Good morning all!
Today’s scripture:1 THESSALONIANS 5:12-22
But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.
This is the First United Methodist Church in Lebanon, Oregon, my hometown. Growing up, this church was a safe and encouraging place for me. This was the place I saw a few friends and many more adopted aunts and uncles and grandparent type people. My family always sat in the front row because of grandpa’s hearing but it didn’t stop us from making church fun. This is the place where my brothers (and my mom and grandpa) and I competed about who could stand up first at the starred hymns from the front row. This was also the place that, in elementary school, a few friends and I would run around in and hang out in (our babysitter was the pastor’s wife so we knew the building well). I remember basking in the light from the stained glass windows in the sanctuary and laying down in the colors. I also remember when Nathaniel chased DJ and when they showed up DJ’s head was bleeding because he had ran into a brick. That was a stitches day. I remember participating in worship with solos, vocal and with my violin. I wasn’t afraid because there was a loving community to receive. I remember in Middle School painting the education wing and we got to decide what colors.
And in high school when I first heard a faint glimmer of a call to be a pastor, not having any idea what that would mean. I was fearful but had amazing people alongside me with support. I also remember when I returned to claim that call and a group of people asked me, “Just how sure are you about this on a scale of 1 to 10.” I was worried when I responded with a 6 or 7 but that fear was taken away when they said, “Thank God! If you had said 10, we would have asked you to do some more discerning.” Then this same group of people prayed while I went through seminary, welcomed me home with open arms each holiday I made it home, and asked me to preach around the time I was ordained so they could celebrate where I came from.
My relationship with the Church has changed….at times I have questioned it heavily. When I was younger it was one of the safest places I could think of and throughout the years, Church has become complicated in its safety. At one point, I didn’t think it was safe for me at all…it was a dangerous place and I thought I might leave it. And even today, I battle with the Church (notice capital C) even today, depending on the moment. I get frustrated when I get contacted by college students who tell me others in another church location are telling them they are going to hell. Or I get upset when people have been hurt over and over again by these communities. Or I get exhausted of fighting about who is in or out. I especially get frustrated when I see churches not playing out what Paul has called us to in Thessalonians. Because I have had the community around me that has encouraged me when I have been fainthearted, and have shown me how to pray and rejoice and love, I have an advantage while others are still learning that those communities exist.
Perhaps our job during Advent is to open up communities that live into the call in Thessalonians. It is our job always but perhaps Advent could be a good start. And perhaps from this point, if we covenant to reach out to others to support the weak and open ourselves up to praying and giving thanks in all circumstances (which by the way aren’t just Christian notions but human notions) than perhaps we can start to create community around those who haven’t felt that before. Perhaps then we can start to dwell in possibility rather than hurt and frustration. That’s where I am with all of this this morning. I choose to stay in the Church field because I believe that it’s the best calling for me at this moment to do that kind of work. Many of you aren’t part of a church community but certainly know where these values come from in community. Where will you find your avenue’s this season?