Chalker: ‘We can be a sanctuary wherever we are’

Column by Mary Lee Talbot.

There can be perks for a long ministry in one place. For the Rev. Kenneth Chalker, one of the perks this year was to say a prayer at the beginning of the gospel concert during induction week at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“For some people, it can’t come soon enough, and for others, it can’t be over too soon. During the week, there are educational classes on contemporary music, seminars and concerts that lead up to the induction ceremony,” he said. His sermon title was “Stuck in a Hallway,” and the scripture was John 15:5;14-17.

“This year, Kirk Franklin was going to perform at the gospel concert. When they called and asked me to pray before the concert, I thought about three seconds and said yes. Two of the perks were a backstage pass and a seat in Row 8, center,” he said.

Chalker had a tumor in his right ear and had it removed, but has not heard out of that ear since 2001.

“But that night, in the eighth row, I was certain I heard again in that ear. The acoustic pressure was so powerful I could feel it washing over my body.”

Before Franklin performed, there was a 45-minute warm-up session. One of the people paying tribute to Franklin told about his own faith journey. He said: ‘You know how the Bible teaches that when the Lord closes a door, He always opens a window? He might close the door, but there is no guarantee on when he will open the window. Right now, I feel stuck in a hallway. It has been a long time since the door closed, and I am waiting for the window to open.’”

Chalker said: “All of us in the room could resonate with that feeling. We have been in places that have been fulfilling, but the door closed, and there is no way to go back. Or we say, ‘Thank God that is over,’ but we are on a new adventure and not sure where God is taking us. How do we deal with being in the hallway?”

The problem is that this really important theological insight is not in the Bible.

“This is to a biblical teaching; the thought is not in the Bible,” Chalker said. “It comes from a line that Julie Andrews spoke as Maria Von Trapp in the film version of The Sound of Music. It shows the power of film and the media, that so many people think the sentiment is biblical.

“Even though it is a hopeful idea, it can be destructive, because we can feel stuck in the hallway. We think we are in the hallway, because God put us there and God is making us stay there. That is spiritually destructive. We ask, ‘What is wrong with me?’ or ‘What did I do wrong?’ We think this is a test of faith that only God knows the reason for.”

Chalker continued: “What the Bible does teach is that God is with us. We often treat this enlivening theological truth glibly, but think how revolutionary that is in world culture — we are not isolated in space or place. God is wherever we are. When we discover this truth, we can take on whatever life gives us, and we can participate in deliverances.”

Jesus came to a very regulated religious world and said that God was in their midst.

“When the Spirit is rooted in you and me, we awaken the spirit in one another. Jesus, in his modest way, said: ‘I am the world made flesh, God in the midst of you.’ In his time and space, he turned people on, and when we are captured by the Spirit, we can turn lives on today,” he said. “Today there will be Islamic prayers in the Hall of Christ. This is the Holy Spirit working among human beings.”

When the Spirit connects us, there is no place where God is not. No matter how difficult the hallway, God is with us wherever we are.

“In a highly stratified society, Jesus said, ‘I am not your master, but your friend.’ Imagine the impact of that language then. He said, ‘Abide in me, and we are friends,’ meaning spirit-on-fire people. We can be a sanctuary wherever we are. Even in hallways, we can make a marvelous space of faith where we can hear the sonic pressure of God’s gospel wash over us. It is that power that sustains us from the Chautauqua places to the lives we lead every day,” Chalker said.

“The power of the Risen Christ among us is that wherever we go, if we maintain the connection to Christ who is our friend, we will be empowered for whatever space we find ourselves in, and we can make it a sanctuary to hear the sounds of God’s music,” he said.

The Rev. John Morgan presided. The Rev. Mary Lee Talbot read the scripture. She is a lifelong Chautauquan, a Presbyterian minister, nursery school denizen, Girls’ Clubber, Chautauquan Daily writer, Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle historian, archivist and the great-granddaughter of former Chautauqua President Samuel M. Hazlett. She and her dog, Max, live at Chautauqua year-round. The Motet choir sang “The Prayer of St. Francis” by Bradley Ellingboe under the direction of Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music. The Geraldine M. and Frank E. McElree Jr. Chaplaincy funded this week’s services.