Inspiring Words from a Caring Buckhannon, West Virginia Pastor
Wednesday night, January 4, Mark Flynn, Pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Buckhannon like so many others had been up with little sleep for more than 40 hours.
I looked for him in Wesley Chapel at West Virginia Wesleyan College where he had served as part of a team of pastors and Red Cross workers providing support for families. While many people went to the Sago Baptist Church for a Wednesday evening service, others went to other churches. We traveled to Queens United Methodist Church a couple miles from Sago. There the pastor invited Mark to speak.
The sermon below offers excerpts from his sharing. Mark took us into the darkness to discover the healing light of God. He told of a ten year old boy who comforted his mother by reading his dad's favorite scripture. The boy's dad was one who later would not come out of the Sago mine alive. Mark was interviewed by CNBC and other stations. The media also covered his services on January 8.
SERMON: “The Darkness Is not Dark to Thee”
Tom Anderson, Jim Bennett, Martin Bennett, Jerry Groves, Junior Hamner, Terry Helms, Jesse Jones, David Lewis, Junior Toler, Fred Ware, Jack Weaver, and Marshal Winans all got up very early on Monday morning, the first work day of a new year.
They arrived at the mine long before sun-up, and they went two and a half miles back into a mountain. Why would anyone do such a thing? They went back into that mountain for our benefit. They went back into that darkest of all places in order to give us light in our homes. Those of us who do not have miners in our families may not have ever thought much about it, but thousands of miners, men and women, risk their lives every day to provide us with heat and light, and to provide power for the industries which furnish us with both necessities and luxuries.Have you ever been in a coal mine? If you haven’t, I recommend that you go to the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine sometime.
It is an old mine, from back when we were mining some pretty thick seams of coal. I understand that it is a lot roomier than newer mines. But it is still worth a visit. They will take you back on the same sort of transportation which the miners ride, and they will stop, and they will turn out the lights. And then you will really know what darkness is.These men went into the darkest place imaginable in order to give us light. And this time these twelve did not emerge alive. They died in darkness.But the Psalmist proclaims that to God even the darkest place is not dark at all: "If I say, 'Let only darkness cover me, and the light about me be night,' even the darkness is not dark to thee, the night is bright as the day; for darkness is as light with thee."Monday morning, I was finishing up the order of worship for the bulletin which I thought that we were going to have for this morning’s service. My wife, Judy, called over to the office to say that there was an announcement on television about a mine accident at Sago. I called the Com center and asked if pastors were needed on the scene. The gentleman who answered had no idea, so I grabbed my Bible and I drove out to Sago.I arrived at the Baptist Church there, and Pastor Wease Day welcomed me warmly and encouraged me to help the families there in any way that I could. I talked with several family members, and I found the members of one particular family especially willing to share with me. I hope that our conversation was helpful to them. I know that it was helpful to me. I was touched by the strength, the love, and the wisdom of the people I met on both sides of the miner's family.I asked permission to share with you something which the miner's wife told me. She said, "I tell him I love him every morning, even if I have to say it through my teeth." She is a wise woman.She didn't have to say it through her teeth on that gloomy Monday morning. And as we talked that afternoon she was so glad that she had said it. And it became even more important on that terrible Wednesday morning when she found out that she would never get to say it to him again this side of heaven.That miner who did get to hear his wife tell him of her love on Monday morning also got to tell her of his love in a long note before he died. What he said was both touching and powerful. And, the widow's grandmother told me that the grammar was perfect throughout. That not only says that some folks need to reexamine their stereotypes of West Virginia miners, but it also says that he was composed. This man was dying in a dark place. But he was bathed in the light of God's love, even in that terrible place."If I say, 'Let only darkness cover me, and the light about me be night,' even the darkness is not dark to thee, the night is bright as the day; for darkness is as light with thee."Most Baptist churches do not have altar rails, but the Sago church does, and I made good use of it. I spent a lot of time praying at the altar rail, and I encouraged others to do the same. For a time on Monday evening we managed to keep at least one person there all the time for quite a while.I also sat looking through the book of Psalms for some passages which I thought would bring comfort and hope. I already knew of some, but I was looking for more. I knew that I didn't have words which were adequate for the situation. But I believed that the scriptures did. And they did indeed. I found myself coming back again and again to Psalm 139.At one point on Monday, I asked the pastor's permission and I read some of the Psalms from the pulpit. I know that it helped me. I hope that it helped others.On other occasions I read some of the Psalms for myself, or read some of them to some of the family members. The ten-year-old son of a miner told me what his father's favorite passage was, and we read that together. That was a deeply emotional experience for me.But I kept coming back to Psalm 139: "If I say, 'Let only darkness cover me, and the light about me be night,' even the darkness is not dark to thee, the night is bright as the day; for darkness is as light with thee."In those dark days and nights at the Sago Baptist Church, I saw some light. I saw light in the faith and love of the family members with whom I talked. And I saw light in the words of the scriptures.Those families gathered there wanted desperately to see their loved ones come out of that mine. And even after the discouraging news which we received early on Tuesday morning, they did not give up. But their faith was not just a vague notion that somehow everything would turn out as they wished. The faith of the people with whom I talked went far deeper than that. These people believed that they and their loved ones were in the hands of God no matter what had happened in that mine. And they knew that God would sustain them.I went to Sago to minister to these families, and they ministered to me. They knew that God was there in the darkness of that mine. They knew that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus—not even two and a half miles of mine tunnels, and not even death itself.It was a high and holy privilege to be with these miners' families at this time in their lives. It was a dreadful time, but it was a holy time. It showed me that even the darkest place is not dark to our God.