Lenten Lesson 6 -- God can speak through anyone
The Rev. Eddie McElhannon, McCook's newest pastor, arriving at the pulpit at First Assembly of God just last fall, said he was honored to be asked to contribute to the faith community as part of the Community Lenten service at First Congregational Church Friday afternoon.
Prefacing his remarks with the self-depracating statement, "Following my brothers and sister in this forum, I feel like a hot dog in a steakhouse," McElhannon noted that "the Bible can speak to all men through any man," and introduced the community congregation of 75 to a Roman soldier who clearly and succinctly identified the man on the middle cross, saying, "Surely, this man was the Son of God."
As a Roman soldier, a centurion in charge of a hundred men, crucifixion was nothing new, McElhannon said. It was a common form of capitol punishment, a very public spectacle and this triple crucifixion should have been no different. The blood, the sweat, the groans, the smell, all of this would have been familiar to the man. This was just the way things were for the Roman soldiers and the nameless centurion in charge of the day's duties. "It was a job, his job," McElhannon said.
"So, what caused this man to awaken to the identity of this man Jesus?" McElhannon asked.
Referring to the Scripture text found in Matthew 27:45-54, McElhannon fired off the events that brought about the incredulous exclamation.
"The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
"The earth shook and the rocks split.
"The tombs broke open and the bodies of saints who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs..."
This was not typical, McElhannon said, explaining that, as a pastor he has been at the bedside of many people who were dying.
"Whether it was cancer, the ravages of time, or some other illness, I've been there as they slipped away."
Each experience is unique, he allowed, but there are some similarities. There are tears, sometimes heart-rending sobs on the part of those left behind, but also joy at someone "going home."
Never, however, have any of those experiences matched what the centurion witnessed. The earth shaking, the rocks splitting, "the bodies of the saints who had died raised to life!"
"Wow," McElhannon said, "Wow. Graves were opened. The dead raised to life. How would you react?"
As believers, hearing the solemn statement by the centurion, we might be tempted to think, "Well, yeah, he's the Son of God," McElhannon said.
That's because we're looking at it from the perspective of a believer, someone immersed in the teachings of Christianity. The Roman Centurion had no such background.
"Religion in Rome was polytheistic," McElhannon explained. "They worshipped many gods. This wasn't one of his gods dying. This was just some young Jewish rabbi who had gone too far in his teaching."
The Roman was not prepared for what followed Jesus' final cry, when he gave up his spirit and died.
"Nature convulsed, as the Creator died," said McElhannon. "God showed himself to the centurion that day."
And the centurion recognized him. "When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, 'Surely he was the Son of God!'" (Matthew 27:54)
"God shows himself to every man, shows himself to be true to every man," McElhannon claimed. "He gives every man the opportunity to believe, just as he did the centurion 2,000 years ago."
McElhannon allowed that although no one knows what the centurion did with his life from that day forward, he believes that "God gives us the opportunity to see him work in the lives of those we love and know, every day -- that we see something incredible every day."
The curtain was torn that day, McElhannon said. The curtain that separated sinful men from holy God was torn in two, granting man access, through Jesus to the throne of God the Father.
"Recognize him for who he is," McElhannon urged. "The innocent one who died for the guilty. Know him truly, see him truly as the Son of God."
McElhannon also provided special music, filling the sanctuary with a passionate rendition of the gospel song, "He Came To Me."
The Rev. Dr. Mary Hendricks, pastor at St. Alban's Episcopal Church served as worship leader, welcoming the congregation with praise, "Welcome to all you hardy souls, braving this wind and this weather to attend. Welcome and thank you."
Joyce Hershberger served as organist. The women of First Assembly of God prepared salads, sandwiches and desserts for the luncheon that followed.
The 2011 Community Lenten services will close Friday with the annual reading of the Passion of the Lord Jesus Christ according to John's Gospel, beginning at 12:05 at First Congregational Church. There is no luncheon.
The reading will be preceded by the annual Cross Walk, beginning at 11:15 a.m., at St. Alban's Episcopal Church. The walk will proceed through downtown McCook, arriving at First Congregational in time for the reading.
The Community Lenten services are presented by the Red Willow County Ministerial Association.