nurturing community of the church, where he or she learns what it means that God loves you. At the appropriate time, the child will make his or her first confession of faith in the ritual the church traditionally calls confirmation. Most often, this is at adolescence or at the time when the person begins to take responsibility for his or her own decisions.

If you experienced God’s grace and were baptized as an adult or received baptism as a child and desire to reaffirm your baptismal vows, the baptismal font marks the journey in the nurturing fellowship of the caring, learning, worshipping, serving congregation.

C: The winged ox

IMG_2361“The winged ox is a symbol of patience and service.  The ox is used for St. Luke because he points out the atoning sacrifice of Christ, beginning with the sacrifice of Zachariah in the temple in chapter 1. Luke was the devoted physician of Paul who wrote the gospel of Luke, the book of Acts.”  The ox is also a symbol of sacrifice, service and strength.

Oxen were often used in temple sacrifices. For instance, when the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem, an ox and a fatling, a cornfed animal, were sacrificed every six steps (2 Sam 6). St. Luke begins his Gospel with the announcement of the birth of St. John the Baptizer to his father, the priest Zechariah, who was offering sacrifice in the Temple (Lk 1). St. Luke also includes the parable of the Prodigal Son, in which the fatted calf is slaughtered, to celebrate the younger son’s return, and foreshadows Jesus’ sacrifice for us to forgive our sins. The winged ox reminds us of the priestly character of our Lord and His sacrifice for our redemption.

St. Luke is believed to be the author of the Gospel that bears his name as well as of the Acts of the Apostles. According to Eusebius, he was probably born in Antioch , Syria of a prosperous Greek family and was trained as a physician.  His gospel is considered the most poetic and beautiful of all. He uses the best grammar and the most eloquent and correct Greek of the New Testament. He shows Jesus not as the Jewish Messiah, but as the world’s Savior and Lord. He was a man of prayer, for this gospel is pre-occupied with the power of prayer. He had a high regard for the dignity of women for they played an important part of his writings.

Luke accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey and doubtless had the care of Paul’s health. Luke was with Paul in his last days and final imprisonment in Rome .  After writing those famous words to Timothy, “the time of my dissolution is at hand, I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course, I have kept the faith….Paul goes on to say, only Luke is with me.  What happened to Luke after Paul’s martyrdom in unsure. But according to a fairly early and widespread tradition, he was unmarried and wrote his Gospel in Greece at Boeotia , where he died at age 84.  Because the gospel which bears his name was believed to be an accurate account of the life of Christ and especially of Christ’s birth, Luke became the patron saint of notaries. The ox represents the sacrificial aspect of Jesus’ ministry and the wings remind us that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to travel throughout the world.iv

Conclusion

People are a lot like glass.  Glass can reflect, like a mirror, or transmit light, like a window.  Our windows are at their most beautiful when they permit the light to flow through them.  The light also shows the flaws and quality of the glass.

Like glass, we need to have the light of God shining through us.  Like glass, we can merely reflect, or transmit light.  Jesus offers inner light to those who accept him.  He is the light of the world according to John 1.  We can accept the light, or reject it.  If we believe, that inner light becomes ours.

We love our stained glass windows and we should.  But what do people see in us?  Does the light of Christ shine through?  The eagle of St. John reminds us of his soaring prologue and taking the reader to the highest truths of God.  The baptismal font reminds us of the regeneration through baptism and the new beginning that baptism offers us.  The winged ox reminds us of the steadiness and service of Luke’s faith and the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. The Heard window reminds us of their faith and generosity.    The question is will we allow the light of God to shine through us as brightly as it does these windows?

[i] https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/54263776/joseph-ruffin-heard

[ii] http://www.religionfacts.com/eagle

[iii] http://www.christianiconography.info/john.html

[iv] https://catholicexchange.com/the-symbols-of-the-gospel-writers