What in the name of God did you bring..?

Truth be told, these days when I look out into the congregation and see someone yawning wildly - or looking bored - I rarely go to that place of worrying about what I have done wrong. God knows, I used to do this; in the early days of ministry, I would second and third guess myself - and then lose sleep the following night, too worrying about what I might have done better. Today, however, two thoughts swim through my consciousness when I see someone whose demeanor suggests they really wish they were some place else: 1) I wish they were some place else, too. REALLY. Please don't act as a drag on the rest of us as we try to come before the Lord with gratitude and humility. And 2) what in God's name are you bringing to the plate besides your body? An open and humble spirit? A desire to grow and mature as a disciple of Christ? An aching for grace? (Confession: this happened this morning during worship after the whole crew was working hard and doing a great job. I looked up and noticed this dude stretching and yawning and calling way too much attention to his boredom. So I wanted to literally help him out - and these two thoughts jumped into my head - but instead I turned away and focused on the other 80 people eager for a sign of hope. Ain't worship in the 21st century grand?)

Those who read this page from time to time know that at this stage in ministry, I can get cranky. And these days, when someone has the gall to say to me, "I didn't get very much out of that service" my heart screams: WELL WHAT IN THE NAME OF GOD DID YOU BRING TO IT IN THE FIRST PLACE?! I rarely reply with these words - although I have from time to time - but that is what resonates in my heart.  
You see, NOBODY on my staff goes through the motions: not my secretary, music director, Christian educators, custodian or my self. Every body gives 110% whether we're sick or well, whether there is a foot of snow on the ground or beautiful sunshine, whether our own families are falling apart or celebrating love unbound. That's no bullshit. Not only are my staff true professionals, they are also people of faith, hope and love.  And Sunday morning is where we bring our gifts, craft, skill and love together as an offering to the Lord. So when I see some body dozing off - or yawning with bored indifference - for the sake of Christ and his servants I want to ask: WTF? Drink too much last night? Not get enough rest? Working too hard? What's going on that you don't bring your best to Sunday morning, too? From time to time, I also think: ok, dude, I guess you needed a safe place to take a rest - maybe this is an answer to prayer - but most of the time that seems unlikely.

I know that middle class, white liberal Protestants aren't supposed to be so freakin' evangelical, but come on! One of my conservative buddies back in the Jesus Freak days of the 70s used to quote the late Keith Green: You are having a hard time getting UP on Sunday morning? Don't you know that Jesus went to the CROSS under much worse circumstances?  Come on: Get over it! (Or something like that...)
I know, I know I shouldn't be quite so snarky. But then my attention shifts to the least quoted book of the Bible in liberal circles, Revelations, wherein the angel of the Lord says to the beleaguered church in Laodicea: I know your works - you are neither hot nor cold - and I wish that you were one or the other. So in your lukewarm nature I spew you from my mouth. (Notice that the text says spew - not spit, that is way too nice - but spew, that is, vomit.  Clarence Jordan of Koinonia fame used to say that those who couldn't take the language of the gospel full tilt were Kleenix Christians.  In other words, too delicate and too lukewarm.)

Today, people in worship were mostly grounded in their hunger for grace. (exception noted above) One local artist who wrestles with all of this loved that the message was about listening to our lives - particularly our fears. Another noted that there was a peace and gentleness about the whole season of Advent this year.  And still another told me that she had been wrestling with depression throughout Advent but today's worship helped her realize that even her darkness was acceptable to the Lord. I give thanks to God for the people who come to worship to share their love with God and be opened by the Spirit.

And then after I finished up our Christmas Eve liturgies, I read this about Senator Jim Inofe:  "One of the most partisan Republicans in the Senate, Oklahoma's Jim Inhofe, said Sunday that his "attitude" toward Senate Democrats has changed as a result of the outpouring of sympathy he received from colleagues after the death of his son. Perry Inhofe, 52, was killed in a plane crash in November. "I probably shouldn't say this, but I seem to have gotten more -- well at least as many, maybe more -- communications from some of my Democrat friends," Sen. Inhofe told host David Gregory on NBC's "Meet the Press." "And I'm a pretty partisan Republican." (check it out @ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/ 12/22/jim-inhofe-democrats_n_4489794.html)

Thanks be to God:  I am constantly shocked by the crazy places that signs of grace pop up - and I never imagined it in Inofe! But God is constantly surprising me.  And I am a big believer in sharing the good news through acts of compassion. This is how I think we get beyond the polarization of this or any other moment. And brother Inofe, in his darkness, sensed a little of the light because even those who oppose him were willing to share a bit of grace and understanding.  How did my favorite evangelist from Muscle Shoals, Otis Redding, put it:  You got to try a little tenderness?

So today, as the sun evaporates behind the Berkshires, I give thanks to being surprised by the gospel as well as all the broken souls who come into the presence of the Lord with vulnerability and humility. Clearly the birth of the Lord is coming...


Newell Young said…
Amen. Just hoping it wasn't me!
RJ said…
Not at all my man...:-)
Peter said…
I am reminded of G. Willow Wilson's zinger, "What is in the holy books depends upon who reads them." We invariably bring our baggage along, don't we?

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