I’ll get to this Sunday’s sermons in a moment or two but first there are a few words I need to say.
I have been preaching in various Presbyterian churches for about 23 years. It hasn’t been a full time thing but if I figured it out correctly, I have been a preacher in one Presbyterian church or another in Saskatchewan for 65% of the last 23 years. It has been a great privilege to work with many, many wonderful people. This past week we lost one of those people.
Rev. John Ferrier, that’s the only picture I have of him and I’m sure he’d hate it, was perhaps chief among all those people. When I came into the Presbyterian churches it was very much touch-and-go if I’d fit in.
- I was trained in a very free church tradition, Presbyterians are quite liturgical
- I came from a conservative evangelical denomination, Presbyterians are a mainline denomination
- I grew up with Sunday services frequently running more than an hour and a half with sermons easily taking up half of that, Presbyterian services run an hour or less and the sermon is likely a quarter of that
When a Presbyterian church doesn’t have a full time minister an interim moderator is appointed to help run the official business of the church, make sure the pulpit has someone in it and that sort of thing. The interim moderator I worked with the most was John; over 14 years in several different churches. It fell to him to be one of the people who helped me figure out how to fit in, i.e. to put a 45-minute-multiple-point sermonizing, chorus singing, free church square (oh so square) peg in a round Presbyterian hole. He didn’t do it all on his own but he probably played the biggest part. He was always ready to give advice, when I asked for it. He was a constant source of encouragement. He had a gift of helping me understand how important the work of the church was but how I was by no means solely responsible for the completion of the work. He insisted I listen to and work with the lay leaders, the “real leaders” in the church as he put it, rather than trying to bring in some sort of “vision” from outside.
Considering how hard John worked and how available he was to anyone who needed him, it was almost ironic how concerned he was that I take care of myself and my family. He knew who my wife and kids were and asked about them. He insisted I take time off to recharge and regenerate. His constructive remarks were always helpful and kind. He loved the people he ministered to and was willing to do whatever was needed to care for them, including entrusting them to me.
Above all, John loved people and everyone who knew him knew it. In return he was loved by many. I am privileged to be one of those people who knew and loved John. He played a vital and irreplaceable role in my life as a preacher, a ministering person and made me a better person overall. I would neither be where I am nor the person I am without him. I will sorely miss him.
I am so happy I had the opportunity, and took the opportunity to tell him some of these things the last time we talked. I am grateful I was able to tell him how much he meant to me and how much a difference he made in my life.
This fourth Sunday of Advent is the Sunday of Love. Obviously “love” comes up frequently in church services but I am grateful we have a Sunday where it is the focus. The texts we looked at the most were from Hebrews, an odd choice by the compilers of the Lectionary, and Luke, a much more obvious choice.
What I was trying to help us see, or to remember, is Jesus’ sole motivation for becoming a person just like us was love. You are more competent to judge if I got it correct than I am so give one or both of the sermons a listen and let me know if I hit the mark.