A Room Full of Friends: Fred Craddock
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; July 11, 2021
7th Sunday after Pentecost
We are now several Sundays into the summer sermon series: A Room Full of Friends. Throughout the series, it is my hope to introduce you to some dear friends who reside on the shelves of my study. Already you have met Eugene Peterson, Barbara Brown Taylor, Ann Lamotte, and others. Today I bring to you Fred Craddock. He was, without a doubt, one of the greatest influences of the 20th Century on the craft of preaching—particularly preaching that embraces the art of storytelling. In my opinion, Craddock helped preachers embrace poetry and imagery and life in such a way that preaching became less like the presentation of a theme paper and more like the presentation of the Gospel. A few years ago, when Fred Craddock left his earthly dwelling and entered into glory, the news lit up my Facebook and Twitter feeds because so many of us felt the loss of someone who had impacted our lives deeply. It is my prayer that his influence will continue this morning as you listen to an excerpt from a sermon Fred Craddock preached on Psalm 8. It is entitled, “A Little Less Than God.”
“O Lord, our Lord, how excellent, how majestic is your name in all the earth.” Such a huge statement made by the psalmist, probably living in the desert of Israel. How could he say, “in all the earth”? Probably had never seen huge chunks of icebergs break off and plunge into the sea. Probably never saw a flight of flamingoes startled by the appearance of a person. Never saw alligators dozing in the sun along the Amazon…Probably never heard the trumpet of the elephant…How could he say, “in all the earth”?
Because he is in a worshipful mode. He may have talked to some travelers who had seen some things and heard some things that he didn’t know, but not necessarily. He had his faith in God as the one God of all creation and he had Genesis 1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Everything that is, is from God. So, he didn’t need to travel to say that. There are many people who travel all over the world, buy a lot of trinkets, complain about the service, and come home exactly the way they were. You can stand in the doorway of your cabin in the Appalachians and say in worshipful tones, “in all the earth…”
When I started out in ministry, I thought in terms of right and wrong and true and false and biblical and unbiblical. But now that I’ve gotten wise, there is a bigger category, more important to me; small and big. When I consider the moon and stars, O God, why do you even think of us? We’re so confused. The moon and the stars go in their courses every day. We can count on it; we can chart it. Whatever the century, whatever the country, we know exactly where every star and all the moons will be. We know exactly because they are ordained by God. But we are so confused.
You said, “I’ll give you dominion over land and sea and all that is in the sea and all the beasts of the field, the fish that go in the sea. Over everything, I give you dominion.” And we don’t know what it means. Some people think it means rape the land, you own it. Soil the streams, you own them. Darken the air, it’s yours. Toss your McDonald’s trash all along the highway, “This is my land.” Some people think that’s what it means, “You shall have dominion.”
There are other folk who think it means that you shall accumulate. It’s yours, so accumulate. And some never think about the fact that the more they get, the less somebody else has. If you get a huge meal, somebody else is hungry. That’s the way it works. What does it mean, “You shall have dominion”? It seems that we can just grab, hold, collect, hoard. After all, we have dominion…
When I consider the moon and stars that God has ordained, why does God pay so much attention to us? We’re so mixed up and we’re so temporary. The moon and the stars, the moon and the stars forever. As for me, I’m just a blip on the screen. There was a time I did not exist. There will be another time I do not exist, but in the narrow time between whence and whither, what am I going to do? Why does God pay attention to us? We’re so brief. We see it in the seasons: spring of the year, all the world is a poem of light and color, then it gets hot and the grasshopper drags itself along and the thermostat’s broken and everybody’s mad. Then it cools off; you grab a sweater, kick a football in the air; it’s beautiful, but not for long. The cold weather blows the leaves off the trees and bony fingers on those trees beg for cover and down comes the snow, the flying cloud, the frosted light, the year’s dying in the night. “Happy New Year.” What happened?
Do you live as though you’re going to live forever? At our little place over a creek, a couple of years ago I was out working in the yard, and I found a beautiful arrowhead, beautiful, beautiful and perfectly shaped. I picked it up and said to myself, “Fred, you’re not the first one to live here.” And the plow goes along and hits something hard. The farmer stops and goes around to pull out what might be just a little boulder. It’s a cornerstone, actually a hearthstone. There was once a family here; made popcorn balls, pulled molasses taffy, sat around the fireplace and sang from the old paperback book, “Oh, How I Love Jesus,” O What Wondrous Love is This.” They put poultices on the sick, put salve in their noses, cooked collards, and laughed and cried; gave birth and died, right here. We’re not the first ones. We’re not the last ones. Life is just so brief….Why does God pay attention to us? So small, so wrong, so brief.
And the psalmist says, “I know. God made us in God’s own image. When God made the duck, God said, ‘That’s good.’ When God made the elephant, God chuckled and said, ‘Well, that’s good.’ When God made the dogwood tree, God said, ‘That’s good,’ and so with the squirrel and the quail, and the grouse and the turkey. ‘That’s good.’ But it wasn’t enough and finally God said, ‘I’m going to make something just like myself, my very image. I’m going to make something that, when people look at it, they’re going to say, “God.” And that’s when God made you.”
Now we don’t want any of that stuff like, “We’re only human.” I’m sick of that. A shortstop catches the ball without mistake 300 times and finally he drops it and somebody says, “Only human.” What was he when he made the play? She bakes a cake eight inches tall, beautiful. Then the church has a fellowship dinner so she wants to outdo herself. She makes one, looks like the sole of your shoe. “Well, I’m only human,” she says. What was she when the cakes were eight inches tall? When the singer climbs the silver stairs and leaves every note as clear as the morning dew, what do people say? “Oh, that was wonderful.” If her voice cracks, “Well, she’s only human.” Why, why, why do we say we’re human when we make a mistake? Weren’t you made in God’s image? Don’t ever say, don’t ever say, “I’m only human.” When somebody says, “That was beautiful,” you say, “Well, after all, I’m human.” When somebody says, “Best I’ve ever eaten,” you say, “After all, I’m human.” When somebody says, “That was a beautiful prayer today,” you say, “Well, after all, I’m human.” Would you do that?
I know sometimes we don’t act like it. You take the expression, “You have made us but little less than God,” and then hold it up beside the daily newspaper and it doesn’t seem to fit. Left a baby in a trash bin? Hit a pedestrian and didn’t even stop? Took people’s money that was supposed to go for Medicare, Medicaid? It doesn’t seem to fit, I know, I know, I know. But once in a while, once in a while…
When I was a minister in the mountains of east Tennessee, the church had vacation Bible school in the summer. I had these kids, I don’t know, third or fourth grade. The thing lasted two weeks. I was ready at the end of one day to call it quits. Took about twelve kids, all day, two weeks. The lesson that year was on, you know, nature. Well, I use up all that stuff in one day; then what am I going to do for the rest of the time? I thought of something. I’ll send them out into the woods and let them get something that reminds them of God and bring it back. I rang a bell and said, “Now when I ring this bell, you go out into the woods, find something that reminds you of God, and when I ring it again, bring it back and tell us what it tells you about God.”
So I rang a bell and they scattered. My plan was not to ring it again, but I did. I rang it again and here they come. And I said to her, “What do you have?”
She said, “A flower.”
“And what does that tell you about God?”
“God is beautiful.” Now that’s good.
“And what do you have?”
“What does that tell you?”
“God is stout.” Hey, that’s good, that’s good.
“And what do you have?”
“Well what does that tell you?”
“God is good; God feeds us and feeds the birds.” Another good answer.
Well, here’s Jim East, meanest kid I ever saw, but he was always there. You didn’t want him to be there all the time, but…
So I said, “Well, Jimmy, what do you have?” He was holding the hand of his sister from the kindergarten group. I said, “What did you bring, Jim?”
He said, “My sister.”
I said, “What does that tell you about God?”
And Jimmy said, “Uh, uh, uh, I don’t know for sure.” And that’s it. That’s it. This mean little kid recognized there wasn’t a thing in the forest that told him as much about God as his sister. That’s it.
In The Education of Little Tree, that marvelous story about a Cherokee Indian boy in western North Carolina, raised by his grandparents, poor as Job’s turkey, didn’t have a thing. He knew the grandparents had nothing to get him for Christmas; they had no money. But he wanted to give his grandmother something so he got some leather hide a sewed a little pouch, a coin purse I guess you would say.
He didn’t want to give it to her and hurt her feelings because she would have to say, “Well, Little Tree, I don’t have anything for you.” So you know what he did? You remember the story? He pushed that little coin purse that he made down in the bin of dried beans. They ate dried beans all winter. He pushed it, he said, down into the beans about Christmas deep. She would start reaching into that bin every day, October, November, December. Then about the middle or toward the last of December, she’d say, “Little Tree, Little Tree, look what I found, look what I found.” And he would run over and look at it, “What is it?” She said, “It’s a Christmas present. I don’t know who…” And Little Tree said, “That’s beautiful.”
A little less than God. I know, I know, some of us act like garbage sometimes. But I looked out one day and saw our garbage can with stuff spilling out the top and I thought, “That’s awful, that is really awful.” But during the night it snowed and the garbage can was a mound to the glory of God. How does Paul put it? “You are created in God’s image. You are recreated in Christ Jesus. You are God’s masterpiece.”
A little less than God. Amen.
*Cover Art Photo by Евгения Пивоварова via Unsplash