Monday, June 3, 2013

Oyster Shells

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This summer I am serving at Seaside UMC in Sunset Beach, NC.  Despite growing up in Mississippi, I have never really spent an extended amount of time at the beach.  The couple of times I vacationed at the beach were spent at the Alabama or Florida Gulf Coasts.  This being said, spending ten weeks on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean in southeastern North Carolina is a major life transition for this divinity student.  I spent my first few evenings here at Seaside UMC walking the local beaches.  As a relatively new beach bum I am fascinated by the varieties of sea shells and drift wood I see in the sand during low tide. There is an abundance of oyster shells along Sunset Beach, and I frequently pick them up hoping to find a pearl (hey, you’ve got to pay for student loans some how.) 

Friday evening as I picked up an especially rough oyster shell, I recalled a sermon Bishop Hope Morgan Ward preached a few years ago at a gathering of Mississippi United Methodists and Episcopalians.  Bishop Ward talked about the ministry of John Wesley, and she shared this story that can be found online at

In the days of John Wesley, lay preachers with limited education would sometimes conduct the church services. One lay preacher used Luke 19:21 as his text: “Lord, I feared Thee, because Thou art an austere man” (KJV). Not knowing the word austere, he thought the text spoke of “an oyster man.”

The lay preacher explained how a diver must grope in dark, freezing water to retrieve oysters. In his attempt, he cuts his hands on the sharp edges of the shells. After he obtains an oyster, he rises to the surface, clutching it “in his torn and bleeding hands.” The preacher added, “Christ descended from the glory of heaven into . . . sinful human society, in order to retrieve humans and bring them back up with Him to the glory of heaven. His torn and bleeding hands are a sign of the value He has placed on the object of His quest.”

Afterward, 12 men received Christ. Later that night someone came to Wesley to complain about unschooled preachers who were too ignorant even to know the meaning of the texts they were preaching on. The Oxford-educated Wesley simply said, “Never mind. The Lord got a dozen oysters tonight.”

What I find so striking about this story is the way God’s truth can be revealed in spite of our personal shortcomings.  Many divinity students are plagued with the doubts and insecurities of wondering am I good enough, or do I know enough information?  True, as graduate students our professors assess our academic performance, but that is one part of our formation as ministers of the Gospel.  The lay preacher in the story is an example of what it means to step out in faith and let God’s work take place through us, or even, in spite of us.

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