A few stories shared upon the birthday of our son Chris

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Chris Sandel’s birthday

(click here to listen to or read today’s scriptures)

A few stories shared upon the birthday of our son Chris

… Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus, who is called the Christ. Thus the total number of generations from Abraham to David is fourteen generations; from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations; from the Babylonian exile to the Christ, fourteen generations.

With the advantage of hindsight, I see there was never any doubt. Chris would be a minister somehow– just look at his love for his brother and sister, his love for his friends in Waynesville, his love for his teachers at King School … his sacrifices for others … he found ways to give himself up, or rather, ever since he was born in 1980, God found ways, and Chris said “YES.”

His earlier plan to be a graphic designer went the way of most early plans when he moved into the Christian Campus House, the only Parkland student among a group of UIUC engineers. He was asked to lead their prayer times, and so he did. Within a semester he had worked out a spreadsheet of classes with the registrar at Lincoln Christian College in Lincoln, so he could still graduate in four years, but with a degree in youth ministry rather than graphic design.

Chris lived with his grandparents (my parents) during that next two years. Mom and Dad lived two miles from LCC. He ate meals with them, set up his computer in my brother John’s old room, headed off to school in the mornings, and usually drove back to Urbana on weekends to be with Melissa, who soon became his fiancée, and then soon after that, his wife.

In 2002, Chris made his first internship at a large church south of Denver, Colorado. While Margaret and Andi were traveling in Scotland, I flew to Denver for a week with Chris. We hiked, took lots of photographs, camped, played golf, spent a couple of afternoons with Chris’ host family and their young son, and we prayed together.  Watching Chris with the church kids, and his host family’s son, I was happy. It was obvious how much he loved those kiddos, and how easy it was for him to love them. He didn’t have work at it; it was like God was right there in their midst, doing the work, and Chris was smiling through it all.

During one Advent in 1917, when he was preaching at his first pastorate in the rural Swiss town of Safenwil, Karl Barth spoke about Zechariah and his encounter with the angel. He caught the gist of Zechariah’s problem, which is the problem for all of us: it is difficult (read impossible) for us to let God invade us, fill us up, and speak into our hearts and out of our mouths. We seem determined to be more in charge than we can be, or even have the right to be.

We must once and for all give up trying to be self-made individuals. Let us cease preaching by ourselves, being right by ourselves, doing good by ourselves, being sensible by ourselves, improving the world by ourselves. God wants to do everything, certainly through us and with us and never without us; but our participation in what he does must naturally originate and grow out of his power, not ours. O, how we could then speak with one another! For whatever does not grow out of God produces smoke, not fire. But that which is born of God overcomes the world. (this sermon is anthologized in WAIT FOR THE LIGHT, Plough Publications, December 13 entry)

Chris still lives his life in a casual intimacy with God. His ease with others flows out of his lifelong natural affinity to being with God. I have only known two or three other people who share this grace so easily.

Barth spoke again to his congregation:

Every one of us has a hidden side of our being that is, as it were, in touch with God. We are secretly in a close connection with the eternal truth and love, even if we ourselves are not aware of it. And from this other, hidden side of our being, resounds a voice that is actually speaking constantly to us … without this word inside us we would not have the urge to exercise love and to become loving … the flood of God awaits to rush around us.

And I think it’s not Karl Barth the theologian and scholar who experiences this word, so much as people like Chris, people whose thoughts don’t get in the way of what they “do.” Or … “be.” Intellectually, we can’t capture this experience, but only (and then just barely) try to describe it from the outside. I’m glad that some of us, sometimes, can at least for a time, ride the waves of the flood of God.

What moves us is not just our own concern, but precisely God’s concern. What causes me worry, that is God’s worry, what gives me joy is God’s joy, what I hope for is God’s hope. In other words, in all that I am, I am only a party to that which God thinks and does. In all that I do it is not I, but rather God, who is important.

It’s Chris’ birthday today. Happy birthday, Chris. Thanks for hanging on to your surfboard as God’s waves keep cutting toward the beach, and thanks for getting back on again.

The mountains shall yield peace for the people. He shall defend the afflicted among them, and save the children of the poor. Justice shall flower in his days, and profound peace, till the moon be no more.

 (Genesis 49, Psalm 72, Matthew 1)

(posted at www.davesandel.net)


1 Comment

  1. Don
    December 17, 2022

    Very Nice, Dave…


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