Wednesday, June 29, 2016

What is Church?

Last week we held Vacation Bible School at our church.  We had a morning program, mostly for the children at our pre-school, a few of their older sisters and brothers, and a few of our congregation's children as well.

But this year, we added something new:  we offered two "family" evenings where we ate supper, learned to pray and share together, sang some Bible songs and did some crafts.  The theme of the week was "Jesus is the Light of the World", so some creative church members had created a scary cave that the children could walk through (but they had to do it with their parents).  There were glow-in-the-dark necklaces and candles to carry.  The children made pillowcases with a Bible verse.  They made glow-in-the-dark bracelets.  We sang "This Little Light of Mine" and a jazzed-up version of "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus" and learned some sign language.

Both nights were wildly successful.  The first night we had 83 people.  The second night was not as large, but we had so many opportunities to get to know each other that evening.  Everyone had fun both nights.

We invited them to come to church on Sunday and sing a couple of their Bible songs.

We had no idea what would happen, but we were excited.

On Sunday, only the families that were already members of our congregation came.

I have to admit, I was disappointed.  I wondered what I could have done differently.  I knew that many families are traveling on the weekends in the summer.  But still, I had hoped that one or two could join us for church.

Then, on Monday, I talked to our pre-school director.  She said something to me that made me think about the word "church".  It would have been nice if some of the families had come on Sunday, she said, but "what you did on Tuesday and Thursday night, THAT was church."

I thought about it.  What did we do on Tuesday and Thursday?  We ate. We prayed.  We shared our highs and lows.  We blessed each other.  We prayed.  We had fun.  We sang songs about Jesus.

She was right.  It was church.  We were the church, worshipping together.  What made us think it wasn't?  It wasn't Sunday morning, and we weren't in the sanctuary, but it was church.

What is church?

I think this is one of the hardest things for us to get our brains around these days.  What happens on Sunday in the sanctuary is important, but the sanctuary on Sunday morning is not the only church.  Maybe it's not even the most important church.  These days.

What is church?

Church is a holy gathering of people, and that was what was happening on Tuesday and Thursday evening, with parents and children and teenagers and grandmothers and grandfathers.  We didn't go far, just across the parking lot, but it was church over at the school those nights.

We didn't go far, but it was a start, and I hope we go farther, a holy gathering of people, sharing the light, being the church.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

On the Day Before Father's Day

On the day before Father's Day, I am sitting here looking at old photographs.

I've prepared for worship tomorrow.  I have a sermon and a Bible study and some notes in the margins of the bulletin, reminding me of extra things, like the announcement about Vacation Bible School, and the young woman who is going to thank us for helping support her college education.

I've got a few old pictures of my father, too.  The one I am looking at now is a picture of my dad and me, when I was a baby.  I am just lying there, and my dad is bending over me, with his trademark curl hanging over the front of his face.  We are making faces at each other.

I love this picture, for so many reasons.  I love it because it captures my dad's sense of delight.  He did like to make faces, not just at me, and he liked to tell stories, and he liked to talk in different funny accents.  He was the Jewish grandmother, and the Swedish grandmother (he seemed to have a lot of grandmother voices), and he was all of the voices he remembered from the old radio programs in the 30s.

I love this picture because we are looking at each other, too.  I'm just a baby; maybe I haven't even been baptized yet.  But I can tell he loves me; he's my dad, and he thinks I'm all right.  We're a Scandinavian family, and I am sorry to say that we haven't always been that demonstrative.  But I can see his love in this picture.

I also love this picture because I think my dad is handsome.  I am not sure other people can see it in this picture.  But I can.  I have a few other old pictures that I love as well.  There is a picture of my dad standing in his TV and Radio Repair shop, with a whole bunch of radios behind him.  It's a color picture, and I believe it was taken before I was born.  When I looked at that picture, I think, "My dad was a looker."

I am preparing for worship tomorrow, and it seems like it is going to be a busy day.  It's Father's Day, and It is also Juneteenth, the day that the news of emancipation got to Texas.  There will be a special offering, and I really hope that we have a big turnout for our cross generational Vacation Bible School evenings.  And I am preaching on Galatians, what it means to be children of God.

Children of God.

There are so many things I want to say.  There are so many things I want to say, about justice, and the worth of all people.

But really, if you want to know, what I want people to know, every single day, is captured in that picture of me and my dad:  This is how the Father loves you.  With delight and abandon, not counting the cost, the Father looks at you, whoever you are, and says You Are All Right.

That's all I want everyone to know.

Every single day.  Every single minute.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Prayers for Orlando, and for our Hearts

I am remembering the old days when I used to get up at 6:00 every Sunday morning and come downstairs, turn the radio on and write my Sunday prayers.  I would get a cup of coffee and sit on the floor by the coffee table with a sheet of paper folded in half in front of me.  National Public Radio always had a Sunday morning, "Voices in the News", on Sunday morning, and as I listened to that segment, I would consider what to pray for that morning.

It was a good discipline.  It helped me remember what had happened the past week, to be connected with the larger community and world.  Since it was a small congregation, and I was the solo pastor, all of the intercessory prayer responsibility on Sunday fell on me.

I have not listened to the news before church on Sunday morning for awhile.

So I did not know about what happened in Orlando, about the massacre at the nightclub, The Pulse, until after church.  I did not offer a prayer during worship.  I got a text from a friend after church.  That's how I found out.

And I know that we have to do more than prayer.  Prayer is not enough.  But it would have been a start, to have prayed on Sunday morning, if I had known.

So I wish that I had still had that old discipline, that I could sit on the floor and hear the news of the world on Sunday morning.  Because the news of the world needs to come to church, where we can repent, and lament, and ask God to change our hearts, so hard.

O God, heal us.
Is this who we are?  Show us the truth.
Comfort those who mourn.
They are so many, today.
Turn the hearts of those who hate.
Help us to see beauty, again, where we have seen it,
and where we have not noticed it,
because we were blind.
IN the name of your Son, Jesus,
who died, and who lives, for every single one of us.