Food This Sabbath

I went to church this morning–a Seventh-Day Adventist one. I’ve not visited one of those in a few years. Churches in general can be pretty cold. People just shake your hand, then they walk away. And that was true of this one as well. One thing I liked about it, however, is that the pastor stood at the doorway and shook people’s hands after the service. That’s important! And I don’t see it at that many churches. A lot of times, pastors look at me like I’m some kind of freak! At least this one invited me out to lunch.

I declined his invitation for a few reasons. One is that the church service took up all of my morning, so I wanted the afternoon for myself. Another is that the lunch was not within walking distance of my apartment, and I didn’t want to rely on someone else for my escape route. A third reason was my social anxiety. And a fourth reason is a fear I have of Seventh-Day Adventists–that they will make me their project and try to convert me. When I visited an SDA church in New York, a woman said about me to someone else, “He is a searcher” (wink, wink), which to me meant, “This guy’s now our official project for conversion.” But I didn’t tell the pastor all of these reasons today. I just said I needed to get home.

The sermon was all right. It was about Mary being afraid when Gabriel spoke to her. Personally, I thought she was afraid because seeing an angel is scary, but the pastor listed a bunch of other reasons: she was afraid she’d have a bad reputation as a loose woman, etc. He said that we don’t have to fear the consequences of following God, which may relate to some people, since he mentioned those he knows who’ve suffered for doing the right thing at work. But it didn’t relate to me all that much, since I’m not sure if I serve God these days, or even what service to God means.

The pastor also said that the only way to overcome fear is to have Jesus in your heart. But how do I know if Jesus is in my heart? I said the sinner’s prayer years ago, but I still have my phobias. Part of me dislikes it when Christians act like Jesus is the answer to everything. Does that mean Jesus isn’t doing his job when Christians see a need to take medications for anxiety or depression? At the same time, strangely enough, the sermon gave me a sense of inner peace and contemplation. I’m not sure why or how, but at least it got me thinking about the issue of Jesus in my heart.

One thought I had on the walk home was this: my church background did not exactly promote assurance of salvation. Garner Ted Armstrong always liked to tell the story of the Ambassador College student who was asked point-blank by his professor, “Do you have the Holy Spirit?” The student stumbled around and finally exclaimed, “I don’t know!” Ted said that a better answer would have been “I hope so.”

But why couldn’t the student have just answered “yes”? It’s not pride for a Christian to say that he has the Spirit of the living God inside of him. Paul said that Christ lived in him (Galatians 2:20). He told the Philippians that God was at work in them (Philippians 2:13). Ephesians 1:13 states that believers have been sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. Why couldn’t the student have unashamedly answered “yes”–not “I don’t know,” not “I hope so”? Is it pride to trust God and take him at his word?

As far as James Pate goes, though, my answer pretty much is “I don’t know.” There’s a lot of darkness inside of me, believe it or not!

When I got home, I listened to an excellent sermon by Elisabeth Elliott for my I Samuel quiet time. It’s called A Contest of Wills. Her thesis was that God loves us and wants the best for us, whether that corresponds with what we want or not. She also said that God is not so interested in answering our questions as in our holiness–our becoming like Christ. I’ve heard this stuff before, and I doubt it will convince my non-Christian readers, who have also heard this stuff before.

But there’s something magical about it when it comes out of the lips of Elisabeth Elliott. For one, she sounds like a real person, not a happy-clappy evangelical. Whenever I’ve listened to her, she’s always struck me as rather aloof and cold, yet with a wry outlook on things (somewhat like Tim Keller). She’s an introvert and a very organized person, but that’s not a turn-off at all, for it may be what leads her to speak her convictions with thoughtfulness. Plus, the issue of theodicy is not an abstraction for her, since one of her husbands was murdered, and another died of health problems.

So I was really blessed listening to her this Sabbath, and perhaps some of you will be, too.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in Asperger's, Autism, Bible, Church, I Samuel, Life, Religion, Weekly Quiet Time. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Food This Sabbath

  1. Pascalian Awakenings says:

    Didn’t Eric Camden greet people at the back of the church?


  2. James Pate says:

    Sure did! I watched him doing it last week–on the episode about the elder’s son who had autism.


  3. steph says:

    I think it’s essential for the preacher/pastor/priest to farewell each of their congregation individually at the door. The smaller Christian churches I’ve been to generally do this – even the Anglican Cathedral here in my home town which holds about 400 people. The priest is always at the door as people file out. (I haven’t been to church ever as a Christian of course).

    I think the sermon sounds strange. What was the point? And what did people do to overcome fear before Jesus? Wouldn’t God be the more appropriate thing to have in your heart? I wouldn’t have accepted a lunch invitation for all of your reasons – fear of being a conversion victim, fear of social interaction with strangers, need for personal space after service, and being at fear of being dependent on them to help me escape. I don’t think you lost anything by not going. I had a seventh day adventist try to convert me once. They were giving free car washes at their church as I passed but as you waited for the car to be cleaned they gave you a ‘free tour’ and preached the ‘gospel’ which seemed rather distorted to me. He was bleating on about what the prophet told Paul but he was quoting Revelations – vaguely. And then he started drawing up charts on the blackboard of the ‘cosmos’ and it all seemed vaguely gnostic … I walked out and grabbed my car but as I drove out it stalled and wouldn’t start!! and one of the evangelisers gave me a push start. It turned out later my spark plug leads were worn out and water had made them miss and cut the engine.

    It’s funny – the only religion that has ever tried to convert me is Christian – and only the more fundamentalist strands. Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Bahais are just willing to discuss their beliefs and answer questions.


  4. steph says:

    I came back to read Elisabeth’s sermon but it’s one of those things that ask things of my computer that it can’t do. I think I need more than dial up for a start. I was interested to see what ‘Christ like’ means for her. For my understanding of Jesus, that would mean that God wants us to become apocalyptic prophets. Or does she mean it’s about looking after the poor and sick, and loving enemies, and sharing the good news about God and the coming kingdom? Or is it about suffering as Jesus did? I sometimes wonder if some Christians think it is obligatory to suffer as Jesus did and if this is why some suffer paronoia of persecution. I don’t want to be critical but I have often wondered what different people mean by ‘Christ like’.


  5. James Pate says:

    Hi Steph,

    Yeah, it’s a sermon that requires audio. I can listen to it on mine, but I probably wouldn’t be able to on my dad’s dial-up.

    In terms of what Christ-like means for Elisabeth Elliott, she didn’t explicitly say, but I think it has to do with being a good person–being loving, kind, humble, patient, etc. On the whole suffering issue, there are Christians who like to glorify suffering–Ignatius, for example. For him, following Christ partly meant imitating Christ in his suffering.


  6. steph says:

    Hi James,

    I know some of the fathers encouraged suffering and some of those monks but so do some of our modern fundamentalist denominations who promote suffering and fear. Elisabeth’s is an ideal role model although I’m not sure how patient Jesus really was. I think he got quite cross and impatient with good cause!


  7. Anonymous says:

    all right or alright?


  8. Anonymous says:

    “Alright” is a non-standard abbreviation. “All right” is the conventional form in standard english, and the only one recognized as correct. “Alright”, however, is sometimes used in literary works.


  9. Anonymous says:

    but in this case, all right could mean totally correct. Whereas alright is less ambiguous. Further, alright is the conventional use in journalism, and perhaps by extension, blogs.


  10. James Pate says:

    Hi Steph,

    I wonder why you think Jesus’ impatience was justified. I’ve noticed his impatience too, and it’s a turn-off to me, since there have been times in my life when I’ve been the slow, bumbling student. So I wonder if there’s a positive way to look at Jesus’ impatience. So I disagree with you, but I want to agree with you, if that makes sense.


    I try to be on the safe side! You can’t go wrong with “all right.”


  11. FT says:

    James, you’re darn about going to an SDA church. Any stranger they see is a target. I angrily hate that sooo much! It’s happened to me when I was going to an Adventist funeral back in September 2001. They just rudely asked, “What church do I go to?” Somebody’s died and they’re so concerned about what church I go to? What’s wrong with this picture? Sounds cultish to me. It’s little wonder why some still consider the SDA’s a cult (but I will discuss the why the next time).

    Elisabeth Elliott, gave a pretty tough sermon. Truly rooted in Stoicism bar none. Truly The Iron Lady of religion in every sense of the word. In her books being angry with God is in no means a light matter. Fair enough with the exception that the righteous men and prophets in the Old Testament expressed frustration and yes, let’s admit it (Dr.Phil style) and confront it: they were angry at God. I stubbornly refuse to see them as Dawkinesquely arrogant. She’s one tough son of gun not too cross but if I was a Prime Minister or Premier facing a person like her as a minister in cabinet, it would be EXACTLY like Sting’s tensions (and that’s putting it mildly) in his ’80’s music group The Police. Trust me I guarantee that 100%.


  12. steph says:

    I suppose it isn’t so much justified as an indication of his humanity. He got cross with his disciples when they didn’t believe him when he said that he would die. He got cross with the Jews for turning away from God. But he was also very gentle and loving at times, as well as witty. I’m sure he made people laugh as the synoptics are full of hyperbole. Of course the laughs aren’t recorded but he was very clever in his phrasing. Maurice goes into this in some depth in his forthcoming Life of Jesus.


  13. James Pate says:

    I see your point, Felix. And I have a hard time just being content with everything as if it’s God’s sovereign will. So why that sermon spoke to me, I’m not entirely sure. Maybe it was because I get tired of being mad at God, or I’m desperate for some sort of peace, and I grab anything that comes along.


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