Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Power of our Promises

Easter Sunday is a pastor's dream. Extra people fill the pews as guests come for the first time and others return after a long time. People come with anticipation and excitement. The smell of fried chicken makes its way over from the fellowship hall. Children laugh and bring you delight as they look for their eggs on the church lawn. And we get to preach the most amazing good news of all time. Add a baptism of twins into this life-giving mix, and my heart is already beating a different sound. 

I cannot wait for Easter Sunday.

I'll have the privilege of baptizing twins on Sunday morning. It's my first time baptizing twins, and I paid careful attention to the liturgy when preparing it yesterday afternoon, making sure all the singular pronouns were turned to plural. I then typed these words about the kind of community we promise to be every time a person is baptized:

"We will surround Emily and Olivia with a community of love and forgiveness that they may grow in their service to others. We will pray for them, that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life." 

We promise to be a community of love and forgiveness, a community of prayer, and a community that accompanies a person on the path that leads to life. How many such communities do you have in your life right now? How many organizations, circles, committees, or clubs to which you belong are places of love and forgiveness? How many groups are you a part of where the people are praying for you in your journey through life? Who is accompanying you on the path that leads to life?

Perhaps these words describe church at its very best - that place where people are not holding grudges but seeking to live in peace and reconciliation with one another. Church at its best is a community where the people are known for their love and inclusion, not their judgment and exclusion. Church is a place where we learn to love, using Jesus' all-encompassing love as our example. Church at its best is a community of people who constantly remind you that you are not alone. Church at its best is a group of people in which you have holy friends - people who are not afraid to name the sins you've grown to love while pointing out the gifts you've been afraid to claim.

We will make these promises to Emily and Olivia on Sunday morning. But I pray that we are always seeking to be this community to all people in our midst. I cannot recall another group of people who have ever made these promises to me. It's another reason I need the church - perhaps, even, the most important reason for why I need the church.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

More Than A Meal

"I placed a bag of food by your chair. It's chicken and dumplings. I made them this morning to take to a family who just had a baby but made a double portion. Please take the rest to someone who needs a meal." These words ushered me towards a small brown bag while igniting a bit of panic following worship on Sunday. The hours of the day were scheduled along with most of Monday. "Do you think the food will still be good on Tuesday?" I inquired, after expressing my gratitude for the gift.

I grabbed the bag while exiting the sanctuary, sat it down on my desk and glanced at my phone where a message was waiting. The recorded words were drenched in tears, a woman's voice asking me to please come as she did not think her cousin, a beloved older member of our church, would make it through the day.

Plans were set aside as I again picked up the bag and headed to my car in order to drive to the retirement community where our beloved member resides. I walked into her home and was immediately greeted by the cousin who had called, informing me that the woman had finally gotten out of bed and was coming to the chair. 

"I have food for you, homemade chicken and dumplings prepared by a church member this morning," I called out, not sure if my offer would be accepted since I had been told she was not eating much. "That sounds wonderful," she responded as I started to fix a plate.

With my heals slipped off, I lowered myself in front of her and started to feed her, placing one bite into her mouth and then another. Each bite was received in gratitude and something began to happen. Ordinary food became an extraordinary offering. The church was made visible as it came to one who has not been in our building for years but reads our bulletins and sermons each week. The new life I often describe to this lifelong member entered the apartment in the form of a brown paper bag still warm to the touch. The church showed up in real and powerful ways.

And I cannot stop thinking about it.

We live in a city where we can order anything for delivery. Dominos can arrive in 30 minutes and pretty much everything else can come within an hour or two including office supplies from Amazon. But sometimes what we really need is an assurance that we're not alone - that we're not fending for ourselves - that someone is willing to show up. When we're hurting or filled with anxiety, we want more than a meal. When we're depressed and ready to give up, we want more than a meal. When we're overwhelmed with a new baby or discerning a new schedule after a hospitalization, we want more than a meal.

I'm regularly reminded of how Jesus shows up in ordinary things: a sunset, a little bread, a sip of wine, a child's laugh, an unexpected phone call. I experience God coming to us through simple gifts every communion Sunday. But I was reminded again on Sunday afternoon about how Jesus can show up any time bread is brought, blessed and broken. What you might think is an ordinary crockpot recipe can become an offering that touches one in ways we cannot begin to imagine.

I called the older member's home this afternoon to ask how she's doing. Her cousin answered the phone. "It's Pastor Donna," I said. "Oh Pastor Donna, you really lifted my cousin on Sunday. I really thought she was dying," she said while I heard my church member say, "Please tell her I just finished the chicken and dumplings."