One of our members told a story last week during joys and concerns about something that happened recently during the shower ministry. Volunteers were distributing hats, gloves, coats and scarves to shower ministry guests. When almost everything was gone, the two volunteers looked at the remaining scarf and wondered if anyone would want it. I don't know what the scarf looked like but it was apparently rather loud and unique. While colorful scarves are often valued and appreciated, this particular scarf was a little too colorful. The volunteers wondered aloud if anyone would want it.
Our church member went on to share how a shower ministry guest looked at the scarf and exclaimed with great joy that it was just what she needed. The scarf that was seen as too loud or perhaps even unwanted by two volunteers was exactly what the guest needed. The thing that could have been easily discarded was welcomed as a great gift.
After hearing the story, I shared with the congregation how the church is in the business of finding scarves that no one else wants. Part of our role is to discover individuals who have been too easily tossed aside or seen as not as useful and then uncover their gifts. We take delight in putting someone who is normally on the sidelines in the front and center - allowing the spotlight to shine brightly.
When I think about the congregation I am privileged to serve, I am constantly awed and amazed by the ways in which different people shine the light of Christ to me. We have one member who cannot communicate in complete sentences. She can only say a few words. And still, not a Sunday goes by when this member does not touch me in a profound way. While we are stumbling through the liturgy with our words or trying to sing the right tune, this member embodies the worship of God with her whole being as she lifts her hands or sways to the music in praise, wonder and delight. I see God every time I am in this woman's presence - without any words being spoken.
There is another member of the church about whom I could write an entire book. He drives me crazy at times, leaving up to 14 voice mail messages on the same day. I never know what to fully expect when I am in his presence as his life is kept in balance by different medications. And still, this individual has demonstrated to me time and again what it means to be like Christ. He is constantly asking me about a woman whose daughter died tragically too soon a few years ago. When it comes time to wake up our unhoused neighbors who are sleeping on the porch, this member shows me how to gently awaken people in a way that shows me that they are indeed respected and valued. When it comes to the care of the church facility, this member always wants things to look perfect. When we visit the sick or shut-ins, this person has the capacity to sing in a way that brings delight to all who are listening. I would not trade the privilege of being this person's pastor for anything - even though he often takes all of the patience I can muster!
Mike Slaughter, the pastor of Ginghamsburg Church, one of our largest United Methodist Churches, often shares how the United Methodist Church is one of the few places where he has been given a spot on the team. He shares how it is in this forum that he has been noticed, named and nurtured - able to play as well as he can. I think often of these words and am so grateful for our church allowing Mike to play. His leadership is making a huge difference in our denomination. I am so thankful that someone took time to see his gifts.
I have just returned from a holiday market where there were numerous vendors selling scarves. There are some scarves I loved and some scarves that I would never choose to wear. Yet, someone will likely love the scarves I did not choose and someone will likely hate the scarves I love.
When it comes to the church, I am so incredibly thankful for the same diversity - for the ways in which we are so many different colors, ages, theologies, backgrounds, sexual orientations, gifts, appearances, and the list goes on and on. I am also thankful that this church is one that seeks to welcome everyone - never knowing how Christ might be revealed to us in all of these people.
God shows up in the least likely places - in the womb of a virgin, in a borrowed barn in Bethlehem, in the beggar asking for money, in your life, and in my life. Thanks be to God!