August 2017

The Amish Church 

The singing is finally over, and one of the preachers gets to his feet to preach the first sermon of the day. He begins in the normal way: the greeting, the wish of God’s blessing and grace on all present, and the reminder that we are still in the land of preparation. Then he quotes the familiar verses that are always, without fail, recited by all the preachers. Even though I have heard the words a hundred times, they once again wash over my soul with a glimmer of hope. [Psalm 106:1-5 is read in the Amish tongue of Pennsylvania Dutch]. Thank God, for He is friendly, and His goodness endures forever. The words have a reassuring effect on me. God is friendly and good after all. To me, God is a constant reminder of my failure and guilt, and I’m afraid of Him, yet the Scriptures say that He is friendly and good.

I almost believe it. Blessed are those who keep the commandment, and always do right. This verse always brings me a mixture of hope and despair. Hope, because it contains the answer, the secret that I have been looking for. If only I can keep the commandment and always do right, I’ll be blessed by God. Despair, because so far I have not been able to keep the commandment to my own satisfaction, let alone God’s. It is as though the great mountain of doing right and keeping the commandment is always a steep climb ahead of me, and I never see the top of the mountain. I desperately want to do what’s right and good. I want to please God and want Him to be pleased with me; yet it always remains just ahead of me, just outside of my reach. It always remains at the end of my promises to do better, and I never reach it. The preacher has now begun another familiar passage of Scripture [Psalm 103:1-3]. The words flow from his mouth in simple eloquence; they are so familiar to him, he says them without thinking.

The words of the Bible once again bring a ray of comfort to my tormented soul. Who forgives all your sins, and heals all your sicknesses. This sounds so much like what I am looking for; it seems to match so perfectly to that of which I stand in need. I wonder what the conditions are to qualify for this blessing of having one’s sins forgiven. What gave the Psalmist the confidence to say that God has forgiven his sins? How did he know? The words continue [Psalm 103:8-10]. Merciful and gracious is the Lord; patient, and of great goodness. He does not deal with us after our sins, and does not reward us according to our iniquities. I wonder if these words are for me, or if they were written only for the rest of the world. Did God even care enough about me to know what sins I had that needed to be forgiven? Even though I didn’t dare believe the words, still they brought me comfort and a sense of relief. It was comforting to know that even though I wasn’t sure how to make it happen, God was willing to forgive and to show mercy and goodness. It was a relief to hear from a secure and authoritative source that God was still open to receive me and forgive my sins. I wondered how and when it would happen. How would I know when God has forgiven me? How long would I have to wait?

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