Archive for the 'Easter' Category

NEWER THAN WE DARE TO DREAM

As I write, pastors and church staffs are scrambling toward Easter. They’re fine-tuning Holy Week services, printing bulletins, rehearsing music, doing that “something extra” to welcome guests on Easter Sunday. The afternoon  will find these once-frantic folks relaxing with family, headed for well-deserved time off, or simply hibernating at home as they recover from the annual Easter marathon. Meanwhile excited sugar-crazed children in homes across the land will have devastated and deconstructed beautiful Easter baskets. Then school will resume on Monday morning. Store displays of egg-laying bunnies will yield to Mother’s Day marketing. A relieved sigh will be heard throughout the land: “Well, that’s over. We’re done with Easter till next year.”

But the Good News of Easter is—it’s not over! Talented worship leaders Richard Avery and Donald Marsh taught us that truth through their song, “Every morning is Easter morning from now on…” Have some fun watching and singing along with this video. The celebration continues in the lives we live on the far side of Easter. Good News overflows beyond the sanctuary to touch and transform every person and every part of creation. “…if anyone is in Christ,” Paul writes, “that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 CEB) Easter means NEW CREATION is happening right here, right now, in you, in me, and in places, ways, and people we’ve never even imagined! Jesus’ Risen Life is re-creating every person, every creature, every molecule, every institution, every relationship.

Really, Paul? Have you watched CNN or Fox News lately? Surfed the Internet? Talked with the folks in the grocery store, the beauty shop, the neighborhood bar, the church parking lot? “New Creation” sounds pretty impossible to them. I suspect it sounded equally impossible to Paul’s friends in Corinth. They felt Death’s unbreakable stranglehold literally squeezing the life out of their world. But Paul insisted that the Life that had raised Jesus had broken Death’s stranglehold finally and forever. Paul strains the limits of language to describe Life’s ultimate victory: “Death swallowed by triumphant Life! Who got the last word, oh, Death? Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now? It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God!” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57 MSG)

That’s the Good News of Easter. It’s fresh and new every morning. God is recreating God’s world. God is re-creating people like you and me, and people very different from you and me. God’s Life-giving, death-destroying Love is transforming all that we knew was dead  and broken; resurrecting all we grieve as lifeless and hopeless. Love pours life and health back into what we knew was lost forever. All the big and small things we do in the Spirit of Jesus (especially those small things we think go unnoticed) help to build God’s New World. No-one and nothing can stop Love’s power from completing God’s New Creation: “With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.” (1 Corinthians 15:58 MSG)

Where and with whom are you equipped and called to share this Good News–with struggling families, friends, coworkers? Students and staff in underfunded and overcrowded schools; with the homeless people you passed as you drove around today; men, women, children in the grip of addiction; folks in a nearby jail or other correctional facility? With disaster survivors seeking to rebuild their lives, and those who work alongside them; angry, frightened persons who demonize their neighbors across political, spiritual, lifestyle, and ideological divides? With our United Methodist Church as it seeks a new beginning; our planet suffering from centuries of abuse and misuse by its human occupants?

The list could go on and on. Thank God that “…every morning is Easter morning from now on!” Thank God “the work of the Master” continues to build New Creation. None of us has to do it all. None of us has to heal all the world’s brokenness. (None of us–especially me!– is God, thank God!) Each of us is uniquely positioned, equipped, and called to share the joy of Easter morning (every morning!) with some neighbors within our reach. Can you see their faces yet? Hear their voices? Pray. Ask God. You’ll start to see faces and places, and hear voices. You’ll start to see a way where you knew there was no way. You’ll start to discover others who share your call and bring gifts and skills you may lack. Take a step, and you’ll find the next step.

When the going gets tough–and it will–remember Paul’s words: “…don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.” 

OUR TENT JUST SHRUNK!

Folks who follow this blog have heard me describe myself as a “prenatal Methodist”. My parents met through Epworth League, a church-related youth/young adult group. The Methodist Episcopal Church nurtured my parents’ growing faith and social conscience through “big tent” faith communities that embodied founding father John Wesley’s vision for the Methodist movement: “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.”

That “big tent” welcomed my father and other conscientious objectors to military service as World War II dawned, as well as my uncles who served in the US armed forces. After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, persons of Japanese descent,  many of whom were US citizens, were interned (imprisoned) in camps for the duration of the war. My mother served in the church’s ministry to those folks who lived in very difficult conditions. Some folks opposed this ministry because it felt to them like “giving aid and comfort to the enemy”. But the church’s “big tent” made space for folks with all those diverse viewpoints. Some of my mother’s Japanese intern pen pals became lifelong family friends-and Methodists!

Maynard Memorial Methodist Church, the church that helped raise my sisters and me, was located in the city of Los Angeles. Across the street was Culver City, a suburb where many church members lived. During that time (the 1950’s and ’60’s) Culver City realtors shared an unwritten “covenant” not to sell homes to African Americans. As the Civil Rights Movement grew, some church members recognized the racist nature of this practice. Our pastor at the time led the church to begin getting acquainted with an African-American congregation. That process began with an annual pulpit and choir exchange. Not everyone approved. But our Methodist “tent” had room for whites and blacks to worship together, and also for those (both black and white) not yet ready for even that step.

Maynard was about a mile away from Palms Evangelical United Brethren Church. The Methodist and EUB denominations were working toward a merger in 1968. A few years  before, the two pastors began intentional preparations for that event. They took time to build their own relationship. Then they led their two congregations to share events together and begin praying and dreaming toward their common future. Ultimately the two congregations merged as Culver Palms United Methodist Church. They sold both church properties built a new facility in a far better location. The process was not without its ups and downs. Sometimes folks struggled to “…be of one heart…” But they persevered and built a roomy, spacious tent where they could welcome their new neighbors. Almost fifty years later Culver Palms continues to serve a diverse urban congregation. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of congregations have their own unique “big tent” stories of learning to …,love alike…” even though they don’t always “…think alike.” That’s who we United Methodists are.

This week in St. Louis our United Methodist “big tent”  was rudely and drastically remodeled. Politically skilled and very hard-working conservative delegates won the day at the specially-called General Conference (the denomination’s global legislative body.) . Their “Traditional Plan” prevailed by 54 votes out of some 800+. This action reaffirmed the official denominational stance adopted in 1972: “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” (2016 Book of Discipline Par. 304.3). LBGTQ+ persons have been ineligible to serve as clergy or to be married in church facilities, and UM clergy have been forbidden to perform same-sex weddings. As adopted, this legislation continues those provisions and adds draconian sanctions for anyone who violates the rules–clergy, congregations, even bishops and annual conferences.“Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?

That loud noise you heard last Tuesday may have been the UMC’s well-advertised “Open Doors, Open Hearts, Open Minds” slamming shut! Many now see the UMC not as a “big-tent” church where all God’s people are welcome, but as a church that treats LGBTQ+ folks as second-class Christians at best. This prenatal Methodist struggles in vain to recognize the perpetrators of this action as heirs of Wesley’s movement: “May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?” This faction apparently wants to shrink the UMC’s “big tent” to fit only the “one heart” and “one opinion” acceptable in their sight. They reject the last fifty years of growing scientific, psychological, theological, and cultural understanding of human sexuality. They reject the experience of countless Christians who have moved beyond fear and literalism. Bible study, prayer, scientific progress, and simply getting to know our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters in Christ has convicted more and more followers of Jesus that we can no longer exclude these brothers and sisters. God’s love in Christ embraces them, just as they are, as it does all of us.  

It will take some time to understand fully the impact of this action. The new legislation is scheduled to take effect January 1, 2020. First it will be reviewed by the Judicial Council, the UMC’s “Supreme Court. Some or all of it may well be declared unconstitutional. The church’s regularly scheduled General Conference in 2020 will almost certainly address these issues. Clearly we are headed in a new direction, but it’s far from clear exactly what that direction is.

Meanwhile Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, arrives next Wednesday, March 6. I invite you to lay aside church politics for Lent. Let’s dig deep into our faith. Let’s focus on the basics–Love God and love your neighbor as yourself–all your neighbors, especially the ones easily within your reach. Regardless of where we stand on this issue, let’s invite God’s Spirit to form us anew into the people and the Church of God’s dreams. May we grow into a people whose loving, welcoming spirit overcomes both the perception and reality of closed doors, hearts, and minds. Let us lay aside our anger, disappointment, bitterness, and resentment. Regardless of where we stand on this issue, let’s invite God’s Spirit to form us anew into the people and the Church of God’s dreams. Let’s dare to ask God to make us a living example of Wesley’s vision: “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?”

A colleague suggests that we treat this transitional time like Holy Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter. It’s eerily quiet. Death seems to have the upper hand. But we hope against hope toward Resurrection! On Saturday the full force of Resurrection Life energy is let loose–until the power of evil is overcome once and for all. Whether we see it or not, transformation happens in the deepest depths. Death is dying. Life is rising. Good blossoms from what we believed was unredeemable evil. A door opens where we’d seen only a dead end. God’s new day dawns for all God’s people!

 

 

Easter–Right Before Our Eyes!

Recently we learned of the sudden illness and death of a good friend. She was the organist in the church I served immediately before retirement. Her husband is also a good friend. Marti’s death was the third significant loss for that congregation in a relatively short period. First was the announcement of the pastor’s imminent reassignment (after four years) to another church; the second was the not-unexpected death of a long-time church member whose daughter is also a long-time active member.

I emailed Pastor Jen to encourage her as she made her way through this difficult period, and to let her know my wife and I would attend the memorial service that would be held the afternoon of Palm Sunday.  “It’s a good thing Easter’s coming,” I commented, “because we really need it.”

Dianna and I arrived home early last week to find Spring enthusiastically springing forth in our yard. From a distance we saw our huge Palo Verde tree gloriously shouting “YELLOW!” . When we got closer, we saw that the green-leafed Oleanders had turned pink and white. These signs of new life proclaimed “…the Word of Life…right before our eyes…” (1 John 1:2 MSG)PART_1428255890142_20150405_101636

Early Easter morning our dog Rufus  woke me for his daily walk. Along the way I wondered how our neighbors would spend the day. A  few houses had more cars than normal, likely a sign of company. But we didn’t meet any of the humans or dogs we usually see. Had those humans overruled their dogs? Gone to a Sunrise service? Stayed home to fix Easter brunch? Traveled to be with family? Like that first Easter, it was a very quiet morning.

As Rufus and I turned toward home (and the rising sun), I found myself reflecting on people who really need Easter this year.  I thought of those whose burden of grief included multiple losses–our friends in that congregation; others whom we knew in other places; countless others whose names I don’t know—but God does, thank God! I thought of victims of disaster and violence whose stories fill the headlines—for a little while.  I thought also of others who are footnotes that go mostly unread and unnoticed.

I thought also of people already at work that early Easter morning. Las Vegas’ 24/7/365 culture encourages both locals and tourists to believe we should be able to eat, shop, gamble, be entertained, pampered, transported, whateverwhenever. The good news is that people are working, especially as economic recovery continues. But much of this work is in demanding, draining, dead-end jobs. Many of those jobs come with long hours and (for two-earner households) conflicting schedules that play havoc with family life, sleep, and any semblance of normality. But it’s the best they can do. If they complain, they’ll be gone and the next interchangeable human part will take their place.

“It’s a good thing Easter’s coming, because we really need it.” Our hyper-connected world keeps us (over)-informed of our brokenness—broken people, broken lives, broken minds, bodies and spirits; broken rules, relationships, systems, and covenants; broken communities that don’t know where healing begins; a broken planetary ecosystem that may already be terminal. If Easter’s coming to all these broken places, let it come soon!

Which brings up the role you and I play in redeeming our world. Now that Easter’s come, HOW DOES THE WORLD WITHIN OUR REACH KNOW? If we’ve truly been raised up to a new way of living (as our pastors told us yesterday), CAN ANYONE TELL THE DIFFERENCE? If we’re “Easter People” and “Every Morning Is Easter Morning“ as the song says, HOW IS THAT REVOLUTIONARY NEWNESS OVERFLOWING OUR OWN LIVES TO TRANSFORM THE WORLD WITHIN OUR REACH? How does the Good News of the death of Death (1 Corinthians 15:50-58 MSG) become as in-your-face inescapably real as our Palo Verde tree brilliantly proclaiming “…the Word of Life…”?

The Good News of Easter in your life and mine might look like:

  • Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers…” (Matthew 5:9) Instead of the polarized yelling-past-each-other that has become the norm, let us learn and model a different style of political and religious conversation. Let us honor the other, with whom we disagree so intensely, as a child of God and thus our brother or sister. Let us listen more deeply and speak less divisively.
  • The earliest church got in trouble with the Roman government because it took such good care of “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40, 45). Let us offer the same revolutionary care to those in our own communities who are “hungry…thirsty…homeless…shivering…sick..in prison”. (Matthew 25:35-36 MSG)
  • The earliest Christians soon found themselves breaking well-established boundaries as the Good News of Jesus spread from Jewish society to the Gentile world. (Cf. Acts 10:1-11:18)Let us identify and lovingly but firmly break unjust (unholy) boundaries in our world that separate people from God and each other.
  • Early Christians understood idolatry with laser clarity. (An idol is whatever takes first place in your life; anything or anyone you award that absolute first priority that belongs only to God.)The Father of Jesus Christ is the only true and living God. All other gods were/are inferior and completely powerless. New believers coming out of various pagan backgrounds were taught clearly that they had to choose between the one God of Christian faith and the impotent idols of their former life. When Roman emperors began asserting claims of divinity and demanding the loyalty oath “Caesar is Lord!” followers of Jesus responded “Jesus is Lord!” The two statements are mutually exclusive. That profession of faith cost countless Christians their lives. Let us be laser-clear about the rampant idolatry, celebrity worship, and consumerism in our culture. (Sounds like fuel for a future post!)

Palo Verde yellow is our 2-year-old granddaughter’s favorite color—at least this week. What if we made Palo Verde/ “…Word of Life…” yellow our favorite color. Let it call us to live bright, colorful new lives. Our neighbors who need Easter so badly just may begin to discover along with us “the Word of Life…right before our eyes.”

“Look for the Helpers”

This morning, the day after the Boston Marathon bombing, I heard a television personality ask the question on every parent’s mind: “What do we tell the children?” I don’t know a better answer than these words from the wise and beloved Mr. Rogers“…”Look for the helpers.”  We saw them in the first shocking seconds of video–police and other first responders in their neon-green vests running toward the explosion victims; a race official running to help a runner knocked down by the blast’s shock wave; ordinary folks doing whatever they could to help the injured around them.

Inspiring and encouraging stories of “helpers” continue to emerge from Boston. A recently-returned soldier used his combat experience to move the people around him toward safety and help them stay calm. An emergency room doctor who’d come to support his marathon-running friend sprang into action helping the injured around him. Runners ran beyond the finish line to the nearest hospital to offer blood donations and other support. Emergency room personnel treated to-MISTER-ROGERS-HELPERS-QUOTE-570he 150+ injured with the skill and compassion they bring to work every single day. Leaders of many faith traditions offered resources and facilities to support the victims and their loved ones.

“Look for the helpers,” Mrs. Rogers told young Fred—and all of us. That’s Easter faith! It doesn’t deny the reality of evil. Bad things happen–to the good, the bad, and the average. Eight-year-old boys like Martin Richard run to congratulate their marathon-running fathers and a bomb blast snuffs out their lives. Friends come to watch friends run and a terror attack obliterates their legs. Bad things happen and the power of good (the power of God!) replies, “Death is strong, but Life is stronger. Life, not death, is the last Word!” I’ve just seen an interview with long-time Boston reporter Mike Barnicle (yes, that’s the correct spelling). He talked about the resilience of Bostonians. Many who witnessed the event, Barnicle said,  will retain more than the image of the bomb blast’s carnage and chaos. They will hold in their minds what he called “a freeze-frame of strangers helping strangers…” Don’t ignore the chaos and tragedy. It’s real. Do “Look for the helpers”. They’re equally real  signs of God’s presence and power.

Bill Richard, Martin’s father, may not be ready to hear that yet. He not only lost his eight-year-old son. Both his wife and daughter were also severely injured. This evening (Tuesday) he released a statement asking for patience, prayer, and privacy for himself and his family. I suspect that the helpers are already beginning to make themselves available. The most effective ones will be quietly present but willing to give him plenty of space, sensitively and unobtrusively helpful, and fiercely protective of the Richard family’s privacy. Those helpers may be friends, family, hopefully their faith community. They will be there when the family is able to recognize and receive their help.

Tragedies like Boston drive many to seek God more urgently. Numerous vigils and prayer services are being held or planned by various faiths. United Methodist Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar invited New England United Methodists to pray with him, “God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in times of trouble.” (Ps.46:1). The Rev. LaTrelle Miller Easterling, Superintendent of the UMC’s Metro Boston Hope District, reminded the people she serves that “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)

Sometimes when we “look for the helpers” we see—ourselves. Hundreds of folks have had that experience in the early aftermath of the Boston attack. It will happen often as the injured make the long journey toward wholeness. It will happen as the whole community mourns its losses and moves toward healing. Some of the best “helpers” are those who have suffered themselves. Most “support groups” simply share the wisdom of those who are at various stages of dealing with grief, addiction, weight loss, or some other issue. Those who found helpers when they looked, or perhaps when they thought they were beyond help, have healed enough to become helpers available to share someone else’s struggle. Your best credentials for being the “helper” I need are your own battle scars from a struggle like the one I’m going through right now.

Have I wandered long way from “What do we tell the children?” The link at the beginning of this post leads to some good wisdom about helping your children deal with tragedies like Boston and Newtown. You might even find yourself talking about how each of us can be a helper for others. We more mature children of God can reflect on the two-sided message of Mrs. Rogers’ wisdom for Freddie and all of us. 1) “Look for the helpers” because their presence is a sign of God’s presence with us in a scary time. Look to other people and look deep into the resources of your faith. 2) Expect to find yourself called to be that “helper” for someone within your reach. You’ll be the one in just the right place at just the right time with just the right help for the person who’s “looking for the helpers” with no real hope of finding them.

Judas-A Place at the Table

This year I played Judas in our church’s Maundy Thursday service. It was my first time playing the villain. The pastor always has to play Jesus, as Pastor Don did that night. The service was built around a tableau of Da Vinci’s iconic “Last Supper” painting. Each disciple offered a brief monologue about his character. About midway through I, Judas, spoke. The script offered a frequently-heard popular interpretation. My high hopes for Jesus were fading fast, I said. Why won’t he start the final holy war with Rome and call down God’s heavenly armies? He needs a push. I, Judas, would give him that push. I’d “finger” Jesus so the Jewish authorities could arrest him. This would create a crisis that force him to act. As I finished my speech “Jesus” said, “Go do what you have to do.” I did— dramatically flinging my moneybag to the floor on my way down the aisle. (Perhaps better drama than biblical scholarship!)

What would “Judas” do for the rest of the service? After the monologues, the Last Supper would be re-enacted. “Jesus” would serve the disciples and they would serve the congregation. I thought I’d be out of the picture. After all, we’re told that in his remorse “[Judas]…went and hanged himself.” (Matt. 27:5) But Pastor Don insisted that “Judas” slip back into his place at the table so that Jesus could serve him along with the other disciples. It felt strange to me. But afterwards I realized it had to be just that way. Of course Judas has a place at the Lord’s Table. If God’s redeeming love in Jesus can reach Judas, it can reach anyone anywhere anytime. If Love can reach and restore Jesus Enemy Number One, it can certainly transform all of us petty-misdemeanor sinners. That “after” scene time-shifted us from first-century Palestine to twenty-first century here-and-now. The table complete with Judas proclaims the power of God’s love to transform the most motley collection of sinners into one Body in Christ. It shows us at once both saving truth and God’s wildly impossible promised New Creation.

The next morning my wife and I headed for Las Vegas to spend Easter with two of our three children and their families. (Truthfully, with our four amazing grandchildren and their parents!) Our 17-month-old grandson had the flu. He’d Velcroed himself to Mom the way sick little ones often do. Neither of them was leaving the house that night. So I was drafted to read Karin’s part in her church’s Good Friday service. [The service was built around Ruth Elaine Schram’s stunning cantata “Tapestry of Darkness”. Check it out!]

It fell to me to read Jesus’ words that have tripped readers for decades: “Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani.” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46)As I did I realized–those could have been Judas’ words as he ended his life. Jesus’ cry sounds like a mirror image of Judas exclaiming, “My God, my God, why have I forsaken you?”  Judas feels isolated and alone, beyond the reach of God’s love. But right beside him is Jesus, Emmanuel, “God-with-us”, living through the same all-too-human experience of total and complete abandonment. Incarnation isn’t just a Christmas word. It’s the Good News from the first page of the New Testament to the very last!

On Easter morning I found myself singing “Lord, I’m amazed at how you love me…” through  my Judas hangover. Granted, we don’t see or hear of Judas after his tragic suicide. But I don’t think it’s a stretch to believe that someplace on the other side of death Judas encountered Love that invited him back to the table.  That’s where he belongs. That’s home for every follower of Jesus–especially when we’ve followed less-than-faithfully.

That church’s Easter Sunday bulletin described the post-Easter worship theme– “Home”. “Home,” I remembered, is “the place where, when you have to go there, they have to let you in.” Who needs some place to go on Easter morning more than Judas? And it’s our nature as people of God, because it is God’s nature, to “have to let in” all the strays, the lost, the helpless hopeless homeless who have nowhere else to go. It’s our nature as forgiven sinners to make a place at the table for those who have no place. Even the unforgivable. Even Judas.

What does Judas look like where you live? Have you made Judas a place at the table where you meet Jesus and share the holy meal that unites all his followers? What are you doing to invite Judas (him/her/them) to join you, join us, join the whole family of God? Has either your action or your indifference posted a forbidding “Keep Out” sign? If Judas has no place at the Lord’s Table, none of us do. If Judas has a place and we sit in fellowship together, that wonderfully  impossible and surely promised New Creation has come true in our presence.

Jesus Kissed the Easter Bunny???

“Can anyone tell me why we celebrate Easter?” the teacher asked. A seven-year-old girl answered in her best “Here’s a wild guess” tone–“Because Jesus kissed the Easter bunny?” The teacher was my daughter. Working hard to keep a straight face (and to keep from embarassing the child), she told the girl to be sure she came back the next Sunday (Easter) to learn much more. Karin says this girl [whom we’ll call Janet] attends irregularly, mostly because of her not-very-stable home life.

We laughed about this incident when Karin retold it that night. But underlying the laughter was a sadness. Janet’s confusion isn’t an isolated example. Janet represents countless children who don’t know the basics of the Christian story. They live in a confusing conglomeration of cultural myths (Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, The Grinch,etc.) and elements of traditional religous stories. Their young minds may well hear both cultural myths and traditional faith stories as equally “mythical”. The confusion is heightened when the faith stories are “out of context”, i.e., when they’re not rooted in a family’s consistent faithful lifestyle.

The confusion isn’t only in young minds. My wife went to the store to get some Easter cards–a big-box retailer, not a “Christian” store. “It’s really hard to find Easter cards about Easter ,” she proclaimed upon her return. Her diligent search for bunny-free, egg-free cards that celebrated the Christian holiday in Christian terms had yielded minimal results. Her experience reinforces the uncomfortable truth. Organized religion is increasingly marginalized in our society. We no longer see throngs of traditional Ozzie-and-Harriet families spending every Sunday morning at their neighborhood church. Too many churches have hidden their heads in the sand in recent decades while two and now three generations have grown up with no significant Christian memory. They don’t speak our language–and for the most part, we don’t speak theirs.

But Janets (and Jameses) keep showing up  every Sunday morning. Somebody in their life thinks they should be there. God keeps giving us new chances with these children (and the adults in their lives). Our wise/foolish God trusts us and our “perfectly imperfect” faith communities to be the source through which they experience Limitless Unconditional Love. Here are some things we can do to be ready for Janet and James next Sunday:

1) LET’S GET OUR STORY STRAIGHT. Let’s learn our story well enough to be able to tell it to one another–and to a stranger. Let’s be sure our leaders,  teachers, and families (in all their diverse forms) know the basic stories of our faith and why those stories matter.

2) LET’S LOVINGLY HELP JANET LEARN THE STORY. “Be sure to come back next week” was a good start.  Janet doesn’t always have control over that. Inexpensive children’s books that tell the Christmas and Easter stories are readily available. Keep some on hand to send home. A teacher might give it to whoever picks up Janet with a  brief explanation–“Janet was curious about this. We covered as much as we had time for. Perhaps you could help her at home.” Or a teacher might ask the whole class to work together to tell the story.

3) KEEP WORKING ON OUR WELCOME. Many newcomers are remarkably uncomfortable about their first visit to a church. Little things we take for granted can turn them off. Special care and attention  can “seal the deal” and touch them deeply because they aren’t treated that well anywhere else in their lives.

4) DARE TO MAKE THE CHANGES NECESSARY TO MAKE ROOM FOR JANET, JAMES, AND THEIR FAMILIES. Most folks in nearly every church I know say they want to reach Janet, James, and their families. But when ” crunch time” comes and we face the reality of adjusting programming, Sunday schedule, worship styles, and $pending, tremendous resistance arises. I’ve seen it happen too many times in too many places. Janet and James are important–but not important enough to disrupt my comfort zone in my church.

Whose church?? Maybe that’s the problem. When we really get that part of the story straight, all the other pieces will begin to fall into place. Janet, James, and their families will be more welcome than they ever dared to hope. All of us will be amazed by the depth and power of the God whose love we know in Jesus–who never kissed any bunnies as far as I know, but loves them just the same as he loves every one of God’s creatures–including you, me, and Janet.


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