Pocket Protectors

I was asked to preach at Greensboro Urban Ministries last night, and below are the highlights of the sermon. Many thanks to the Men’s Choruses of Guilford Park and Providence Baptist Churches for providing the inspirational music.

Hebrews 12:1-3

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.

“We all need a Pocket Claire,” my mother recently commented. To which I heartily agree!

Claire with our grandmother who is an inspiration to many

Claire with our grandmother who is an inspiration to many

What is a Pocket Claire, you might ask? To explain, first I need to tell you who Claire is. She’s my older sister, and she is someone very special. You see, when we were in youth group growing up, Claire announced that she felt a call to ordained ministry. She was a leader in our youth group, the one everyone asked to find a Bible verse, and she was ordained as the first youth elder at the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian. No one batted an eye when she declared her future ministry.

And then, once she got to college, Claire heard a different calling–that of a math teacher. Equally valuable and worthy. Just not what everyone thought she was doing. Those of us who grew up with Claire were a bit dumbfounded. What? No seminary? What are we to do? Well, go to seminary ourselves. And I counted- seven of us- seven!- went to seminary from the classes of youth following (and one preceding) Claire. She is that special to be a big part of what inspired us all to go.

Now as a math teacher, she continues to inspire and guide teachers and students with her gentle ways. Recently, Claire had a student teacher who learned a lot from her. When it was time for this student teacher to become a teacher with her own class, she commented, “Help! I need a Pocket Claire!” Couldn’t we all use a Pocket Claire?

In thinking about the lectionary text for the evening, I was struck by the cloud of witnesses that surround us. Who is it that we need to carry around with us? Who should we keep in our pockets?

Well, Jesus of course. I would put him in my breast pocket, close to my heart. Because as the “pioneer and perfecter of the faith”, Jesus loves with perfect love. Jesus loves everyone he meets- the good, the bad and the ugly. He loves them even if he doesn’t like them. He loves us completely. In fact, he loves us so completely that he died on the cross for us. And through his resurrection we have new life. I keep Jesus close to my heart to learn his love.

In our front pants pocket, I keep the people of faith. That cloud of witnesses that walk before us. People we have known in person and the very real people from the Bible. Not a one of them was perfect, but still God has called them. I keep my 8th grade Confirmation mentor in my pocket. She so readily shared her faith with me, and her stories and the witness of her life live on inside of me. Who do you keep in this pocket?

Let’s think about the back pocket on your pants. You know how if you put something lumpy in there you can’t quite get comfortable? Well, I put my challengers in there. The people who challenge us in good ways. They can challenge us because they see us- through all of the bluster and pretense, they can see us. For me, I put the head of staff at my church, Jeff Paschal, and my husband, BJ, in that pocket. These are the two people I’m with the most, and I have great respect for them. I also know they can see through the “Jo Show” I am sometimes tempted to put on, and they will call me on it. And because I know this, I strive even harder to not disappoint them. (Though they will love me through disappointments, too)

And in your shoe (I know, it’s not a pocket)- I put the supporters. Those people who will love you, cradle you, and support you through anything. My family belongs here. My mother is always there with a shoulder to cry on and arms to hug me. They are always ready with words of encouragement when I’m feeling down. Who do you put in your shoes?

Finally, we need to keep a mirror in our pocket. A mirror to see ourselves with the perfect love of Jesus, the faith of our cloud of witnesses, the challenge to live out God’s purpose from our challengers, and the support of those who love us. Because friends, each one of you is in someone elses’ pocket. And you need to be able to see yourself fully to live out your calling in others’ lives, too. Amen.

Jo Owens


2 thoughts on “Pocket Protectors

  1. Nice, Jo. As we grow older, we find that more and more of our “cloud of wintesses” have left this earth. Very often during the worship Offertory, I close my eyes and visit my own “cloud,” walking with them through the woods and fields of my childhood. It’s a sacred time.

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