Hearts Wide Open
The night sky, over an abandoned field outside of Ft. Worth, Texas, seemed to go on forever, the darkness broken only by the twinkling stars above and the distant glow from a large white tent. Several hundred people, more or less, filtered into the tent and sat down on wooden folding chairs. The dais, a makeshift wooden platform only a few inches high, focused our attention in one direction. I have no idea who the speaker was, some itinerant Christian preacher man who railed about Jesus and the need to be saved. Come up now, he cried at one point, come with me, make Jesus your personal savior. Who knows why, but I went with him, along with some other people, to a smaller tent where we sat again. I remember sitting with my eyes closed, listening, trying to be present to a place deep inside myself. And there, in the far recesses of my being, I had the comforting awareness that I didn’t need to be there. Jesus was already part of me and I was already part of Jesus and I did not need this moment to make that fact real. While others around me appeared to be healed, one person suddenly able to walk again, praise the Lord! Another apparently cured of an illness, praise Jesus! I sat still and knew that God was with me, had always been with me, and would always be with me.
Come and see, Jesus says. Come and see.
I’ve forgotten lots of things in my life, especially things I did when I was a teenager. But some memories remain, indelible, even though their impression, their impact changes as time goes on. This experience use to tell me that Christianity was just a bunch of narrow minded hypocrites, and altar calls were phony stage pranks manipulating people who were desperate for hope. But over time its come to mean something else, an awareness that God works in every moment of life, even something that one might shun as ridiculously phony, seeking to transform us and invite us to bring forth God’s purposes.
Still, living a life of faith is not always easy. Despite what I felt that night, so clear and sure, I have had many doubts in the 45 years since. I have suffered so deeply and known others who suffered so intensely that I have truly wondered if there is a God. How could there be a God when there is all this pain and evil and anger all around? How could there be a God when everything seems to collapse and the world as one knows it seems to be disintegrating? How could there be a God in the midst of the blatant injustices that prevail through out time? How could there be a God that allows the horrors of this world to exist?
And yet, how could there not be a God? A God who suffers with. A God who weeps. A God who never gives up. A God who is always searching for the person, the community, the place through which God can work and God can change the world. Not control it, nor punish it, nor narrowly define it, but transform it, over and over.
The servant in Isaiah sings a song. In four verses this servant sings about being an obedient follower of God who becomes lost, a failure, and then becomes renewed; with a greater understanding of what it means to be the vessel through which God seeks to change the world, to be God’s hope.
Come and see, the goodness of the Lord.
God sings to each of us in our time and place, reminding us that every act we take to make a difference in the world can have larger, deeper implications than we will ever know. One small act of kindness may trigger a chain reaction around the world, because the potential for transformation is real.
On this weekend when we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. we are reminded of his call to become a beloved community. To live with an awareness, the potential everything one says and does may reveal God’s love and hope in the world. To avoid angry reactive language, to avoid name calling, blaming, and shaming. To speak the truth in love. To respect the dignity of every human being. To be clear that the values and the principles that guide one’s life are built solidly on nonviolence grounded in the love of God. The arc toward justice doesn’t bend by itself, we bend it, shape it, direct it.
We bend the arc by feeding hungry children with Blessings in a Backpack, providing a space for food to be stored and backpacks to be filled and people to gather and do this work together, building the beloved community. We offer the space and in so doing we are making a difference in the world.
Feeding hungry families with good food, providing the substances for daily meals as well as all the ingredients for healthy holiday meals, we are changing lives, feeding bodies, helping our sisters and brothers. Every item you bring to church to feed people contributes to making a difference.
Knitting or crocheting prayer shawls and lap blankets makes a difference. This year we gave away 13 prayer shawls at Christmas time to people who would otherwise have no other Christmas gift. Five went to women and men at Henry Ford Village at the Wednesday Eucharist and 8 were given away on Christmas morning, here at Christ Church. Each stitch, each shawl, each prayer, makes a difference, lifting someone’s morale, gifting them with love and hope.
The plaza that offers water to humans and dogs, and a place to sit in peace, a respite for thirsty people, hungering for nourishment in mind, body, and spirit. Our property, building and land, is one way we reach out to the world around us journeying with those who say to us, come and see. Come and see what the League of Women Voters is doing. Come and see what Creating Hope International is doing. Come and see what is happening with the SCHOOL project in Liberia. It is not just about waiting for someone to come to us, but to follow Jesus it’s mostly about how we go out into the world around us. Come and see Jesus says.
Supporting the ministries of Mariner’s Inn to help alcoholic men sustain sobriety and regain their purpose in life, makes a difference for individuals and families and even whole communities. Sobriety is not possible without faith and the moment to moment awareness that there is a higher power that has one’s back. Our prayers and our time and resources support this ministry. Come and listen to what David Sampson, CEO of Mariner’s Inn has to say at the adult forum this morning.
Because our purpose as a community centered church that feeds people in mind, body, and spirit, is formed in baptism, named and called to be Gods love; and with hands and hearts wide open, helping God save the world with hope.
A reflection on the readings for Epiphany 2A: Isiah 49:1-7; John 1:29-42