FILLING IN THE GAPS
A BLOG by Pastor Ken Rickett
John 5: 1-9
Some time later came one of the Jewish feast days and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. There is in Jerusalem, near the Sheep-Gate, a pool surrounded by five arches, which has the Hebrew name of Bethzatha. Under these arches a great many sick people were in the habit of lying; some of them were blind, some lame, and some had withered limbs. (They used to wait there for the “moving of water”, for at certain times an angel used to come down into the pool and disturb the water, and then the first person who stepped into the water after the disturbance would be healed of whatever he was
suffering from.) One particular had been there ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there on his back–knowing he had been like that for a long time–he said to him,
“Do you want to get well again?”
“Sir,” replied the sick man, “I just haven’t got anybody to put me into the pool when the water is all stirred up. While I am trying to get there somebody else gets down into it first.”
“Get up,” said Jesus, “pick up your bed and walk!”
At once the man recovered, picked up his bed and walked.
—J B Phillips The New Testament in Modern English
In 1982 Dennis Jones and I co-authored a 212-page history of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Richlands, NC, as a part of the congregation’s centennial celebration. It was not an easy undertaking. You see, 47 years of board and congregational minutes were missing! How in the world did we fill in this huge gap? Writing this book was every bit as difficult as we feared and yet far easier than we could have ever hoped. Difficult because we struggled at first to get written, documented data. Difficult because only a few older members were still living who were active in the church in the early years of the missing minutes. Difficult because a few families
had left the congregation in the late 1960s and formed an independent congregation; thus, a loving, generous spirit in telling that story was absolutely essential. And easy because we discovered that a resource or two turned out to be a gold mine of considerable information.
How DID we fill this gap? First of all, Charles Crossfield Ware (1886-1974) was General Secretary (now called Regional Minister) of the North Carolina congregations in the Christian Church (D.O.C.) from 1915-1952. A historian and prolific writer and gatherer of data from congregations, Ware wrote books about Disciples congregations and articles (such as editing the NC Christian, a monthly newsletter, very similar to the Indiana Christian), filing letters and notes of historical interest, etc., proved to be invaluable. Ware had included in the newsletter such items as dates of baptism and the names of those baptized, significant events in the life of various congregations including Richlands congregation, the installation and resignations/retirements of ministers across the Region, and ordinations of new ministers, some of whom were from the Richlands church. After Charles C. Ware retired in 1952, he spent the next two decades building up a Discipliana collection of NC congregations that is now housed at Barton College at Wilson, NC.
Secondly, members within the church (or their parents) had saved newspaper articles about church events with the dates written on them, or they had an old bulletin or two, or they had old pictures of a Sunday School class or a CWF or CMF meeting or event. Since the church building had been built several decades earlier, older pictures showed some of the decor of the fellowship hall or sanctuary or classrooms. In short, the missing 47 years were filled by resources from people! AND filled with an incredible number of stories about the mission and activities of the church during those years of missing minutes. From Charles Ware to the Regional Minister Charles Dietze who was serving at the time of the writing of this book, the present and former members, even some of the townspeople shared their stories, and their emotions, and their joy.
How are the missing gaps filled in our lives? Every one of us has surely “missed out” on something! Having lost my parents when I was young, I was reared by maternal grandparents and deeply loved, filling the gap. The wider families of my mother and father filled the gap. And when I was grown, they were able to “let me go” and fulfill my own dreams and hopes through college, seminary, career, and certainly my own family. The people in my home church filled the gap. They recognized my gifts and abilities. They offered tons of encouragement. They gave me some leadership roles such as a committee membership and teaching a Sunday School class. Thus people filled the gap! They always do. And I benefited from their ministry of care and nurture. And I was encouraged to minister by helping others to fill in the gaps!
The Gospel is Good News because the power of God fills missing gaps! A man waited for 38 years beside the pool of Bethsaida to be healed of his crippled legs. It was said that the first person in the pool after it bubbled up (which was occasional) would be healed; but because the crippled man could not move quickly, someone else beat him into the pool. He persisted in hope. Then one day Jesus came and that which was missing was restored. Jesus ministered to the man with a deep need.
In a real sense the ministry of Jesus was spent “filling the missing gaps” in the lives of people. From the days in which Jesus called the twelve to “follow me,” Jesus seemed to be driven to fill in the missing gaps in people’s lives, and for his three year ministry, the 12 disciples were trained for the mission of filling “missing gaps.” Such, however, was a mission that would not be grasped until after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. And then, wow, did the disciples preach, teach, heal, and guide as they filled the missing gaps!
In the Book of Acts, telling of the beginning and early years of the Church, Phillip meets an Ethiopian eunuch who has not heard the story of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected and present through the Holy Spirit. There was a missing gap here and Phillip told the story. In fact, in many places in scripture, this story of Jesus was told and people became followers because there was a missing gap in their lives. Crowds followed Jesus because they sensed that Jesus could fill an emptiness, a gap in life. This “gap” can be best described as having “a yearning for the Holy and Merciful God.” In his condemnation of the religious elites of his day, Jesus was saying to them, “You say you know God and His way, but you are missing something. . .you are missing the deepest part of God. . .and that deepest part is God’s mercy and love.”
Run that thinking out. Christianity grows because people have chosen to follow Jesus, and in so doing, they fill the missing gaps in their lives with the presence of the Living Christ as revealed through the Holy Spirit. AND we minister to each other as Christians in an effort to fill missing gaps—gaps not due to unbelief, but gaps due to the pain and anguish and imperfections of life. . . or gaps that yearn to be filled with more teachings that enable us to see the magnificence and majesty of a faithful life.. . or gaps the need to be filled with the sheer, raw joy of “being there” for a person in pain, whether it be emotional or physical pain.
Of course, the 47 years of history at that church in which I co-authored its history was NOT missing. It was there. Dennis Jones and I realized that there were thousands of other stories that we did not hear about or read about- – -stories of how the faithful people of that congregation filled the gaps of each other and the community and world. You see, missing minutes of board meetings is not the same as the mission of the congregation—which was never missing. If the truth be told, we live our lives with a sense of “something missing.” And it is amazing how our faith and our oneness as a people of God continually fill the missing gaps as we seek, learn, fellowship and worship together. And yes, we live our lives unaware that something may be missing, and this is when a brother or sister shares something with us in love. As a minister for 43 years, there were a few situations and circumstances in which I was unaware of something missing, but no one dared to share it with me. (Most of the time, I heard my mistakes shouted from the rooftops). Boy, do I ever wish that people would have told me, “Ken, so-and-so took what you said/did or didn’t say/didn’t do in a wrong way” OR “I don’t think the Bible Study class got your intended point” or “I don’t think the board grasped the significance of what you were explaining.” Jesus did not talk about “wholeness” aimlessly; but rather Jesus lifted up “wholeness” as a spiritual blessing that comes to those whose “missing gaps” are filled. Ministry is “filling the gaps.”
Maybe the Church of the 21st Century can best understand its calling, its role, its ministry as “filling in the gaps.” Sounds like an empowering image to me!