Anne Davis taught at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, when I was a student there 1974-1982. In 1984 she became the dean of the Carver School of Social Work at the Seminary. She preached one of three sermons I remembered among the hundreds experienced over those eight years. “Caught with the Resources” was her message based on the boy with the five loaves of bread and two fish that enabled Jesus to feed over 5,000 men, not counting the women and children listening to Jesus preach that day. Anne challenged her audience that day in Chapel, asking us what gifts have we been caught red-handed in which God could use for His Kingdom’s sake.
I was so inspired by that message that I wrote a monologue sermon as the boy with the basket of bread and fish. In what might have been the craziest thing I ever did in seminary, I turned the sermon in to George Buttrick, the venerable Presbyterian minister who retired to Louisville to be near his son and to teach those Southern Baptists how to preach. Crazy? Yes. I had just received an “F” on a sermon in Buttrick’s class in part because I used an illustration from William Barclay’s Study Bible that I did not know was apocryphal. How risky to use a genre of sermon that was not in the mainstream tradition of Buttrick’s tutelage! And this was the sermon when I was invited to bring my wife to Buttrick’s apartment and have afternoon tea and discuss the sermon I had written. I was so nervous upon arrival, I asked to be excused to the lavatory. As Buttrick led Anne (my wife, Anne) to his study, he asked her if she had written that sermon for me, because of the marked difference from the earlier failure. “Oh, no! Dr. Buttrick,” she replied. “There is more of Ernest in that sermon than you’ll ever realize.” And she was right as I soon learned that monologue sermons often have that telltale clue. That sermon reflected the struggle I had going on deep within me, giving to God all that I had, letting go and allowing Him to do whatever he pleased with what I gave Him.
And here in the last third of my journey, I have been again caught with the resources. This time what’s in the basket held tightly in my hands is Trauma Ministry. With what I have learned, researched, and published, God caught me red-handed, calling me to take this message to the churches, alerting them to the crises faced by survivors of trauma, abuse, and neglect, and providing a training ministry to equip a cadre of courageous Christians in a congregation to minister to those survivors who share in worship or live in the communities served by that congregation.
As I pass the baton of this ministry forward through equipping experiences and ongoing support, I ask the same question Anne Davis asked me: “Have you been caught with the resources?” What gifts have you been given that need to be developed, sharpened, and shared to bring healing to those who have experienced the unspeakable? Diane Langberg PhD calls trauma ministry the church’s mission field of the 21st Century.
I invite you to look down to that basket clutched in your hands and take inventory of the gifts uniquely placed there by God to equip you as an apprentice of Jesus. Are there gifts of listening, empathy, patience, love, and compassion that can be shaped into a toolbox of healing skills for trauma and abuse survivors? If so, will you give those gifts to God, no strings attached, in order that He may use you as a healing vessel for those survivors?
Trusting you are answering affirmatively, I look forward to coming to your church to equip a cadre of caring, compassionate servants who will answer the call to minister to survivors of trauma, abuse, and neglect.
In the words of that ubiquitous commercial, “What’s in your basket?”