What follows is the content of a faith and mission talk I am delivering to all 4 services at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in St. Charles, IL. on October 20 and 21st. The theme of the talk is Rooted in Faith, Growing in Mission.
Several congregants have been invited to share their faith stories and how it has helped them overcome challenges, create blessings and plan for the future. Here is the content of my speech.
Christopher and Linda Cudworth, Evan and Emily
I grew up as a Presbyterian, but went on to attend Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, where all Lutherans seem to be Norwegian, or all else all Norwegians seem to be Lutheran. I never completely figured out which was which.
All these contradictions in our faith background are proof that opposites really do attract. But when we got married my wife did not want our children Evan and Emily to be raised by a pack of Norwegians (God Forbid) so we got married and baptized our children in the same church synod with which she grew up, joining St. Mark’s Lutheran in St. Charles in 1985. We worshipped there for more than 25 years.
Linda and I both taught Sunday School for years, and I sang in the choir and served on the Board. And of course, like all good Lutherans, we pretty much sat in the same pew every week.
Linda continues to work as a Preschool Teacher at St. Mark’s Preschool where in 17 years she has educated hundreds of children on the joys of learning and the love of Christ.
About 10 years ago I was invited to pick up my guitar and join the Praise Team at St. Marks. It was a great joy to become immersed in music, a joy all my life.
Joining the Praise Team coincided with some very big challenges in our lives. Linda was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2005, and has since been through numerous chemotherapy treatments, surgeries and continues treatment with side effects in trying to beat the disease. She is a both a brave and God-fearing woman, so it has been an intense journey trying to reconcile these difficult years with God’s plan for us.
We have learned that God uses all kinds of channels to reach out to people if you are prepared to listen and accept their grace and kindness.
As caregiver to my wife it has been my responsibility to oversee her needs and recruit help where we need it, especially with a care group that has delivered many meals to our home when needed, provided rides to treatments and delivered many prayers and visits for our practical and spiritual needs.
I am also caregiver to my father, Stewart Cudworth, who is a stroke victim and at 86 years old is still quite sprightly. He can be a handful at times, but it has been a blessing to be there for him since my mother passed away in 2005.
We’d like to share an anecdote that illustrates some of the interesting ways God plays a role in our lives. In 2007 during one of Linda’s chemotherapy regimens, she really needed me with her, and no one else would do. As it turned out, the new job with great pay that I’d just taken came to a sudden end when the firm lost a major client. Yet the day after Linda was declared to be in remission after half a year of intense chemotherapy and surgery, I landed a new job. It wasn’t a perfect job in many ways, but it was close to home and that counted for a lot in those transitional times. It seems that often the answer to our prayers is not always riches or perfection, but God delivers strength and patience.
Allow us also to share a quick perspective on some of the realities of living with cancer. Despite all the supposed laws about health privacy and supposed protection for those facing critical health issues, if a company wants you off its payroll and its insurance, it will find a way to do so. One firm literally fired me the day after they discovered my wife was in cancer treatment Another tried to force us off their insurance before letting me go. At those times you literally must put your trust in God that things will work out. We will admit that we have wondered out loud why life has to be so hard at times, challenging God, as it were, to answer us. But He always has. We can tell you that in all confidence.
It is not easy in some ways to reveal these very personal travails in front of a congregation like this. It is seemingly more comfortable, in many respects, to keep your problems to yourself in a society that so values material success and the appearance of self confidence and self-control.
But we have learned through prayer and precious help from others that God does not want you to hide your problems. God’s kingdom is in fact formed on a foundation of helping others in need. As beneficiaries of so much help, we have at times sat helpless and grateful, crying at the dining room table over the kindness and insight of others. Times like these are both humbling and inspiring. So we believe that if we do not share these experiences, then others are the poorer for not knowing of the existence and impact of God’s true grace.
About two years ago we began visiting Bethlehem Lutheran Church for reasons we knew in part, but which became evident to us in full clarity once we heard the mission and values of this congregation and its disciples. We almost immediately knew that his church wonderfully captures the spirit of what we believe about the wonder of creation and care for the earth, this church’s respect and care for the poor, its open tolerance and love for all people, and especially its belief in willing discipleship. We found it a joy to attend services here at Bethlehem, and were greeted warmly on many fronts. We are especially grateful to Pastor Mark Larson and Kelly Collins, Pastor Rich Zawistoski and staff members who have been important to us in many ways. All these faithful people, along with old and new friends at this church have helped usher us into this community of believers, and we look forward to what comes next.
We officially joined Bethlehem a year ago in October of 2011. But just as Linda and I were assessing how to get more deeply involved as church disciples we met another round of challenges related to her health and my employment, again as a result of insurance issues.
Bethlehem has helped us through these challenges, building our resolve with encouragement based in the love of God. Bethlehem has helped us strategize and resolve our immediate financial challenges and fulfilled our need for spiritual support. It is hard to describe what this has meant to us, because we still feel like rookies in the congregation, hardly deserving of such attention and care. Yet the miraculous work of God appears not to be parceled out by God by time or quantity, but in measures of concern and fulfillment.
These acts of service and love toward us have been inspirational. We have tried to respond by being a blessing to others wherever we can. It is now our privilege to get involved in service to the church, and my work as a Confirmation Mentor has already returned so much in terms of spiritual enlightenment.
Here is an encouragement to you all: The time we put in working with youth, or helping fellow church members who might be struggling with emotional, social and financial issues is a true expression of the kingdom of God. This little talk I’ve delivered today is our way of sharing that if you ever need a way to refresh your faith, get involved. Educate the youth. Serve the elderly. Find a path to assist the poor. Help the earth. Your discipleship will magnify your faith in ways you cannot imagine. That is grace, appreciated.
One of my favorite sayings is from a book titled Ambiguous Adventure by Cheik Hamidou Kane. It is written from the perspective of an expatriated African living in France, who realizes that his “new home” is really with God, and not focused in any one place, nor with his greatest prior influence, a teacher he loved. The saying goes, “The purity of the moment is made from the absence of time.” What this means is that when you are doing something that you love, time literally expands to allow you to enjoy and immerse yourself in it. That is the Kingdom of God for me in a nutshell, and we certainly see that work of God in evidence here at Bethlehem. We thank this church for its heart and its care, and look forward to celebrating the life of Christ and the call of God together.
Thank you, and God Bless you all.