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Monday, November 12, 2007

Setting the Example

The September/October issue of Preaching Magazine had the following illustration regarding setting an example for others to follow:

It was a cool fall Sunday morning in 1865. A black man, slight of build, entered a fashionable Virginia church in downtown Richmond. The ushers made themselves busy with narthex projects and acted as though they did not notice him. No one extended a welcome or offered to lead the visitor to a seat in the sanctuary.

Quietly and unobtrusively, he seated himself on the next to the last pew, near the center aisle. As more people made their way into the sanctuary, hushed whispers moved across the large sanctuary. People who had ostensibly come to worship, perhaps trying to be as polite as they thought Christians ought to be, tried hard not to stare. Some found that too hard to do and they could not resist the urge to turn around and look back at the next to last pew where that dark-skinned worshipper was sitting.

"Fine," some thought, "so long as he is here only to worship we can put up with it this one time." But then, communion was served, communion with a communion cup no less! That meant that all worshippers must drink from the same goblet or not drink at all at the Lord's Table that Sunday.

When the communion invitation was given, the man waited reverently for a few minutes before quietly joining the line that formed down the center of the sanctuary. As he did, a resentful silence fell across the gathered congregation. Some who were about to join the line suddenly stiffened in their places.

"How dare he!" a few intimated by their looks towards their neighboring pew sitters. For several minutes, no one joined the line behind the man. It was, to say the least, an awkward moment.

After a deafeningly silent minute, a distinguished layman stood up and stepped toward the altar with a pace that was quickened a bit so that the dark-skinned worshipper would not reach the Table alone. As the visitor bowed before the Table to receive the bread and the cup, the distinguished looking worshipper bowed his head beside him.

Those people recognized that man who bowed now with the stranger at the altar. When the visiting worshipper drank the cup, the tall, handsome worshipper sipped right behind him.

This man of distinguished appearance was the one they spoke of as "The General." Robert E. Lee, the Confederate Army's most celebrated soldier and a member of the Virginia aristocracy, set an example for all to follow that day. After that, the awkwardness of the morning dissipated and the whole congregation fell into line. Such was "The General's" example.

"...Be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity." (1 Timothy 4:12, NKJV)