In closing sermon, Robert W. Henderson says God gives each one of us gifts to serve whole community


The Rev. Robert W. Henderson, senior minister at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, N.C., delivers his sermon “Out of Step” Sunday, July 18, 2021 in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

“A clergy robe was supposed to mean your designation for a task, not a higher place in the hierarchy,” said the Rev. Robert W. Henderson. “In the Reformed tradition, everyone is a minister equipped to serve God.”

Henderson preached at the 9 a.m. Friday, July 23 worship service in the Amphitheater. His sermon title was “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” The Scripture reading was Ephesians 4:11-13.

In the third week of July, 33 years ago, Henderson was ordained as a minister of word and sacrament in the Presbyterian Church. At the end of his ordination service, he put on a clergy robe and gave the benediction for the service.

“Wearing the robe is strange. It is hot. The next time you see your minister wearing one on a hot summer day, know that it is a sacrifice,” Henderson said. “It is not stylish, and it majors in drab and bulky.”

Like many clergy, he has had the experience of presiding at a wedding and having the father of the bride ask him to make sure there is good weather, since Henderson “has an ‘in’ upstairs. I tell them that I am in sales, not production,” he said. “The robe is not meant to show a separate rung of the spiritual hierarchy.”

In the Letter to the Ephesians, Paul or one of his disciples wrote to a vibrant Christian community that was having some serious challenges. They lived in an unfriendly social context.

“They could have turned inward, and only served each other. Or they could have turned outward and played offense, using every conversation as a conversion project,” Henderson said. “The question is how to be specifically Christian while engaging with the surrounding culture.”

In Ephesians and other Christian Scriptures, the purpose of the lists of God’s gifts is to strengthen the whole community. “The Christian community was given grace according to the measure of their gifts to be used for the whole community where they were living,” Henderson said. “The reformer Martin Luther called this the priesthood of all believers.”

Ken Carter, a United Methodist bishop, said there should be no divorce between the sanctuary and the shop — that there is no second class of Christian citizens. 

“As I have listened to the lecturers this week at Chautauqua talking about how to navigate our divided cultures, I believe if our country and our communities are ever going to be healed, people of faith must decide what to do and how to do it,” Henderson said.

He asked the congregation, “What is our assignment? We often think we should hear a voice in the night, like James Earl Jones, or Charlton Heston before he spoke for the NRA. I think finding our vocation is a lifelong search to assess our gifts. No matter who we are, God gives us skills and capacities for the common good.”

In the book, Come Sing, Jimmy Jo by Katherine Paterson, Jimmy Jo has a beautiful singing voice but he hates to sing in public. His grandmother tells him, “God don’t give no private presents.”

There is seldom a dramatic summons in our lives to put our life on the line or give up everything. “It means knowing deep in our souls, God gives us unique gifts and not private presents. Healing our communities depends on what we do and how we do it,” Henderson told the congregation.

He urged the congregation to take time to consider some questions: When was the last time you were so absorbed in a project you lost track of time? What would you do if you had all the time and money to do what you wanted? What is the greatest thing you want to do? When do you feel the most alive?

Henderson quoted theologian Howard Thurman. Thurman gave a graduation address at Spelman College in 1980 called “The Sound of the Genuine.”

Thurman said in part, “I’m secure because I hear the sound of the genuine in myself and having learned to listen to that, I can become quiet enough, still enough, to hear the sound of the genuine in you. … Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

“May God bless you in this way,” Henderson concluded.

The Rev. Natalie Hanson presided. Sheena MacKenzie, assistant manager of the Presbyterian House, read the Scripture. Joshua Stafford, who holds the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist and is director of sacred music, played “Rhosymedre,” by Ralph Vaughn Williams, for the prelude. Members of the Motet Choir sang “Hymn after a Song of Wisdom,” with music by Charles Villiers Stanford and words by William Cowper. For the postlude, Stafford played “Toccata” from Symphony No. 5, by Charles-Marie Widor. Support for this week’s services and chaplain was provided by the Mr. and Mrs. William Uhler Follansbee Memorial Chaplaincy and the Jackson-Carnahan Memorial Chaplaincy. 

Tags : chaplain-in-residenceclosing sermonEphesians 4:11-13GodMary Lee TalbotRobert W. Hendersonweek four

The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.