The Rev. Dr. Fred B. Craddock, one of the great preachers of our day from the Methodist tradition, tells this story.
When I was growing up in North Tennessee, my father did not go to church. He was at home fussing about lunch being late on Sunday. Once in a while the pastor would come by and try to talk to him, but dad was rough on the minister. He would say, "I know what you fellows want down there at the church. You want another name and another pledge." It embarrassed my mother. She would stay in the kitchen and cry.
Once in a while they would have a guest evangelist; he would come with the pastor and the pastor would say, "Here's a toughie, go visit him!" My father would always say something like, "You don't care about me. You want another member, another pledge. That's how you churches operate. You don't care about me." He said it, I guess a thousand times.
One time he didn't say it. It was in the Veteran's Hospital. I rushed across the country to see him. He was down to 74 pounds. They had taken his throat out, but they said it was too late. All the radium stuff had just burned him to pieces. They put a tube in so he could breathe, but he couldn't speak.
I looked around the room. In the windows and on the tables were flowers . . . cut flowers and potted plants . . . even the table that they swing over your bed to put food on had flowers on it. He couldn't eat. I looked at the little cards sprinkled in all the flowers - from the men's Bible class, women's fellowship, youth fellowship, pastor, others at the church, everyone of them, the flowers and the deep stacks of cards beside the flowers from persons and groups within the church. He saw me look at those cards. He took a pencil and wrote on the side of a Kleenex box, "I was wrong."
Like Bluffton's ancient live oaks, during the previous 159 years our roots have grown strong and deep; so much so that they now support and nourish a voluminous canopy sheltering a host of worship, fellowship, ministry and discipleship activities intent on one mission: reaching the present and future generations with the uncompromised Gospel of Jesus Christ in such a way that folks embrace a transforming relationship with the God of the ages.
By God's grace all that we have done has been generously supported by those of His children who have chosen this congregation to be their spiritual home. You are The Church of the Cross and your sacrificial pledge of time, talent and treasure is needed if our witness for the Kingdom of God is to be even stronger in our 160th year. Please have faith. God has left many calling cards and flowers for you and for me. Sadly, Dr. Craddock's father never got a second chance to express his gratitude once he realized that God had left many calling cards and flowers through the work of His Church, but we do! I pray that you will respond with gratitude to Christ's gentle invitation to trust and to follow and to give by joining Becky and me as we place our pledges for 2014 on the altar during worship next weekend, November 23 & 24.
In His Power and for His Glory,