It was great to be at my home church this morning. The contrast with my old church was pretty dramatic today.
Last week I visited my old church. I was really happy to see many of the people I love dearly and don't see much any more. I got to see Joyce S. who is in frail health. She's an "elder" in my eyes. She should be a deaconess, but the congregation doesn't think women should have that role. Since I've known her, she's been an exemplar of service. I remember watching her from a distance as she picked up nails off the lawn left there from a building that had been demolished after a fire. No one was around. No one asked her to do it. No one thanked her.
She began an English class for immigrants and worked for a long time as the sole teacher. When the class grew, even though her health limited her participation, she manned the sign-in table for the attendees for twice a week, week after week. She seems to always be around when something needs doing. I also noticed that the developmentally disabled people and mentally ill people would approach her to talk. Many people say they have a heart for the handicapped, but the handicapped people can determine who will and who won't give them any attention. I watch who they choose to talk to. Joyce gives them true respect. When she was able to drive she gave rides to people were in need. She visited the sick - I know she visited me when I was sick in a nursing home. She visited people at the Westover migrant camp, and when a man had a knife wound in his neck she held him in her lap applying pressure until the ambulance came.
Many of the people who served at the English class have gone on to other congregations. Amy C. has joined a church that has a stronger mission for service. I remember when she volunteered for ESL. I was stunned with gratitude that such a strong servant would find the time and energy, but then remembered that "if you want a good volunteer, ask a busy person." She was once nominated to be a deacon but the furor was great and she was in tears over being a "source" of disharmony.
I say I jumped church because of the dishes my new church used at the "Love Feast". I had wanted to go to a footwashing for a year before I finally attended one. My first post to this blog (http://tinyurl.com/4vsyofd) is my thinking about it. I had the impression that Christians participated in footwashing because Jesus did it and told us to do the same. And when I finally went I noticed they used real dishes - Corel. The church ministry center is so small that there is no dishwasher. The dishes are carted in tubs to different homes to be washed. I was so impressed that they didn't use paper or styrofoam. This church's behavior with its dishes showed me that this was where I belonged.
That was about three years ago (I'll have to look this stuff up and revise this blog as necessary). When I left my old church we studied the Bible carefully (a strength) and were reminded that homosexuality and abortion were sins (a waste of time and hot air enjoyed by many Christians). I personally didn't know anyone who appeared to be defending homosexual relationships or who were interested in terminating pregnancies. There were plenty of sins in evidence but they were never addressed. The preacher was speaking to a nodding choir. We were not challenged. It seemed the same when I went to check out the new pastor last week. (Not that I would have wanted to challenge the power structure that was in place if I were a new preacher!)
The people at my old church were for the most part very nice people. They excelled at being nice. And I'm afraid that's part of why I've left them. I need to be around people who are eager to be more than nice. The Christ I came to call Lord has asked me to take up a cross.
This morning at my new church the topic of the sermon was "give us this day, our daily bread". Martin had a Bible in his hand throughout. He wasn't making stuff up. He could have spent the time congratulating the congregation on the past two weeks of ministry to the homeless. We could be patting ourselves for doing our good deed for the year. (My old church does not participate in the inter-church rotating program at all). Instead he called us to realize that while it's hard for Americans to understand the importance of asking where the next meal would come from, we should be saying the prayer to keep us open for the understanding of the many who do not have the means to determine how their daily bread will be provided . He talked bout Heifer International and Free Trade buying as things we can do to help others. He even suggested that we could eat less!!! Nobody but my doctor and my relatives has ever had the nerve to suggest that I eat less. It's a lot closer to home than gay sex or abortion.
One verse he cited I want to remember when people discuss taxing the wealthy.
It comes at the end of the parable of the wise manager.
Luke 12:48 .... From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
Our church is feeling the economic crunch of the recession, but Martin suggested that we spend the lent season with a goal of filling an "ark" for Heifer International. Here he talked about one of my favorite topics: Manna
More on this to come. I plan to revise this post quite a bit.
It was a very challenging and invigorating service and I'm glad I was there to be a part.