October 13, 2016
There are lots of things to be done in the life of a Church. Ushering, putting up chairs and tables, singing and playing with the children, being sure that the proper colors are used in the liturgical settings, getting the grass cut and the lines in the parking lot painted, and being sure that the meals are good and fun and appealing and that all are fed... and fed well... and a hundred more things/activities/ministries.
I heard the Rev. Dr. Harry Beverly, the “extraordinarily excellent” preaching pastor of Druid Hills Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, speak on a Sunday in Lent 1980 about the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Among other things, he said that “it’s the church that’s lying in the ditch alongside the road, hoping for someone to come along and save it from the brutal treatment it’s received from all the passersby,” including its leaders and those who “should” be caring for it. He genuinely offended my notions about the church’s role and ministry in the world; I wanted the church to be the “good” Samaritan, treating the wounds of others and giving its life for them, but Dr. Beverly had the temerity to suggest that wasn’t the case, often times. Instead, the church wants, needs, hopes and wishes - and even prays - for others to take notice, and offer it some grace when its resources are depleted. Thirty-seven years later, I’m still trying to prove him wrong - at least in my own heart and mind... and so far, I’m unsuccessful.
Churches, our own included, offer a wonderful array of ministries and opportunities and services to their communities and to each other. There are Bible study groups, and musical groups, and missional groups, and “how to group” groups (?!?). There are feeding programs for the body and soul, service opportunities for every age and ability level, and inwardly-directed, prayer and meditation classes and teachings. Administration.... don’t get me started! And it’s all good, and important, and worthwhile..... as it channels the gospel to those who come into its shadow and doors. I like church; been in it almost all my life. (That’s a nod of appreciation to the pastor who asked the man of a good many years, “Have you been here all your life?” and the response he received was, “Not yet!”)
In a recent edition of Christian Century was a chart titled “Choosing a Church: Qualities People Look For.” It included the kinds of things you and I might expect: Quality of sermons (83%); Feeling welcomed by leaders (79%); Style of Services (74%); Location (70%); Education for kids (56%); Family or friends in the congregation (48%); Volunteering Opportunities (42%); etc., in that order of preference.
What could you and I do to attract and invite and include and engage others in our life together? All of the above - and more! Underneath it all, I think, is this: taking personal responsibility for bearing witness to the light and life of Christ within us. That is to say, church isn’t a great auditorium or grandstand, where passive participants simply watch what’s going on in the “main arena.” No. The life of church happens in the doorway - or even in the parking lot - as we make room and welcome those who draw near. It happens in the warm invitation and hospitality that we extend to ALL persons, of every age, gender, status, or demographic description. It happens in the way we acknowledge our own limits and broken-ness, and admit that we are “patients” in the Healing Places of the Great Physician. It happens when we think “no one’s looking,” and we decide whether or not to go “out of bounds” in the living of our daily lives. Church happens when the people of God gather to encounter just how profoundly the love of the Creator is extended to all the world, itself included, along with all those who pass it by, as it lies on the side of the road.
I can’t image that the “good” Samaritan was given a parade to honor his selfless act to “one of those people.” (Recall that there was “no love lost” between Samaritans and Jews in Jesus’ day!) I can’t think that any speeches or official proclamations were made, or any plaques were placed, or even any streets were named after him. He just did that which was right.... and righteous. It was an elemental act of faith. The same is true of those who fold and put away the chairs and tables after we’ve eaten together, those who organize and prepare for worship on Sunday mornings, those who bring flowers or bags of groceries - or see that those gifts reach their intended destinations. They are done simply because they’re right... and righteous.
Could I ask you to take a quick “personal inventory” of that sort of thing? What is it that you do - or don’t do - because it’s what grace compels your heart and mind and spirit to do? On top of a great many other things, I’ve always been in awe of Jesus’ words: “Greater love has no one than this, that you lay down your life for another.” To “lay down life” may look like teaching Sunday School, or wiping up a spill by someone else’s child, or seeing that everyone is fed before you take your plate and place. It may be in the gathering for prayer for others, or in the hug that you readily offer to someone who “looks like they need one,” or a word/smile/wink that conveys the tiniest of expressions of concern and love and edification (meaning “lifting up”).
I hope that in the coming days, as we celebrate the “Seafood Festival,” you will find at least one way to share grace with someone who God brings across your path.... while you’re parking cars in the lot, wandering around the pathways in the park, listening to the music that’s being offered, or with someone who asks, “What’s going on with YOU?!?” Invite them to come and worship, extend to them a warm welcome into our midst, make room for them on your pew, get them a bulletin or a cup of coffee or a glass of iced water. You may be just the “good Samaritan” that they need!
Grace to you, and peace.
Jim Earley, Pastor
PS - Responses? Send to my e-address: RevsRUs@Cox.net Thanks.