Hang out… Listen… Walk in the truth. That’s what I heard in a sermon yesterday. The preacher is a young guy. Heck, Tim’s hardly even a thirty something. He’s a kid! And he’s got this nailed. Because he lives in the land of young people and he’s always looking around.
He told us that these days people don’t come to faith by listening like they used to. They used to go: to hear a message, to listen, then believe and make a commitment. Now, Tim said (actually he said people who study this are saying) people come to faith by talking. Easy enough. All we need to do is listen.
Yes! These people need someone to talk to, someone who will hear their side, someone who will listen to their stories, empathize in the difficulties, nod and smile, and put an arm around a shoulder. And remain silent. Unless and until Jesus shares words we’re meant to speak. We’re admonished to be quick to listen and slow to speak, not because we’re not meant to use our words but because words, absent of Christ, indict us.
Mid afternoon Sunday I am driving with my daughter to a soccer team meeting scheduled in a room at a library near her Sunday evening indoor soccer game. The team has arranged this location as a convenience for busy people to attend. We arrive and pull into an entrance way shared between the library parking lot on the right and a church parking lot on the left. Straight ahead is this sign: “CHURCH LOT NOT OPEN TO SOCCER PARKING.”
It stops me cold. I was lucky not to get rear-ended. There are no soccer fields in sight. Simply trees, a library, snow and a mostly empty church parking lot. (Fortunately, there was ample parking at the library.) Yet, the message reads clearly: Soccer players and their families are not welcome here.
Now I am certain that is NOT the message intended by the people who erected the sign. I do not know them. I’ve never been to their church. But as a church-going Christian and a soccermom I understand the battle for parking that goes on on Sundays. Sunday morning soccer games thrive in our area. Spectators come in droves. But the church needs this space for their parishioners on Sundays; please park elsewhere.
They know what they mean to say, but do they know what this means when soccer families read it? My daughter did immediately. She said, “Oh Mom, you have to take a picture of that.” She gets the message. And so do I. This is the message that can underlie our church-speak if we’re not careful. If we don’t hear from Christ first about whether to speak and what to say, our anger can come right out of our mouths. And while it can sound very right to us, it can, to those looking and listening with very discerning eyes and ears, sound very wrong.
To them that sign reads: “You should be in church on Sunday.” Or even, “If soccer is more important to you than church on a Sunday morning, you are not welcome here.”
That permanent green and white sign, erected with forethought and some significant expense, greets everyone who drives to the library, many of whom are soccer families, some of whom are struggling with the challenge that soccer on Sundays has created for their best intentions to get to church on a Sunday. Do we know how we sound?
This morning, the words of Joe Friday came to me (Yes, from Dragnet; I am very much older than Pastor Tim). Every week, Joe nailed the crook, and he would read the suspect his Miranda rights. In the United States, the Miranda warning is required by law to prevent a suspect from compelled self-incrimination (a violation of the 5th amendment). It states:
- You have the right to remain silent when questioned.
- Anything you say or do may be used against you in a court of law.
- You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future.
- If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning, if you wish.
Usually, Joe ended with. “Do you understand your rights?” And the suspect usually said, “I want a lawyer.”
Because, of course, Joe Friday always got his man. And when you’re guilty, you know you need a lawyer. You have the right to counsel. An advocate who will speak with you, and if necessary, for you.
We have the right to remain silent. And in this silence to call on our counselor who will surely offer wise advice. Perhaps, to sit quietly. Perhaps, to say what you need. Perhaps, to go and be with them wherever they are, even on a Sunday morning. And when the time is right, to introduce them to the Friend who came with you.
To be honest, people are a little miffed with me. They want me to join their group and contribute to their effort. To lay my logs upon the fire they are building and stand by to watch it grow. What a glorious sight. What a powerful flame. What a warm feeling, to gather around that fire. Especially as the cold approaches. There is nothing like the warm feeling of welcome.
But I resist. Not because I am not a group person. I am. I love being in the circle where ideas are batted around and initiatives are given life. I love the interaction and the energy and the fellowship. I love, love, love being in the circle. It’s just that I cannot do it on their terms.
You see, they want me to focus on the flame at the center, but I am meant to fan the flame outward. In fact, when I sit in a circle, I’m always turning to see what’s going on outside of it. This is probably distracting for its members, and for this, I apologize. True, I am not giving it my full attention – which is disrespectful – and even more so when I toss in bits to contribute to the conversation anyway. It’s not that I am ADD, exactly. It’s that, when I’m seated, I’m always on a swivel.
It makes me think of the bucket brigade of old time firemen, passing hand to hand the bucket of water destined for the fire. Or the townspeople, heaving sand bags person to person to shore up the dam. I am one of those kind of people. Meant for the middle of the line. I am not meant to circle around, but to pass along. In both directions.
I look, listen and learn but also turn, talk and teach. I intercept those walking by just to have a conversation. A sort of mobile sounding. To reach out and exchange. Honestly, I don’t do this by my own initiative. It just seems to be part of me. This sort of internal swivel. A pivot point very central to my being, that resists being locked in one position.
I hope the folks around the fire will forgive me, and keep inviting me to come and be part, because that is central. Perhaps we could lock hands in criss-cross, like the Brownie girl scouts did back in the day and perhaps still do on closing their gatherings. Reach across with the right to the person on the left and reach across with the left to the person on the right and then twist arms up over head and around. The tangle comes unfurled as all turn to look outward, even as hands stay clasped in a complete and unbroken circle.
Heaven knows we need a place to gather in our tangles. A safe place. A warm place. A welcoming place. But when we have the strength of being held by each hand we can safely turn to the world and say welcome. We can release our hold, just for a moment, to engage them and place them among us. This is how the circle grows. As long as each new member puts their log on the fire, the flame will be just the right size to warm us all. We need not fear growing too far from it.
We hold fast, on the right and on the left. To one hand and the other, knotted and not, compressed and expanded, inward and outward, as a dance. As a breath. And fan the flame of life.
Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold.