By Bobby Witherington
In June, 1965 my family and I moved to Louisville, KY to labor with the Haldeman Avenue church (now the Birchwood church of Christ). This congregation at that time had had a long and rich history, and had repeatedly provided the nucleus for the formation of various new congregations in the Louisville area. Of course, a major reason for the past good work of that congregation was the fact that different members, including “Miss Sarah,” had been so actively involved in the work of the Lord.
Her name was Sarah Scoggins. She was a re-tired teacher. We affectionately called her “Miss Sarah” because she had never been married. As she put it, shortly after our arrival in Louisville, she was “an unclaimed blessing.” And that, she was! “By reason of strength” (Psa. 90:10), she had lived beyond her “fourscore years.” She was short of stature, had a very noticeable bend in her up-per back and neck (in fact, it almost hurt to look at one whose frame was so unnaturally bent), yet she had a twinkle in her eyes, a smile on her face, and a word of encouragement for everyone (especially new converts) who were trying to faithfully serve the Lord. “Miss Sarah” was a person who one simply could not forget or ignore. She was advanced in years, but she was not living in the past, maintained a very positive attitude, and was determined to do what she could to further the cause of Christ.
The Lord’s day did not catch “Miss Sarah” unprepared. She kept up with her Bible studies. Saturday afternoon was a time for making preparation for Sun-day. On a particular Saturday night she and her equally faithful sister (“Miss Lydia,” with whom she lived) were in the process of laying out their clothing for Sunday a.m. worship. They lived in a two-story, red-brick home in which the bedrooms were located upstairs. Somehow “Miss Sarah,” as she was arranging her attire for Sunday a.m., fell backwards and rolled down the steps. Amazingly, she suffered no broken bones, but she was badly shaken up, and for the rest of her life she suffered a constant ringing in her ears. However, now withstanding her enfeebled state of health, not-withstanding the constant ringing in her ears, “Miss Sarah” managed to come to worship. She took He-brews 10:25, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together,” very seriously.
To illustrate “Miss Sarah’s” determination to be in worship, I mention the particular Sunday when her sister, “Miss Lydia” (a sister in the flesh, and in Christ), learned that the men were giving consideration to changing the time of services to an earlier hour. By this point in time “Miss Sarah,” for health reasons, had been forced to miss Sunday a.m. Bible Study and arrive at 11:00 a.m. for worship. But we were thinking about changing the Bible Study hour to 9:00 a.m. and the worship time to 10:00 a.m. How-ever, “Miss Lydia” approached me and asked that we reconsider the plans out of consideration for “Miss Sarah.” She further explained, saying, “Sarah now has to get up at 5:00 a.m. on Sundays in order to make it to services by 11:00 a.m. Her state of health was of such nature that she should spend a few minutes dressing, then spend time resting, resume her efforts to get dressed, rest some more, etc., and finally, after a terrific struggle, be present in time for the 11:00 a.m. worship service. Of course, one of the brethren would leave in time to drive the two blocks to her house, and then transport them to worship. Yes, this dear sister in Christ would struggle for six hours on Sunday a.m. so she could assemble with others of like precious faith and worship her heavenly Father! Her faithfulness amid adversity served to illustrate just how flimsy were the excuses of some others who deliberately sought opportunity to be “providentially hindered” from worship.
But “Miss Sarah’s” health continued to deteriorate. Perhaps it was hastened by the sudden and unexpected passing of her younger sister, “Miss Lydia” (if I recall correctly, “Miss Lydia” was 82 when she died). Within a few months following the departure of “Miss Lydia,” it became necessary for “Miss Sarah” to enter a local nursing home. However, the church continued to publish the weekly bulletin, and on the back page of each week’s bulletin was a listing of who would be leading singing, serving at the Lord’s table, reading Scriptures, etc. Also, the Scriptures to be read in the Sunday a.m. assembly were listed on the weekly bulletin. So even though she was now confined to a nursing home, she kept up with what was going on. She would read the weekly bulletin at the time of the worship hour. She knew when the Lord’s supper was being served, and she focused her mind upon the death and the return of Christ. She made it a point to read the particular Scripture selection which she knew was being read in the worship assembly. Though she was completely unable to be present in body, no one doubted that she was present in spirit.
There are many things I can recall about “Miss Sarah” how she would commend each person who made an earnest effort to serve the Lord how she paid so much attention to young people, how she would ask some to speak louder when they prayed because she wanted to be able to silently “say amen” to their giving thanks (cf. 1 Cor. 14:16). One particular occasion which this writer cannot forget was that Sunday (some years earlier when she managed to be present for every service), when she approached me after the Sunday a.m. Bible class. She reminded me of a wedding to be conducted at 2:00 p.m. in the meeting house that day. The groom was a young man who had “grown up” in that congregation and had shown so much promise as a Christian. She was planning to be at that wedding. But she approached me, and said, “Brother Witherington, it is difficult for some of us older folks to get home, eat, and get back by 2:00 p.m., so would you please shorten the sermon a bit.” Frankly, that request was not overly appreciated. In my judgment, she was putting the emphasis in the wrong place. However, in my reply I tried to be as polite as I could, and then I waxed eloquent or so I thought! I reminded “Miss Sarah” of the time when “Raccoon
John Smith” rode a horse to Mt. Sterling, KY and heard Alexander Campbell preach. When brother Campbell completed his sermon, Smith was indignant. He said “I have ridden this horse all this distance to hear this man, and he only preached 30 minutes.” Then someone said, “Brother Smith, look at your watch; you have been here two hours and a half!” I then told “Miss Sarah” that we, like “Raccoon John Smith, ought to be so interested in hearing the gospel that we would be oblivious to the time.” At this point “Miss Sarah” smiled sweetly and replied, “I have heard preachers who could do that to me, too.” And I am sure she had! I am virtually certain that as I told the story about “Raccoon John Smith” listening to Alexander Campbell that “Miss Sarah” began to remember that long line of very able preachers she had heard in her life time, and how that she was so eager to hear every word. Before physical infirmity took its toll, she did not tire of hearing the gospel preached. Anyway, upon hearing her reply I shut up. She had the last word, and all I could do was to try to “grin and bear it.”
“Miss Sarah” has long since departed this world. But you can be sure her influence lives on. She was one among many who did the work, made the sacrifices, stood her ground for the Lord, and helped pave the way for those of us who came later. As I recall “Miss Sarah’s” example, I am made to realize that my aches and pains are minor compared to what she endured. But without complaint, or hesitation, she pressed on. She was a former school teacher whose diction was flawless, yet she encouraged me even though I slaughtered “the king’s English.” She hurt, but she retained her smile and never lost her charm. In retrospect, I think I have discovered the reason why she remained such a beautiful person it was worded by the apostle Paul like this: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). I am thankful that my life has been enriched by such people who, like faithful Abel, “being dead yet speaketh” (Heb. 11:4).
“… this dear sister in Christ would struggle for six hours on Sunday a.m. so she could assemble with others of like precious faith and worship her heavenly Father! Her faithfulness amid adversity served to illustrate just how flimsy were the excuses of some others who deliberately sought opportunity to be `providentially hindered’ from worship.”
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 12, p. 16-17
June 16, 1994