Hound of heaven in hot pursuit

Verle Brubaker, Swamp, pastorverle@justswamp.com

I fled Him down the nights and down the days
I fled Him down the arches of the years
I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind, and in the midst of tears
I hid from him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped and shot precipitated
Adown titanic glooms of chasmed fears
From those strong feet that followed, followed after
But with unhurrying chase and unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat, and a Voice beat,
More instant than the feet:
All things betray thee who betrayest me.
“The Hound of Heaven,” Francis Thompson, 1893

I was from the earliest years called to service. I helped my mother teach Good News Clubs throughout the year, folded bulletins for church, taught Sunday School classes, led summer camps. My dream was to be David Livingstone, Jr., serving in the mission field as a medical doctor.

Growing up in a pastor’s family with three uncles as pastors and three prior generations serving as pastors in the Brethren in Christ Church is quite a legacy to live into. It was overwhelming. The last thing I wanted, growing up in that environment, was to be a pastor.

During my teen years the call came particularly clearly as my father was exiting one of his pastoral assignments. I can remember tearfully hearing the call and anxiously saying to myself, “This can’t be happening.”

Resistance to the call took many of the forms of adolescent rebellion. Like Francis Thompson wrote in The Hound of Heaven, I tried many diversions and pathways that ultimately proved futile.

As I entered college I pursued the dream of medical missions. Yet I could not resist the call. I do not know exactly what triggered the final surrender but it happened in the middle of my sophomore year at Messiah College. At that time I switched my major from pre-med to Bible. An interim pastorate between my sophomore and junior years, seminary experiences, and Voluntary Service assignments further affirmed the call and my response.

I have found joy in learning about God’s church and his call to it. I have a passion for the church to be the church, living out the kingdom of God to a needy world. I have learned that my role as pastor is to help the church become the vehicle of God’s grace to the world, a sign of God’s will for heaven being lived out here on earth.

That sense of call has kept me focused over the more than 30 years I have served the church in the pastoral role. I do not regret the surrender. As Francis Thompson found at the conclusion of his flight from the Hound of Heaven:

All which I took from thee, I did’st but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in my arms.
All which thy child’s mistake fancies as lost,
I have stored for thee at Home.
Rise, clasp my hand, and come.
Halts by me that Footfall.
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
Ah, Fondest, Blindest, Weakest,
I am He whom thou seekest. . . .

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