Monday, May 6, 2013

Witness in the back of the church

I took the children for their Sunday school lesson this week while our intern preached. When we came back for the Lord’s Supper I sat quietly in the back row.  A few minutes later Robert, a recent addition to our church family, slid into the row in front of me. Just after he received the bread and cup another man came to sit with him.  The deacon also noticed the new arrival and came to serve him.   Robert said "I gave him mine."

Receiving bread and cup again Robert ate the bread and held the cup as we usually do.  Then a third man walked in and sat on the other side of Robert who told him, "You missed it, Pops, but here, take my cup so you can share that with everyone else."

I wept.

One Sunday morning several months ago David came to worship.  The next week he brought Robert.  Most weeks Robert, David and a few others show up near the beginning of worship.  They nearly always bring someone new with them and those new friends often come back bringing others. They lift their hands to sing and pray.  They respond out loud to prayers and sermons.  After worship  Robert always goes to the piano in the church hall to play and sing words of praise before sitting down to the fellowship meal.  They all help pack lunches for the hungry.  Every week they ask what else they can do to help.

You'd think that every congregation would be thrilled to get folks like this. But that hasn't been their experience.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  Most of them haven't felt welcome inside a church in years.  

David and Robert and their friends are homeless.  They don't always smell great.  They may not always behave in “socially acceptable” ways.  They have little or nothing to put in the basket.  But man, they really love worshipping God in community!

For years I've been inviting the local homeless folks to join us for our Sunday after-worship meal.  I've been telling them "No pressure to come to church, just come eat with us."  
Not "let us feed you."   
But "Come eat with us. Come share a meal.  Come sit with us and talk with us and let's all get to know each other."

And then, at the grocery store on Sunday afternoon Jimmy, who is always sitting in front of the market, told me that he’s going to start coming to worship with David.  He’s never said that before.  I extended an invitation to join us for lunch after worship, as I always do whenever I see him.  He said, “Pastor, I can get food. I won’t come for food.” Pointing to the sky he said, “I’m coming for Him.” 

I wept again.

I’ve been working on the Acts model of doing church, of going out into the community to feed and heal whomever, whether or not they are part of our congregation.  You know, the way the early church did. We’re told that they did this and because they did people came to listen to the Good News out of curiosity, having witnessed great love demonstrated by the followers of Jesus.  Some of my clergy friends seem to think we should never invite people to come to worship, but that we should always first invite them to come and eat, or join us in do service in the community.  And then, if the Spirit leads us to, we can invite them to worship.   

For the better part of 10 years I've been inviting Jimmy to come eat in community with us and he never accepted the invitation. But now Jimmy is coming and he’s coming because David invited him to come worship God in community.  David invited him to come sing and pray and shout Amen in community.  David is working on a different model - the great commission model.  Jesus told his disciples, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you.”  (Matthew 28:19-20a  CEB)

I think perhaps Jesus is telling me, "Go, and do likewise."