(A sermon for Sunday, June 22, 2013, based on Ephesians 4:7-16)
(Pastor’s Note: This morning at East Congregational Church, instead of leading a “regular” service of worship I was truly surprised and overwhelmed by a special service led by church members and guests celebrating the 30th anniversary of my ordination to the Christian Ministry in 1984. My wonderful wife, Lisa Lowry, also a member of East Church’s Board of Deacons, brought the message for today, and by request and with great gratitude I’m posting her words below!)
Can we be this old, Michael? Here we are celebrating your 30th anniversary of your ordination. You know that makes me old too, right?? Before I go any further, as soon as this service is done, you are to give Sherrie all your bulletins and the sermon you have prepared for today and you can preach exactly what is ready for today, next week! You have sermon preparation and writing off this coming week. You’re welcome!! Remember, you are to use everything as it is written right now.
Well, as I was pointing out, today is a very special day – and can I say right now how proud I am to be called the wife of Rev. Michael Lowry! We are celebrating a very special man (I may be a little biased here) who was ordained into ministry on June 24th thirty years ago. I wasn’t there for Michael’s ordination but I joined him in this wonderful journey about a year and a half later. And what a journey it has been. I had decided while in college that I wanted to marry a minister – be very careful what you pray for! Here we are 28 and a half years later, with three wonderful children (two of which are here with us), and many, many stories. Hard to believe, and I really mean that – some of our stories you probably wouldn’t believe. We have experienced the good, the bad and the ugly; but you know what, I know that I can safely say we wouldn’t have it any other way although the kids might like to change a thing or two.
Our scripture reading that Joyce and Sarah shared this morning finds Paul explaining God’s plan for the church to the Christians in Ephesus. If we look carefully at these verses we realize that Paul is actually appealing to the church for unity amid diversity. I can just imagine Paul saying to these early Christians, “Listen, we wouldn’t be saying Christ ascended if He didn’t first lower Himself to be here on earth with us to fill God’s plan. Grace has been given to each one of you as God apportioned it and now, you have jobs to do!” Things don’t change much, do they?
He goes on to list some of those spiritual gifts that these people have received in verse 11. Paul tells the people that some would receive the gift of apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers. Personally, I have found that we, the church, are blessed with so many gifts that we don’t even recognize them. I have sat in many Bible studies discussing what form a spiritual gift takes, and then pointing out to someone what I see as their God-given gift. You can see them light up because they never looked at always being the one to send a card out to someone who needed to be thought of that day, or being the first one to organize a few meals for someone who is sick as being a spiritual gift.
Luckily for Michael, he could name his gift early on. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t need a lot of time learning, growing and perfecting that gift. I know that at this very second he is thinking that he is still working on it. I am sure that all of our kids can remember sitting around a fire late at night and listening to the story of how Michael would climb the hill where the condos now sit, overlooking our lake, and feel God’s call into ministry, a call that he did not take lightly. I am sure that I am not the only one who is so very thankful that you listened to your call, Michael, and continue to share your spiritual gift with all of us.
When I think of how Michael lives his life, I think of this quote by Ignatius Loyola: “Teach us, Lord, to serve you as you deserve, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for any reward save that of knowing that we do your will.” That is pretty much Michael in a nutshell. How can I explain this? I am sure that our children remember the countless hours that Dad spent at the office while they were growing up, the many evening committee meetings that he had to attend (Oh Lord, deliver us from committee meetings!), the days off that he had to give up, the holidays that he was called to the hospital to be with a family of a sick parishioner or someone that had no family; and when, because he was the chaplain on call, would go in to the hospital at all hours of the night. I could go on and on. I could tell you of the years that he worked over 80 plus hours a week with no end in sight. There were also the years of going to bed on a Saturday night with Michael still writing away at his office because he had two or three funerals along with several committee meetings that week. I could go on about the time that Michael has given to his congregations, but, ironically, we don’t have time for that list! There were many discussions between Michael and I about the time that he spent doing the work of the church but no matter how much I urged him to slow down, he couldn’t seem to. After 28 plus years of living with the man, I know that Michael was so concerned that he gave his very best to each and every member of each and every congregation that giving any less than 150% was unacceptable. This is just who he is.
Michael, do you remember the Saturday that you performed three weddings? We lived directly across from the church and the kids were all pretty small. My wonderful husband decided he was super pastor and started with a wedding late in the morning at the church. He then ran to his car and raced to perform another in Old Orchard Beach. Finally, he returned to the church for a late afternoon wedding back in Scarborough. Michael, wasn’t that the same day that you left your wedding book on the roof of the car and started off down the road when the papers started flying off??? I had threatened to sit on the front porch of the parsonage and hold up signs with points on them judging his ability to get from one place and back to another in one piece.
Of course, living across from the church had its benefits when it came to lemonade stands, didn’t it, Jake? Let’s just say that a lemonade stand across from a church on an extremely hot summer afternoon can net $45 when there is a wedding going on. Jake bought himself a really nice “Pog” set if I am remembering correctly.
There were funny times (in hindsight) at funerals when Dad had just gotten his first cell phone and the kids thought it would be funny to change his ring tone. Unfortunately, he forgot to turn it off during a graveside funeral and I was late in picking up Sarah from somewhere so she called Daddy! Luckily it was raining buckets that afternoon and Michael was wearing a coat so nobody but Michael could hear the wonderful new ringtone “You had a bad day, You’ve taken one down…” that rang not once but twice!
Then there were the nursing home visits where Dad would take his cute little preschool companion and they entertain the residents: Michael, by singing and Sarah, although she did help sing a song or two, by being her adorable little self. When they were done, it was customary to shake hands with everyone who came and when they got out to the car, Sarah would show Daddy the quarters that had been squeezed into her hand. That was always followed by a trip to the ice cream shop on the way home.
I don’t know how many of you are aware that preacher’s kids, aka PK’s, have somewhat of a reputation for being either angels or – well, let’s just say that some let their halos slip a little. For instance, we were just made aware of the fact that the year Zach didn’t like his Sunday School teacher, he and his best buddy would sneak down to the backyard of the parsonage as soon as opening exercises were over and play in his treehouse until they saw the rest of the kids leave the parish house for the church service. Not only was his Dad the minister but Mum was the director of Christian Education and we didn’t catch them all year. He and his friend even got a perfect attendance pin!!
Of course, there are the stories that we all would like to forget. The times of getting those calls to go to a house where a suicide had just taken place or having someone show up on your front door in a rage making threatening remarks because of a mental illness. Oh the stories I could tell… some funny, some hair-raising, some sad but mostly, stories that show the compassion of a man that serves his congregations and his God with all of his being. It has been a ride to be sure; all the time learning and growing.
There have even been those times that following God’s will as a pastor and family were downright scary. Brent Mitchell compares disciple’s growth and transitions to lobsters. He explains that “From time to time, lobsters have to leave their shells in order to grow. They need the shell to protect them from being torn apart, yet when they grow, the old shell must be abandoned. If they did not abandon it, the old shell would soon become their prison—and finally their casket.
“The tricky part for the lobster is the brief period of time between when the old shell is discarded and the new one is formed. During that terribly vulnerable period, the transition must be scary to the lobster. Currents gleefully cartwheel them from coral to kelp. Hungry schools of fish are ready to make them a part of their food chain. For a while at least, that old shell must look pretty good.
“We are not so different from lobsters. To change and grow, we must sometimes shed our shells – a structure, a framework – we’ve depended on. Discipleship means being so committed to Christ that when he bids us to follow, we will change, risk, grow and leave our “shells” behind.”
Yup, we can relate to those lobsters! That is part of this wonderful ride we have been on. During some of those transitions I would never have thought that “some day we will be glad this is happening” but, funny how God works. I know without a doubt that I speak for Michael when I say that he would do everything over again if he knew we would end up at this place on this day on this wonderfully fantastic ride we have taken and are still on.
So, before I end these thoughts of mine, I want to say once again how proud I am, Michael, to be your wife. To have felt a calling that matched so perfectly with yours and I continue to give thanks every day that God answered those prayers so long ago for both of us. My answer was not only to marry a minister but to marry a minister described in a quote by A.W. Tozer, “God is looking for men in whose hands His glory is safe.” In thirty years God has watched Rev. Michael Lowry glorify Him to His upmost and I am sure He is saying, well done my good and faithful servant! In Ann Weems poem, “This Church” she describes what I have watched Michael strive to bring to each church he has served so I would like to end by reading it.We don’t pretend to understand the mystery Of what goes on in God’s Church. We just know we feel a pervading spirit of love That reaches into the niches of all of us And pulls us out into the open, Free and alive and belonging. We believe this spirit of love exists because God’s spirit lives within this church, this unity of persons trying To be the Good News. We see this Church as a circle of persons Holding hands…and dancing… Supporting each other, accepting each other, Loving each other. Each person in this dancing circle Is facing outward…reaching into God’s world, Listening for the whimpering, Watching for the hurting, Willing to offer a cup of cold water In His name. Sometimes we need the water; Sometimes you need the water; Sometimes I need the water. Being a part of the Church Means knowing that The cup is always filled In His name.
Thank you for 30 years of service Michael and here is to 30 more! Hang on tight because … well, just hang on!!
Amen and Amen.
c. 2014 Lisa K. Lowry