Note: This reflection is part of our celebration of the ministry of Mary Kae Waytenick. The service also included a handful of exquisite testimonials and, of course, fantastic music.
In the scripture Sylvia just read, we meet up with Paul on the Worst Day.
It all started years earlier when he got arrested in the temple. A particular anti-Paul faction had accused Paul of allowing the Greeks to defile the temple, and sure enough, it worked to stir up the crowd. Paul was locked up for years, while several groups tried to kill him. Finally, he won an audience with King Agrippa. Finally, Paul won the right to appeal his case to the emperor.
Now here he is crammed onto a ship full of prisoners and soldiers when a violent storm breaks open on top of them— sweeping up their vessel into the fullness of its rage. For days now, there had been no stars or sun. There had been no food. There had been no hope. This is the Worst Day.
This is when Paul stands up to speak to the others on board, and we can guess what’s coming. See, at the heart of Paul’s heart, he’s a preacher. This is a man who can summon a sermon anytime anywhere, and he’s not afraid to talk and talk and talk.
Once when Paul was preaching in Troas, a young man happened to be sitting in the window. This poor kid fell asleep, then he fell out the window, then he died! Paul raced outside, brought him back to life, then you know what Paul did? He kept on preaching!
Now when Paul stands up to speak on the Worst Day, you’d think he would launch into a lengthy argument, but strangely, that’s not what he does! Instead, Paul simply shares his faith. This makes all the difference.
Paul tells the others: An angel of the Lord came to me last night and told me that we will lose the ship, but everyone will live. Do not be afraid. Hold fast to your courage.
And that was pretty much it!
Two weeks later, Paul stood up, and once again, he did not preach. He shared communion with all the people on the ship, then they threw the wheat overboard, then the ship crashed, but the people lived.
In the middle of the storm, Paul listened to the angels. He took to heart their instruction: Do not be afraid. Then by sharing the heart of his faith, Paul showed the people, they could do this too.
In August of Nineteen Thirty-Two, a young gospel musician got recruited to play at a revival meeting in Saint Louis. Thomas Dorsey was the son of a Baptist preacher and a piano teacher. He knew how to use his talent to get the Holy Spirit herself raising her arms and shouting Hallelujah!
What he did not know was this was about to become the Worst Day.
I’d like to share with you his words, as recorded in the United Methodist history of hymns.
“In the steaming Saint Louis heat, the crowd called on me to sing again and again. When I finally sat down, a messenger boy ran up with a Western Union telegram… Pasted on the yellow sheet were the words: YOUR WIFE JUST DIED…”
Dorsey’s wife, Nettie Harper, died giving birth, and that night, his baby son died too. Dorsey writes:
“Then I fell apart. For days I closeted myself. I felt that God had done me an injustice. I didn’t want to serve Him anymore or write gospel songs…”
“I was lost in grief. Everyone was kind to me, especially a friend, Professor Frye who seemed to know what I needed. On the following Saturday, he took me up to Malone’s Poro College…”
“It was quiet. The late evening sun crept in through the curtained windows. I sat down at the piano, and my hands began to browse over the keys.”1https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-precious-lord-take-my-hand
If you ask me, by sitting at the piano, Dorsey put himself right in the path of the angels. Pretty soon, the chords of an old hymn found their way under his fingers. Then he remembered Blind Connie Williams singing this hymn with the words Precious Lord. Then he did that thing where you pick it up and swing it, and Hallelujah!
If the first miracle is the angels found Dorsey at the piano and gave him the song, Precious Lord, Take My Hand, the next miracle is when Dorsey brought this song into being, he gave it to all of us. Now we have a song that could come and find us on the Worst Day. We have something to sing during the storm.
So you can see — like Paul with his preaching or Dorsey with his music, it is really good to have a leader who will share their talent. But you know what, when there’s a storm, it is downright miraculous to have a leader who will share their faith.
For more than fifty years, Mary Kae Waytenick has shared her faith with Church of Peace.
Here’s something you might know about musicians. They are notorious for holding themselves to an immensely high standard which often makes them hold others to an immensely high standard. You can understand why there are music directors at churches out there who believe in establishing standards of excellence for songs that get played during worship.
Mary Kae’s approach is different. Now she definitely values the quality of the music —I know she’s a proponent of practicing— but even more than proficiency, Mary Kae fosters our love for music. Even more than that, Mary Kae fosters our love for Jesus. This has made all the difference.
As Karen mentioned, one of Mary Kae’s superpowers is getting people involved. Given her musical talent, she could have decided to be the star musician of Church of Peace, and that would have been beautiful, and okay. Instead, Mary Kae chose to use her talent to include everybody.
From encouraging the littlest children in the choir, to getting the most serious adults to play percussion in the pews, from recruiting students who were building their confidence, to writing a play which has a role that was meant just for you —Mary Kae’s ministry is really about bringing us together, it’s really about bringing us to God. Mary Kae keeps helping all of us find our way into the harmony of the Holy Spirit.
You and I know Church of Peace has lived through some storms, and you will again. Whenever the storm is rising, what the church needs is someone who can listen to the angels and believe them, someone who can help the rest of us do this too. We have that in Mary Kae. She’s been giving us her faith.
What I’d like to suggest is, maybe we need to give this back sometimes. Maybe we need to remember the music and sing the songs to Mary Kae when she needs to hear them. Maybe it’s our turn to tell her: Do not be afraid. We will join that mighty chorus which the morning stars began. We will give glory to God—
See we learned this from you. Hallelujah! Amen.