The Lord is with you

Published 7:12 pm Tuesday, August 13, 2019

By Charles Qualls

I have a friend who bids all preachers the peace of the Lord each Sunday. On his social media page each Sunday morning his greeting can be found along with a photo of his own sermon on screen. He is up unbelievably early, I think owing to his upbringing on a dairy farm in middle Georgia.

Early Christians called his message “The Passing of the Peace.” My friend ends each week’s greeting by saying, “To all who preach on this day, may the peace of the Lord be with you.” Personally, each week I will answer him by completing this passing, “And also with you.”

The Lord’s peace — a notion that the Lord is with you — is a commodity not to be overlooked. We all need that, don’t we. Then there are those “sometimes” when we’ve needed it worse than at others!

Let me ask you. When have you had to grow up, and grow up fast?

Life has a way of throwing challenges at us — things that it might be time for, but that we don’t think we’re ready for — that cause us to change … to stretch … to reinvent ourselves. Or to grow up fast!

I was listening to an interview the morning I began to write this, with the first ever Kennedy Center “education artist-in-residence.”

Children’s author and illustrator Mo Willems, 51 years old, sees creativity as part of a grownup’s job. “Having a child is an opportunity to be silly again,” says Willems, who has accepted that appointment as “Education Artist-In-Residence.” He says, “I think parents forget that they are cool and if they want the next generation to be creative then they have to be that way, too.”

Not long ago, the Washington, D.C.-based center announced that Willems would organize projects for children and their families, including “collaborative experiences across artistic genres.” The residency lasts two years, along with a year for preparation.

Why do I even mention such a development?

Well, the Kennedy Center in Washington doesn’t just go around handing out appointments like this. Mo Willems is accomplished in his field, and has built a body of work that speaks to why they asked him in the first place.

Which makes it compelling that he told the interviewer his first reaction to the job was feeling completely unprepared and absolutely overwhelmed at the possibility. Doesn’t life have a way of doing this?

You’ve been there maybe. Or, you’ve watched a loved one live through something they didn’t feel ready for. By the way, this sensation is not reserved simply for the young. It can happen to any of us at various stages of life. I know that because I listen to my church members. It can happen after tragedy or an illness. After the death of a spouse or loved one. After a job change or promotion. We can feel unprepared even after a change in vision and maturity sends us into a more responsible chapter of our lives.

In our Bibles, Mary had a lot pushed upon her at a young age. In Luke 1: 26-38, young Mary received a visit from a heavenly messenger. He gave her stunning news. She would conceive and bear the Son of the Most High.

Back in the 1400s, Flemish painter Roger Van der Weyden portrayed this encounter in the first panel of a work he did for the St. Columbia Church in Cologne, Germany. There, he depicted a closed door which indicates a divine being who has entered in a way that would have defied the laws of physics. Mary’s posture and face, in the painting, betray her surprise. Maybe even overwhelm her.

In the air hang some powerful words of promise. “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee.” The Lord is with you.

Have you ever longed to hear those words? To feel them in your very soul? Have you ever reached a point, or at least experienced a moment when your breath clung inside you? A time when you longed to hear something like what hangs in the air in front of Mary?

You see, that is the message I am struck by today.

At other times, I have normally been more focused on the “news” he delivered. A child. God with us. Emanuel, we learn elsewhere we should also call Him.

That is what we celebrate at Christmas time. Maybe because we’re still in the middle of the summer, I am hearing another texture to all this. The Lord is with you. For nothing will be impossible with God. Peace for all of us who wish to accept.

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.