I'm so grateful for Matt Tebbe's willingness to preach and guide you in worship yesterday, and from what Anna told me, his presence was a real blessing. Anna especially appreciated the deeper consideration of what it means to move into God’s Kingdom with a childlike faith, and I pray God used his words to speak to you.
Matt’s willingness to preach also gave me the opportunity to do something I don’t get to do very often: go to church as a parishioner and as a visitor. It made me realize all over again what you and others are looking for when you make your way to church on Sunday mornings, or – at least – what I was searching for.
It had been a wonderful weekend in many ways. My dad agreed to accompany me on a trip down about an hour south of Knoxville, Tennessee for a bicycle ride up the Cherohala Skyway, a circuitous route up the jagged Smokey Mountains. It meant a lot to me that my dad was willing to expend so much time and energy just to support one of my crazy interests, especially given that sheets and sheets of rain continued to whip right through Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee as we made our way down, and his willingness and support was even more meaningful as Father’s Day neared.
Of course, traveling so many miles was also tiring and disruptive, and by the time we got home late Saturday evening, I was ready to get back to some sense of normalcy. Lying in bed, I also realized I was wanting and needing time to be in God’s house. Our trip had been a success and not just because it was free from injury, and I wanted to give God thanks. But, deeper than that, I was also deeply aware that not all was okay in the world. As we stopped at a rest stop on the way home, I saw scores of people crisscrossing the grass lawn to use the restrooms and take a moment of sanctuary. It was a diverse company that perfectly represented the America we live in today: diverse, eccentric, and interacting briefly before going our way again. I couldn’t help but think of the tragedy that occurred down in South Carolina last week, and how that spiritual house of relief had become a place of great tragedy. So, as I faded off to sleep on Saturday night with all of this playing in my heart and mind, I felt a desire to be in a place where I knew that the pastor would be sharing a word from the Lord about the tragedy of Mother Emmanuel. I was searching for some stability and some word of assurance, and God caused me to remember a minister I had met a few years ago that pastors a church near downtown Indianapolis: Rev. Michael Mathers.
My point is not to put the spotlight on Rev. Mathers, although I was indeed grateful for his honest words and ability to share a word from the Lord about the tragedy. My point is that yesterday, I was able to see church from your perspective – how you come looking for a word from the Lord, how you come seeking that place that gives you assurance and stability, how you come looking for means to express the jumble of emotions that bounce around within you including your grief and your joys.
As I sat through the service, I realized what a gift worship is. How it orients us. How it orders us. I realized how it speaks a word to us that we really can’t get anywhere else. I realized how it takes the wild events of our wounded world and frames what we hear, see and experience within the reality of God’s grace, God’s sovereignty, and God’s love. I realized as I listened to the congregation sing “We Shall Overcome” and a soloist sing “Bless the Lord, O My Soul” that music brings our hopes and fears out of us and turns them into prayers before God who sits upon his throne. And, I realized my opportunity and call is to stay close to the heart of God amidst all blowing winds of the world so that I might have a word to share with you come Sunday.
It sounds like God used worship yesterday to do the same for you, and I’m so grateful God used Matt and Cheryl and the rest of you who stepped forward to lead the people in worship.
Lastly, I wanted to pass along one other piece from the worship service I attended yesterday. It was something Rev. Mathers said to the congregation near the beginning of the service regarding the tragedy of Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal. Let these words also be a reminder to us as we carry and share the peace of Jesus Christ this week through our own actions and attitudes:
By Rev. Michael Mathers
We gather together this morning, to pray, to read scripture and to sing.
Our hearts are heavy with grief and shame at the sin and brokenness of our nation. And yet - we gather to pray, to read scripture and to sing.
We grieve with the families of all those who have died. We grieve with our sisters and brothers of Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina - a denomination formed out of the discrimination and racism of the Methodist Church who also gave birth to this church - Broadway. We gather together today to repent of the sin that continues to divide us, upon which our nation and church was formed, and in which we continue to live. We gather together this morning, to pray, to read scripture and to sing.
Let us pause for a moment today…and think on the words we are about to speak. These words are nothing but a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal if we just speak them this morning and do not live the sentiments we so easily voice.
We will greet one another in a moment with the words “peace be with you.” And people will respond “and also with you.” But if we leave those words hanging in the air of our sanctuary and not in our homes, our workplaces, our streets - it would be better that we do not say them to one another now.
These are not “nice” words for us to say in the sanctuary - they are challenging words for us to live in this world. When people’s hearts are broken - to offer peace, is to offer hospitality - to welcome someone into your arms and into your home. When someone is angry at the injustice done - to offer peace is to offer a listening ear, to offer solidarity to walk alongside that person in their anger and grief and despair. When people offer hateful and ignorant words and actions, to offer peace is not to walk away, but to stand there, to challenge the offensive words and actions, by NOT turning away.
We gather in a sanctuary - because we think of sanctuaries as safe places, safe havens - but we gather this morning with an all to visible reminder that this is not so. The horrific violence in the church in South Carolina is a brutal reminder that no place is safe.
A church I know told a new person on their staff not to walk the couple of blocks from their church building to a nearby drug store. They told her it wasn’t safe. This very same church had dealt with child abuse by trusted people inside the walls of their church building - and yet, they were telling their new staff person it wasn’t safe to walk the streets.
Let us offer peace reminding ourselves that every place needs your peace…and that you are present in the broken places - which is to say everywhere.
When we offer peace to one another this morning - remember this is practice to offer the peace to all we come across.
My sisters and brothers…Peace Be With You.