Summary: Delivered in 1986, shortly after pastoral call. The Spirit gives us unity in a time of riskiness and danger. That gift is more than unanimity; it is dedication to God's purposes.
Not everything in every sermon has to be communicated in words. Words and speech are only a part of the way you get a message across. A part of what you folks receive is not only what you hear, but also what you see. What you see and what you pick up just from being here is certainly a part of the total impression you take away. That's why it's tough to listen to a tape of a speech; if your eye has nothing to do, if you are not able to observe everything else that's happening, the words, the speech are barren. It's hard to concentrate on even the most effective speakers if the eye as well as the ear cannot be involved.
And so it was a number of years ago that in the church where my wife and family and I are members, the pastor, Jack Holt, walked into the pulpit one Sunday morning wearing a bright, glowing, shiny, glitzy red shirt -- a very berry red shirt. And he began his message by telling us that for as many years as he had been preaching he could not remember ever wearing anything but the formal and proper white shirt. Thirty years of white shirts and now suddenly a red, red shirt. Why?
The thrust of message was that it was time for a change, time for things to be done differently, time for a fresh outlook, time for new ways of seeing, new ways of understanding what it is to be church, time for a change. For him, for us in that church, the red shirt signaled that change was coming.
Now as it happened it was not many months after that that this very fine pastor left to take another church. In leaving us he simply said that he felt that his nineteen years at Luther Rice Memorial Baptist Church were more than enough and that it was time for him to make a personal change for the good of the church. I, for one, never did know the full dynamics behind that move, but would suspect that his announcement of impending change in the life of the church was a bit too much for some to take. The red shirt signaled change, yes, but the red shirt also signaled danger. Red is the color of danger, you know; red means stop at the corner, because traffic is coming the other way. Red, to the electrician means "Look out, this wire is hot, this wire is live, this is the one with the juice." Danger. And red signals danger, it creates danger, so I am told in the bullring, where there are rip-snorting animals to be faced.
They use red on fire trucks; it means danger. By the way, I can't stand yellow or white or green fire trucks; it's just not the same..
And so I too have chosen today to wear my sermon as well as to preach it. Although this robe obscures it, I too have a red shirt, a deep red, shiny, glitzy red shirt. And like the shirt sermon preached by my pastor years ago, it says to us all, "Change is coming." Change is coming, because you have called a pastor, a pastor who is humbly grateful for the opportunity set before him, a pastor who genuinely wants to serve you and to make a contribution to the Kingdom of God. But one thing you can be sure of, change is coming.
Do not hear that as a statement of arrogance, do not hear that as an announcement that some sort of iron fist is going to crash down and make things happen, force things to change. No, I'm not saying that; I am simply saying that under God we are arriving together soon at a new place and we will together do things in different ways, because new personalities and new gifts are in the mix. Change is surely coming.
But now we are not to forget that red signals danger. Just as surely as that red shirt that my pastor friend wore signaled not only his desire to change his style of ministry, so also that blazing blouse meant that he entered some dangerous territory. He met some resistance, he put his convictions on the line, he faced down some dangers.
You and I are going to enter some risky times together too. You and I are going to have to take risks together. I've said before that the relationship between pastor and people is like a marriage; sometimes you don't quite have what you thought you had. Sometimes you get home from the honeymoon and settle down to the hard work of making a home and you find out that that one who was the object of your hopes and dreams is not as good at the long hard grind of working together as you supposed. Sometimes you find out that curlers in the morning or five o’clock shadows in the evening are not terribly attractive. But you stick with it, you made a covenant, and you hang in there. It's risky to have a covenant together, but a covenant it is, and you work it out.