Sunday, January 9, 2011
ARE YOU A BIBLE?
So you see, faith by itself isn't enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless
New Living Translation (©2007)
.A while back, I read a story of a homeless man that had wandered into a church in a rather affluent area of the city. As he searched for a seat, the wealthy parishioners recoiled in horror at the mere thought that this unkempt man would sit next to them. As he paused at each pew, he was rejected. So he just sat on the floor in the middle of the aisle. And elderly man that was serving as an usher (no one else was available, too busy I guess) approached the homeless man. The parishioners watched. How was this frail old man going to throw out the much larger man? They were shocked when this dignified, old man struggled to sit next to the other. After the service, people approached him. Why did you do that? Why didn't you throw him out? The man replied, "I may be the only Bible this man ever sees".
Is your church like the one I described above? I know I have attended dead churches such as that. The church of my childhood had one of the largest congregations in the state. As soon as the last amen was said, the people would hurry out of the church as though they were schoolchildren being set free for summer vacation. As they exited you could overhear remarks about the long-winded minister, concerns about roasts drying out and just a lot of mumbling and grumbling. And the way they jockeyed to get out of the parking lot! Well, let me say, I've seen more considerate drivers on the Loop during rush hour. Recently I was reminded of this church, when my husband and I were caught at the crosswalk, just as church was letting out. We waited for over ten minutes as car after car, ran through the stop sign. No one cared about the traffic laws giving pedestrians have the right of way, let alone God's law.
Another time I remember distinctly, was a Christmas Eve service when my little family was running late and we arrived at church just five minutes before the service was to begin. The usher marched us up and down the aisle trying to shoehorn us in. Many people looked in disdain. No they couldn't hang their coats in the vestibule, no they were saving the seat for Aunt Martha, who may or may not show up. At the front of the church, the patriarchs of the church sat. Although there was usually only one or two people sitting in those pews, others couldn't sit there. It was their privilege as major contributors to the church funds to have a pew to themselves. I was close to tears as the usher walked us to the back of the church and set up some folding chairs. Guess the parishioners were absent when the sermon about "no room at the inn" was delivered.
When I moved to this little village, I was excited about joining the one and only little church here. I hungered so for fellowship and I thought it would be a wonderful way to meet other Christians. The church was having a pancake breakfast, and I thought I would go and introduce myself to the minister and a few of the ladies, so that some of the faces would be familiar when I attended Sunday service. Besides, I had a few questions about the schedule, etc. Anyway, when I entered the hall for the breakfast, you could hear a pin drop as everyone turned and stared. Not a soul said welcome, nor even asked if they could help. I was even confused about the pancake breakfast part. No one seemed to being selling tickets or serving. I asked about the breakfast, and some began to chuckle, it was getting very uncomfortable. Didn't I know that they stopped serving half an hour ago? I just quietly left, well as quietly as one can when all eyes are upon you. Later I was telling my neighbor who never misses a Sunday about my experience. "Oh!" she said, "You have to understand, the congregation can be a little stand-offish with strangers."
Stand-offish with strangers? That is the antithesis of what a church should be. When the Bible speaks of the Church, it doesn't mean a physical place, God is referring to a community of believers. Believers that are there to support and love there fellow brethren. I am firmly grounded in my faith, but just suppose that I had come seeking to know the Lord. Would I have found it in the churches I described? To Christians everywhere, I implore you to open your arms and hearts to strangers, not just at church but everywhere. Do not just shake their hands and say welcome, but show genuine interest and hospitality. Be loving and concerned for your neighbor. Remember you may be the only Bible that person ever sees.