Summary: Preached in a church of another denomination for Christian Unity Sunday and Martin Luther King Sunday: we tend to hide our own history and to conceal our witness. But God calls us into a wider ministry.
I’m not sure how it is among Methodists, but we Baptist folks have a strange custom of hiding when we come to church. We hide. We try to get in and get out without being noticed. I don’t know whether Methodists are infected with this disease, but with Baptists it is an epidemic. We hide.
How does that work? Well, if I tell you, you might start doing it too, and I wouldn’t want to leave that legacy for Pastor Stroman! But maybe I can give you a few hints. Some hide by coming in late. Baptist folks, you see, don’t think anything really happens until the preaching begins, and so they think nothing of missing a few hymns and a couple of prayers. All the preliminaries, as some would say. One member of my congregation refers to everything but the preaching as “all that junk.” “I can do without all that junk.”! So we hide by coming in late. In fact, it has even been unkindly suggested that some try to make sure they’re late enough to miss the offering plate!
Or, if they don’t come late, Baptist folks think they can hide by leaving early. We have a pattern of ending our worship services with an invitation. We do try our best, every Sunday, to persuade somebody to receive the Savior or to join the church. And so when I finish my message and announce the invitation hymn, and there is a flurry of activity out there in the pews, I get really excited. Somebody’s coming! Except, no, hey are going the other way! Walking up the aisle to leave instead of down the aisle to join. They are hiding. They don’t want to be caught in the messy business of deciding about Christ and His church, and so they run and hide. They don’t want the pastor or a deacon to say, “Haven’t seen you in a while,” and so they hide.
Now, it is true, that one of them did tell me that the reason he and his wife leave early is that they want to be sure to get to the restaurant before the Methodists do! So maybe I can blame you for these hurry-up departures!
We just have folks who want to hide. They do not want to be seen in the house of the Lord. They do want to come and gather in a blessing or two. They do want to get their names on heaven’s attendance books, just in case that might add up to something when the death angel stops by. But they do not want to get involved. They do not want to be asked any questions. They do not want to respond to any demands. They just want to hide.
Now I’ve also noticed that in addition to the late arrivals and the early departures, there is another thing that the hiders do. They seat themselves in a way that says, “Please don’t notice me.” Their posture says, “I’m not really here.” What do I mean? Well, first, they sit on a back pew; then they slouch down in the seat, if possible behind somebody’s big hat; and, most of all, they lower their chins and they draw in their arms and just make themselves as small as possible. Do you have anybody like that? Folks who get all wrapped up in themselves and hope they can hide.
Actually, a lot of us are like that. A great many of us are all wrapped up in ourselves and hoping we can hide. We are sitting on the greatest truths the world has ever known, but we are hiding them. We are in possession of the most magnificent realities that have ever been uttered, but we are concealing them. We know that in Jesus Christ, shattered lives can be repaired, but we haven’t told anybody about that. We know that in our churches, there is a remarkable and redemptive fellowship, but who knows that? Who has heard that from us? We are hiding.
The Psalmist, however, had learned that if God has done something for you, you want to tell that good news. He had discovered that if God has done something for you, then you tell it, right up front, because the depth and breadth of God’s mercy is so great. The story just has to be told. Some things are just too wide to hide:
“He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock .. He put a new song in my mouth ... I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; see, I have not restrained my lips ... I have not hidden your saving help within my heart, I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.”