Incarnation in Oklahoma

And the word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).

In Matthew’s gospel Jesus promised that he would build his church. I have no doubt that Jesus has kept and is keeping his promise, but along the way he’s had some help. One of the co-builders of Jesus’ church in Oklahoma is Kenneth.

The first church I ever served started as a group of people meeting in a school cafeteria. That probably explains how I came to be their pastor as a second-year seminary student. All the other “real” pastors were already at “real” churches. As it happened this small congregation had some land, and after I had been with them for about a year, they were ready to start building on that land. Forget about capital campaigns and master plans. We would do this job ourselves, as much as we could.

Thanks to Kenneth, that meant we would be able to do a respectable share of the work.

Overalls and a Red Pick-Up
As best I could tell, there wasn’t anything that Kenneth couldn’t do or make or fix. When my hand-me-down Olds Cutlass began to strain under the weekly trip from Fort Worth to Ardmore, Kenneth rebuilt the engine. If I lived in Ardmore, Oklahoma today I’d probably be driving that car right now. Well . . . maybe not. But you get my point.

There were a few tasks here and there where Kenneth needed some back-up. Newt came over from Duncan and ran wiring through the building. A concrete mixer and crew came in and poured the foundation. And some roofing contractors did the roof as I recall. But I’m not exaggerating too much when I say that Kenneth built that church. What he couldn’t do alone he reluctantly allowed others to do. Many of us helped when we could, but Kenneth was always the foreman.

And he was always in overalls. My mind’s eye will forever see his ’72 red Ford pick-up and his white t-shirt beneath denim overalls.

Kenneth never wore those overalls to worship. Jeans, maybe. Never a tie. He and Dorothy were rock-solid faithful when it came to Sundays. I sit here trying to visualize where they sat – back left it seems. I’m not sure really. I just know they were there.

Tough Hands, Tender Heart
But Kenneth’s love for Christ and Christ’s church didn’t find its fullest or best expression on Sunday mornings. It was expressed on Saturdays and any other day when there was work to be done that required the use of the ’72 Ford pick-up and the denim overalls. That’s how Kenneth loved Jesus. That’s how he loved all of us.

When God showed his love to us by sending Jesus, he loved us in a way that reminds me of Kenneth. The denim overalls crowd takes center stage in the Advent / Christmas story. The shepherds were not likely lounging in those fields in silk. The Bethlehem birth and the cave where it took place were removed from the temple precincts and the clergy types who spent all their time tending to the routines of sacrifice and worship. And as time drew near to make way for the Messiah, John the Baptizer lived a hardscrabble life clad in animal skin. We’re not missing the mark when we say that love came to us in denim overalls. I know without a doubt that for nearly five years of my life it came to me that way.

During the Advent season you may read or hear that “the word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). When you read or hear that be sure to see the flesh as calloused. See some dirt under the nails. That’s the kind of flesh that first showed up to worship Mary’s child.

And when that child became a man, a carpenter, that’s the kind of flesh he had. Tough hands and a tender heart. Hands pierced or our salvation.

We give you thanks, O God, for the way you came to us, for the way you took on flesh and embraced every part of our existence. We thank you for the kind of love that trades in lofty language for deeds of humble service. Empower us to love that way, finding opportunities and places where can imitate your incarnate love to us in Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.

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