If you ask me (and I’m glad you did) why I love my church, I don’t have to go back any further than 72 hours to give you four major reasons.
First we are a missional community that understands we are here to serve. On Saturday morning the monthly Men’s Prayer Breakfast invited (gasp!) the women of the church to join them. Carolyn O’Neill then gave a beautiful, funny, and poignant presentation of her trips to Haiti. Carolyn makes and places prosthetic eyes, and she traveled to that impoverished country to help children and adults get a new lease on life. The substantial crowd all understood the passion and compassion that inspired her to make these trips at her own expense. Many of us have done similar things in different places. It’s heartwarming.
Second we are a progressive community that understands we are all on equal ground before God. On Sunday morning I led a discussion in an Adult class on President Jimmy Carter’s new book, “A Call to Action; Women, Religion, Violence, and Power.” We discussed a couple of chapters where Carter writes about the unjust US prison system (did you know that the number of imprisoned black women has increased 800% since 1980 OR that there are over 3,000 in federal prisons sentenced to life w/o parole for NON-VIOLENT crimes?) and the hesitancy of major universities to address the sexual abuse of young women. It’s a great book, but it was an even better discussion. Someone said to me as we left the class, “the intellectual fire power in that room was stunning.” Indeed. But beyond the very good heads, it is evident we have some very very good hearts, committed to seeking compassionate lives. Our ongoing attempt to follow Jesus whose ministry was self-defined by lifting up the oppressed (Luke 4) and caring for the “least” (Matt. 25), is inspiring.
Third we are a teaching community that understands the place of youth formation. If you were here for worship on Sunday morning, you know of what I speak. I’m thinking this was my eleventh “Children’s Sabbath” and it was clearly the best one yet. The kids not only sang, played, read, prayed, and acted well, they did so in a worshipful manner. It is clear they weren’t playing, or performing, they were prompting. They had been taught what worship was about. They were learning, even at an early age, what is at the heart of our culture: we take the worship of God very seriously, and ourselves less so. Let me ask you to do a couple of things in this regard: 1) consider helping out in Children’s Sunday School or choirs, 2) express appreciation to Mark and Ginny Lawson and Amy Beabout for all the work they did building up to Sunday.
Fourth we are a compassionate community that understands the place of the heart and the head. On Monday night a group of us gathered for the deacon ordination council of Mauriece Smith. It was, as is so often the case when you hear someone’s faith story, an inspirational hour. Mauriece shared about her life as an international basketball player and as a pharmaceutical expert who helped develop several live saving therapies. Her testimony made it clear that God had given her courage to reach for innovative answers to difficult health questions. She was quick to credit God’s direction and presence not just “at church” but in the “lab.” This is a strength of our community. We know that if God is anywhere, God is everywhere. We have been willing to have difficult conversations about outdated interpretations because we know that God is still speaking, and part of God’s voice is heard in the laboratory or “seen” in the telescope.
A couple of weeks ago in a sermon I quoted a “Mad Men” character who said to a colleague having a personal pity party: “It’s not easy for anyone Pete.” Well it isn’t easy. This is true. But living life is so much easier in a community where you are encouraged (provoked!) to love and good deeds by the actions and attitudes of those you worship with on a weekly basis.