Someone once told me about a practice Bill Hybels had when he was first starting Willow Creek Community Church. He would prepare his sermon manuscript throughout the week, working faithfully on each detail. The sermon would not be finished, however, until the manuscript had been taken into a bar not far from the church where Hybels would sit and observe on every Saturday night. He would watch a happy couple come inside only to leave arguing. He'd study the group of men doing everything possible to attract the women in the bar. He'd see people leave together knowing they did not come together. And, he'd watch people who are too often tempted to believe that we can drown our sorrow away, forgetting that tomorrow comes with a raging headache. With the manuscript in front of him, he'd ask, "Is there anything in here that will speak to that person tomorrow morning?" "Is there anything here that will help that person find hope, or enable that person to see she is beloved, or play a role in bringing together what has been separated in that couple's relationship?"
It's a powerful image for me to ponder. And I realized its importance again today as I took a seat in the pews instead of up front since I was not originally scheduled to be in worship today.
I sat amongst the tears of the woman facing her first Christmas without her beloved son who died tragically in August.
I sat a few feet away from a father and his two children who gathered at the Thanksgiving table without their mom for the first time.
I sat close enough to a man to hear him say "amen" when someone mentioned how hard it is to find a job right now.
I saw someone respond to the invitation to give by putting several coins in the plate, well aware of how little money he has.
I watched one of the ushers not only pass the plate but share a hug with someone she knew needed it and then resume her responsibilities.
I saw someone who is still suffering with melanoma walk differently today only to later learn his melanoma is now in his leg.
I sat with my people - some of whom I know their pain and others I do not.
I learned the importance of having tissues in the sanctuary.
I realized again how I long to see every issue we mention through a myriad of different experiences - that how I see Ferguson, for example, may not be the way my African American sister sees Ferguson.
And I'm praying that when next Sunday comes that I'll have a word - a word that will meet people right where they are, touching them in a way they need to be touched, comforting where they need to be comforted, inspiring them where they need to be inspired. I long for a word that speaks powerfully to my people.
Speak, Lord, your servant is listening. Please send me a word.