I want to begin by telling you that I love the church, and I love my church. I love the people first of all. And I love our pastors, especially our new pastor of preaching.
I also love the way our particular church has chosen to worship. Our liturgy, our music, even the worship space draws us to reflect on our Triune God, the only Holy One. Indeed, the formality of our worship is one of the things that drew my husband and I to our current church.
But today something happened that made me wonder if sometimes, our formality overwhelms opportunity. Let me explain.
We worship in a downtown, urban area. There are several homeless shelters within a block or two of our building. As a congregation, we are involved in any number of ministries that assist this needy population and it is not uncommon for some of our needy neighbors to worship with us on Sunday morning.
Within minutes of the beginning of the sermon, a woman, obviously from the neighborhood, walked up the center aisle, bag and all, and sat in the second bench from the front. Her hair was rather messy, her bag was full of who knows what, and she was dressed in jeans – not typical apparel at our church. She sat there for a few minutes, then she got up, and walked out without saying a word, just as she had walked in a few minutes earlier.
A couple of minutes later, she walked back up the center aisle, back to the second bench. All of this happened in front of us: the congregation, the choir, and the pastors.
But no one said or did anything.
Not a word of kindness. Not a gesture of love. Not a question about what she might be seeking. Not even an offer to pray for her, although I would suspect many, like me, were doing exactly that. No one even got up and sat next to her. Me included.
A few minutes late, she got up and walked out again.
Unbeknownst to me, one of our pastors and several of our members did attend to her in the back of church. I was very happy about that.
But I couldn’t help but wonder, especially in the middle of a sermon on the church as family and unconditional love for others, whether the real sermon was not the one being preached, but the potential sermon sitting in our second row. And despite the help we offered, I still can’t help but wonder whether a sermon acted out wouldn’t have been more effective than the spoken words we heard today.