Saturday, February 13, 2010

small town Sunday: mosaics

Sunday after Sunday, these last few weeks, I have sat in my pew in Green Mountain Falls with the same thought: "I need to write about this." It has become a mosaic of beautiful and challenging moments in my mind. And so that is what I come to offer now: tiny, colorful pieces of faith and community, drawn from the deep well of my small town Sundays.

At the opening of every service, our Pastor asks the congregation if there is anything they are thankful for. There is seldom the awkward silence that one might expect (in fact, one time there was such a silence, and the Pastor exclaimed, "What's up? Usually I can't shut you guys up!"). My favorite moments of thanks almost invariably come from the two small children that are usually sitting in the pew in front of me. They will raise their tiny hands, and to my delight, the Pastor never fails to call on them. The outcome is usually hilarious. One time, the little girl--maybe 4--spoke loudly: "When you're in the snow, you'd better wear boots!" Last week, she simply asked a question: "Does Jesus live in Woodland Park?" Shortly thereafter, her younger brother took his turn. "It's snowing today," he proclaimed, "And I want lots of bouncy balls!" Smiling from two feet behind, I thought, "I am thankful for these kids, for a church that validates them." And, of course, for the giant bowtie around the neck of the 10 year old behind me.

Our church follows the liturgical calendar, and the first Scripture reading for the day is often read by a member of the congregation--sometimes adults, sometimes children. My favorite is an older man, who walks to the lectern slowly and reads at about the same pace. It is beautiful. Recently, upon reaching the lectern, he held up a torn piece of paper in his shaky hand. "You might notice," he spoke slowly, "that my Scripture has been eaten by a large, black dog," and then continued with his reading. A couple weeks later, again having concluded his slow walk to the stage, he paused and announced, "I'm a little off balance today. One of my hearing aids is dead." And on with the reading.

The sermons, of course, usually leave some sort of mark on me, whether laughter or deep thought. When the liturgy presented us with Jesus' apocalyptic words from Luke (I think), the Pastor began with, "I figure if Jesus could sum up the end of the world in about ten lines, I should also be fairly brief this morning." And he was. On the Sunday following the tragic earthquake in Haiti, he opened with a bold statement: "Those who stand in pulpits this morning and claim to have answers, I would argue, are blaspheming." I have always appreciated that he is willing to call his congregation to wrestle with the difficult and seemingly nonsensical aspects of the world we live in, of the gospel, and of what it looks like to be a disciple. There are moments to be treasured from the children's sermons as well. One week, after trying to perform a rather obvious magic trick, he led them through this simple prayer: "Thank you, God, for silly magic tricks and for miracles. Help us to know the difference." Yes, God, help me to know the difference.

Last Sunday, it was a visiting preacher who left a mark on my life. He had cerebral palsy: His gestures were awkward, and his words were difficult to understand. And yet, he was one of the most gifted speakers I have ever heard, and his simple presence taught me something of courage. This man had followed God's call to preach even when it seemed like a crazy proposition. I thought of Moses, who claimed he was not good with words and yet was called to speak to Pharaoh. I thought of a poem by Ruth Bell Graham:

He is not eloquent
as men count such;
for him
words trip and stumble
giving speech
an awkward touch,
and humble:
so, much
is left unsaid
that he would say
if he were eloquent.
Wisely discontent,
compassion driven
(as avarice drives some,
ambition others),
the old, the lonely,
and the outcast come;
all are welcome,
all find a home,
all — his brothers.

Behind him
deeds rise quietly
to stay;

And those with eyes to see
can see
all he can say.

Perhaps he'd not have spent
his life this way
if he were eloquent.

"God uses ordinary people, " this courageous man reminded us, "because frankly, God likes ordinary people." And so, having followed God into an unlikely calling, he left an indelible mark on the lives of an entire congregation of ordinary people.

Tomorrow, I will make the drive up the pass, my insides slowing down as I make my way out of the city and onto the quiet street that runs through Green Mountain Falls. I will experience the presence of God in the gathering of his ordinary people. And tomorrow, sitting behind thankful children in my favorite pew, I will likewise be thankful. Thankful for snow boots and bouncy balls, for Scripture-eating dogs and silly magic tricks, for bowties and sermons and potlucks. Thankful, that is, for the whole mosaic of my treasured small town Sundays.

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