Jimmy Roughton speaking before the Union Gospel Mission congregation. [Photo kiped from the UGM website.]
I don't want to overstate it, so I'll put it this way: There were a few of us ― modestly, at very least that many ― who were awed by Jimmy Roughton's presentation last night at the Union Gospel Mission and were robust in our applause (if not cheers) and voicing of superlatives.
Roughton [pronounced such that the first syllable rhymes with "wow."] always delivers an interesting, thoughtful and entertaining sermon. I've written about him about seven times earlier in my other blog, Homeless Tom. In one blogpost I wrote this:
[A]lways, Roughton displays amazing passion and showmanship. He is a riveting speaker; he is loud, passionate, with grand gestures; his eyes dart as he makes contact with individuals in his audience. He doesn’t make use of a text; he doesn’t need one – he knows his stuff and what he is going to say and speaks without pauses or stumbles. He begins on the pulpit at the lectern, but as his message unspools he makes his way down to the chapel floor.All of the above was true last night, but my next sentence, which follows, in that old post wasn't true last night: "A part of his charm is that Roughton comically – mockingly – does a good job imitating classes of people: False Christians, atheists and rationalizing substance abusers are prime targets."
Jimmy may have done an imitation or two last night, but dividing the world (and having a foil to mock) wasn't how the sermon was set up. Last night, Jimmy was fully mature*, delivering a sermon that was wholly gracious and passionately desirous that the audience and everyone get the best from their lives (and afterlives). Nothing was held back.
"I don't want any of you to be religious," he told us. "What I want for you is to have a relationship with God. … God has placed eternity in our hearts. We know there is something on the other side other than nothing."
The above sentiment is very close to something I had heard from my second-favorite mission preacher, Pastor Brett of Vacaville Bible College, just over a month ago. But Ingalls left me hanging: So what IS this relationship? Is God/Jesus physically, literally there, as the lyrics to a UGM faved hymn, "In the Garden," suggests?
I come to the garden aloneIn his sermon yesterday, Roughton was explicit in expressing his experience of a relationship with God/Jesus and its implications. While I remain plenty fuzzy on all of this, I was given some sense of what the core of what the preachers — or, at least, Jimmy, last night — was talking about.
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The son of God discloses
And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known
"Relationship with God didn't change my life, it changed me," he told us. "I stopped chasing a bag [meaning marijuana, or another mind-altering, addictive substance]; started chasing a book [The Bible]. … It was like God opened me up and began pouring Himself into my skull.
"Blessings come when we allow God in to work His will in [loving relationships] with other people." Jimmy added, pithily: "Let go and let God." He spoke of the irony of his Christian life as being one where things, including big-ticket physical comforts like a car and house, came to him now that he no longer keenly covets them.
"You've got to give yourself away," he said. "Be in relationships without expectations and with a lot of forgiveness. Seek a relationship with God and with God's people."
Jimmy told us that that whom we are changed into from having a relationship with God is the full expression of whom we were created to be. "He created me to be me," he said. He created you to be you.
Though on the page/monitor it sounds critical, it was not when Jimmy said: "The problem with Christians is Christians." His point, in elaboration, was that Chistians often make an effort at being saved, but do so without a change of attitude. People making the effort to become Christian will say the right words but quickly fail to take the meaning to heart and be open to feeling different and not falling back into their old habits.
After his death, Jimmy told us, he didn't want to be remembered for his resume. He wanted to be remembered for some accomplishment at the goal he now has. "Let it be said of Jimmy: 'He encouraged people and he loved people.' "
* When I write "mature," I am referring to egoity, which is something I read about these days, and not faith or spirituality which I know less about. Also, while I was touched by Jimmy's sermon last night, I don't expect that he has to hit a home run every time and that every sermon be inspiring without some sometimes-healthy complaining/mocking.
Also: Though it may not seem like I recognize that critiquing Christian sermons is way over my head and arrogant on my part, I do recognize this. I do. I do.