Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My Journey Toward God

Last Sunday, part of our worship experience included a time for a “Blessing of the People.” The entire service was structured around the power of words, beginning with the thought that words are themselves deeds. They are deeds that create or destroy. Before I got to the text for the morning from James 3:1-10, I asked the people to take just a moment to bless each other.

I wasn’t sure anyone would participate. Being a small congregation does tend to facilitate this kind of experience but I was still concerned that people might feel intimidated. I couldn’t have been more wrong. People were hungry to bless each other. As soon as I described what we were attempting, just to say a kind or affirming word about someone else present in the congregation that morning, people started blessing each other left and right.

Some of the blessings were humorously warm. Others were surprisingly personal and beautifully sentimental. All of them were moving. Before long, someone had gotten a box of Kleenex and started passing it around. People were as moved by giving the blessings as they were by receiving them. Even when I tried to bring the whole thing to a meaningful conclusion, people continued to raise their hands for the opportunity to say a good word about someone else.

One of the last to speak was eleven year-old, sixth-grade, Taylor. Her blessing was different than anyone else’s in part because it wasn’t for any one person in particular. It was a blessing to her church, her faith community. She said, “I want to thank everyone here who has been a part of helping me on my journey toward God.”

Her words stunned me, literally. “My journey toward God,” Taylor said. All these years I’ve been preaching, teaching or writing about what it means to be a believer, or to be “saved” or to be a follower of Jesus, always looking for the best way of describing this thing called faith. In those few, very simple words, Taylor said it all.

Faith isn’t a structured set of ideas about God. I keep forgetting that. I keep wanting to tweak my thoughts about God into perfect form, like maybe God will think more highly of me if I can think more deeply about him. That’s a frustrating way to live.

Taylor reminded me that faith is a journey toward God, a pilgrimage toward a deeper way of living and loving both God and those on the journey with me. Church is what happens when two or more people on that same journey get together and just help each other along, on their journey toward God.

Thank you, Taylor. You have blessed me more than you can know, even as I tell everyone else what you said when we really had church last Sunday, and you helped me on my journey toward God.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Even When We Make Mistakes

This past Sunday morning, in lieu of our normal worship service, the youth of Grace Fellowship presented a play in a dinner theater setting. It was one of those priceless projects where, with the exception of the catered Italian meal of salad, bread, ricotta-packed lasagna and chocolate cake, as well as the professionally written play, everything was produced in house.

The cast of some fifteen, with the exception of two adults, was made up entirely of our kids. The other adults pitched in with logistics and background, props and decoration, publicity and food service. It was wonderful to watch the way it all finally came together, with the largest attendance to date crammed into our small worship space around well-decorated card tables and metal folding chairs.

Last night, we had a cast party at our house and I was reminded of how it once felt to be young. After wolfing down home-grilled cheeseburgers, chips and dips and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, all washed down with ice-cold soft drinks, the whole group went outside and played a long, hot, sweaty game of football. I mean, throw-‘em-to-the-ground-like-rag-dolls football. Girls were neither shown nor showed mercy.

It was brutal and hilarious. Their laughter chased off all the deer and echoed across the 18th fairway the kids had commandeered for the game. To my knowledge, even after that big meal, not one of them puked, or hurt. How do they do that?

I stood by, laughing at the game while choking back joyful tears behind a smile as broad as the sunset. These kids love each other. They know what faith community means. They call me, their pastor, “Papa Schmuck,” and I love it. I was tear-smiling because I was trying to find adequate words to thank God. To thank the God who has blessed me by allowing me to share these young lives for this ever-so-quickly passing season of life, and how they have blessed my life in ways they could never, ever imagine.

Somehow, I was able to corral their sweaty hides back inside for a few minutes of celebration. I asked the kids to each share their favorite line from the play, either theirs’ or someone else’s. I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time. Some of those lines will be our favorite pet phrases for a long, long time.

I also asked them to share what they felt was the best part of the whole five-month experience. Thomas, one of the youngest, raised his hand and said, “It was really cool the way we just kept going even when we made mistakes.”

That was the best sermon I heard all day long. Up until the day before the performance, some of us were still struggling with our lines and cues. Everyone was nervous. Then, it was time, ready or not.

We made mistakes. Some lines were either forgotten or someone would just pole-vault right over a cue, leaving the cue-less to make it up as they went along. In the end, by the mercy of God, it all came to its purposeful conclusion, to thunderous and sincere applause.

Thomas was right. The best part was when we made mistakes and just kept going. Isn’t that the only way to live?