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by Ed Ellington
Every Sunday for nearly three years Walter had a routine. Just before 10:00 AM he would open the doors to Epworth and prepare the church for worship. If the weather was cold, he would build a fire in the old wood stove. If it was hot he would open all the windows and distribute the hand fans with a picture of Jesus on one side and an ad for a local funeral home on the other.
Next, Walter would open the Bible located on top of the wooden pulpit and read the selected scripture for that week. Then it would be time for prayer. Often there were folks in the community included on Walters list. The latest national and world news would be mentioned. But always, Walter ended every prayer with a plea for God to remember and bless his beloved church.
Every Sunday, Walter had a routine but what makes this story so unique is that with very few exceptions, Walter began and ended the Sunday morning worship service... alone. Alone? Why? Many years ago, Epworth church was built on land donated by a neighboring farmer but if for any reason they stopped meeting regularly, if Walter stopped opening the church doors every Sunday the property would revert to the original owners... Epworth church would cease to exist.
So what is the big deal? If Walter is the only one bothering to attend, let him go somewhere else or stay at home. Why not face the inevitable and allow Epworth to quietly disappear? What harm would it do? For Walter, it was a big deal. God had a divine purpose for his life and for the church he loved. But for now, Walter must be patient, be faithful... and wait? Wait for what?
To wait is not one of my favorite verbs. I define wait as waste... as in waste of time. I become frustrated just waiting in line at a grocery store. I bought a new computer because it claimed to be faster, with less waiting time. So, according to my definition of wait, Walter was wasting his time at Epworth, refusing to face reality by waiting for something to happen that would never happen.
Walter waited. Not me! I would move on. So would most of you. Yet, you and I, in our impatience and lack of faith would have missed the miracle of Epworth church!
In another time
For nearly eight hundred years, prophets foretold the coming of the Messiah.
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah are only a small village in Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you... (Micah 5:2)
But for eight hundred long years the people of God waited... and waited... and waited...
In Luke, a man named Simeon who is described as righteous and devout spent most of his time in the temple... waiting. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and he eagerly expected the Messiah to come... (2:25) Day after day, year after year, Simeon was faithful in his task. Why?
In the same part of Luke, there was also a prophet named Anna. She became a widow at an early age and spent most of her adult life waiting: She was now eighty-four years old. She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshipping God with fasting and prayer. (2:37)
What were Anna and Simeon waiting for?
Return to Epworth and Jerusalem
Every Sunday for three years Walter opened the doors to Epworth church and worshipped... alone. Why? Why not face the inevitable and allow Epworth to die? Well, God had a divine purpose for Walter and the church he loved. So for now, Walter must be patient, be faithful, and wait. Simeon and Anna from chapter two of Luke anticipated seeing the Messiah foretold by prophets for hundreds of years. Meanwhile, day after day and year after year they both waited.
Maybe it would help us to understand what is meant by the word, wait? My tendency is to think of waiting as idle time doing nothing such as waiting for a movie to start. Actually, waiting is more like receiving word that an honored guest will soon be visiting. You busily clean and decorate your house, prepare special foods, take a shower and search through the closet for just the right outfit. In other words... waiting on God is essentially an eventful time of preparation and anticipation.
I waited patiently for the Lord to help me and he turned to me and heard my cry. (Psalm 40:1) Waiting is learning to trust in Gods leadership and competence.
Simeon waited, filled with the Holy Spirit, expecting an honoured guest, the Messiah, to appear at any time. Anna waited by staying busy in the Temple day and night, worshipping God with fasting and prayer. Walter waited by faithfully preparing his beloved Epworth church for worship each and every Sunday morning. God responded to Simeon, Anna, and Walter with a miracle.
One afternoon a young couple named Joseph and Mary came to the temple to offer their eight-day-old baby for dedication to God. Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying, Lord, now I can die in peace! As you promised me, I have seen the Saviour you have given to all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations... (Luke 2:28-32) Anna came along, just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph and she began praising God. She talked about Jesus to everyone who had been waiting for the promised King... (2:38)
Simeon and Anna were among the first to witness the Christ child and proclaim Him as the Messiah. Every year they are remembered and celebrated as a part of Christmas.
One Sunday morning a young family, new to the area visited Epworth and after meeting Walter joined him in worship. They found something unique about this little church nestled among the trees and the old man who faithfully opened her doors. On the following Sunday they came back, and within a few weeks the children were bringing friends. At years end a minister was hired.
Today, Epworth is a small family church situated between several farms and hidden among the trees. Every summer they offer Vacation Bible School for the neighbourhood and each Christmas is celebrated with a pageant performed by the children. Many of the original family have died and some of the children have moved away, but the miracle of Epworth has never been forgotten.
On the first Sunday of August, people come from across the U.S. to visit the church of their youth and relive the miracle of the old man who refused to let his beloved church die. The worship service is followed by a picnic on the church grounds. While the children are playing and the adults are eating, you may notice a family wandering over to the nearby cemetery. If you listen carefully youll hear a parent telling her child, Let me tell you a story about Walter...
The example of Simeon, Anna, and Walter are a reminder that we must express our faith in God through the power of... waiting!
So no matter how hard it may be as a leader for changes to take place, for growth to occur, and for Gods Spirit to move, we have Simeon, Anna, and Walter to remind of the power behind faithfulness and... waiting!
Author: Ed Ellington
Publication Date: January 8, 2002
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