I have been blogging on Mark Labberton’s book The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor since December 31, 2017 and it has been a challenge. The book constantly challenges Christians to act out our love for others; Jesus speaks so much about how we need to help the less fortunate, who are sometimes our neighbors.
Something very unusual happened in my church yesterday. Maybe it was meant to be.
It was a Sunday devoted to the youth of the church and the Youth Director preached our sermon. Her sermon was risky. It was about how our church needs to “be the church”; we need to invite all people in our doors who need to know Jesus, we need to get out in the community and help those who have needs. Like Labberton, the message challenged us, making a few of us uncomfortable. Get out of your comfort zone; don’t get hung up on traditions. Try new things. Do what is right.
The image she used to organize her message was the 1969 incident at the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland Ohio. The water in the Cuyahoga was so polluted that a tremendous fire accidently erupted in the river; the flames were huge and they were all from the polluted debris in the water. Historical accounts described how high and long-lasting the flames were. It is not every day that we see water on fire. Her message was that the church has polluted the living water of the Bible, the living water Jesus spoke so much about.
As a church, we need to clean up the pollution and get back to the living waters that we all need.
I sing up in the choir so I have a good view of what is going on in the church. I see all the people who are out there, the coming and the going, the ones who are attentive, the ones who are not. I see the visitors, the new faces.
This Sunday as the Youth Director was preaching, a man entered the church. I don’t recall seeing him before. He was an African-American man, maybe sixty years old. He had on a green sports coat and a light open-collared shirt and a light-colored pair of pants. I watched as he came in late and took his seat in a pew near the back. He looked ok but you could tell that his clothing was not the best. He kept drinking from a container in the worship service. I have to admit that I wondered how he would be greeted after worship concluded and it was my sincere hope that he would receive a nice welcome.
The Youth Director concluded her sermon and we began to prepare to take communion but before we got there, the man got up out of his seat and walked to the front of the church. My pastor met him at the front of the church and seemed to know him. She called him Mr. Williamson and said he was from across the street from our church. He had something to say but from my distance, I did not know what he was saying. He addressed the church. It sounded like unintelligible mumbling from where I sat. My pastor patted him on the back and eventually he returned to his seat.
I assisted with serving communion on the right side of the church and Mr. Williamson was on the left side so he did not come to my station. I don’t know if he came forward for communion but I know he could have; my church has open communion.
Of course, I have had service to the poor on my mind since December 31st. Then this sermon from the youth director and then Mr. Williamson. I don’t know why things happen; maybe this was meant to be.
A big question that was on my mind was why did he show up in church on this day? Another question I had was if God sent him on this day; did we do what Christians are supposed to do? Did we extend the warm hand of love and fellowship to this man who maybe did not “fit in” with our church?
What should we have done?
Get over our lack of comfort and be kind to our neighbor. Recognize that this man entered our sanctuary because he needed something, something that we talk about all the time; he needed Jesus. What better place to get closer to Jesus than a church full of Christians worshipping God?
What did he experience? Was it a message polluted by class consciousness? Was it a message polluted by racial division? Did we present him with the polluted behavior of a church gone wrong?
Maybe he received a cup of living water, that pure living water that Jesus spoke about in John 7: “Anyone who believes in Me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from His heart.’”
I hope so…
I hope we gave it to him and he drank it right down…
That dangerous act of loving our neighbor…