We call the park benches that are behind our worship table the "back pews" of Worcester Fellowship. Folk who sit there generally are eating their lunch, visiting with friends, hanging out.
As I was walking around sharing the peace during worship on Sunday one of the guys on the back pew asked me a question. "Did you say that it is ok to worship idols?" he asked. "Because the bible says it is not ok, I can show you where". He picked up his Bible to demonstrate.
I had indeed read fifteen basics of Hinduism as one of the two readings prior to my sermon. One of the fifteen basics was in fact about worshiping idols, and I had preached on the ways that some people think one way, other people think another. I was surprised he had heard so much of what I had said.
"Yes, I said that different people believe different things about idols."
"It is wrong to worship idols. It says here in the bible." He touched the bible again, but he was not getting forceful, in fact he was saying it more as a question.
I thought quickly and decided to take a risk. "Well what I said in the sermon is that it is OK for Hindus to worship idols. And it is not ok for Christians and Jews to worship idols. It is one of the ways our rules are different from each other."
"Oh, is that what you meant. I didn't understand. That is what I say at my church. If you come to my church and you don't believe exactly what they say they will throw you out. But here, people who believe different things are welcome. And I tell them, at my church, you can't be mean to people just because they believe different things. You can't tell people what to believe, they have to figure it out for themselves, you know?"
"Yeah, I know. I'm glad you are here." I shook his hand.
"Oh, I like to come. Peace be with you."
"Peace be wtih
Matthew 4:23-25 (from Worcester Fellowship Bible study September 2011)
"Jesus went through out Galilee teaching in synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. Large crowds form Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him."
I opened with this question: "Today we have many friends with mental illness, people who are deaf or "paralytic" (in that they cannot walk). We know they are people of great faith. But why this says that Jesus was "healing and very disease and sickness among the people".
What does this healing thing meant to us today?"
John was eager to reply. For him healing is about all the bad choices he has made. It is about learning that he is not a bad person, but he has made bad decisions. Healing and forgiveness are very similar. I asked a few questions and he decided that healing can be the very movement from being a person who believes "I am a bad person" and becoming a person who believes "I have made bad choices". Once you move to "I have made bad choices" then you become someone who can make different choices and thus can do better, be better, make a change. You are healed in that change.
Alison described how she has cried and cried and cried, and she has come to see that those tears that pour out of her are healing her, cleansing her, washing away the pain of her life. She sees crying as healing.
"How is that related to Jesus?" I ask.
"I don't know. Jesus is living water?" She looks at me to see if that is the answer I was looking for. I don't know what I was looking for, but her answer blew me away.
"Wow". I paused. "I think the only words I would take out of that answer is the ‘I don't know’ part. It sounds like you really know the healing of Living water".
Max is a big white guy with grey and black hair cut short, almost no neck, and a big bushy eyebrows. When you look at him he looks back with very deep dark eyes. He has told the story two or three times today, about how, this morning, at indoor church, he accepted Jesus. And how it was incredibly painful, he thought that he would have a heart attack or that his heart would explode. He had been thinking about it for several weeks, but this week he just went and did it and he was shaking from head to foot. He had been pretty sick, he tells me, just a few weeks ago, his mind was not right and his addictions were really hurting him. But he went to the hospital, and then to CHL, and his insurance was used up for physical treatment, so he had to get mental treatment instead, but that was better now, and he is working on the addictions.
Healing for him is accepting Jesus and how that hurt so much, but is going to help him to fight these addictions. How last week he stayed sober for almost a whole week, but then he drank on the weekend, but now he is sober again and he is going to keep trying, although he doesn't understand what makes it like it is just fine, he can keep it up and then all of the sudden his body wants to drink again and he can't stop and he does. But right now he is sober and working on staying sober and that his healing.
"So healing might hurt sometimes?"
"It felt like I was going to burst, that my heart would fall right out of my chest"
Sam talked about how lonely he feels when he is by himself and how he begins to think that he doesn’t have any friends and the world is against him and then he found a group of people and they don't talk to him so he doesn't feel better, in fact he feels even more like he doesn't know anyone. So he started saying "hello" to people under his breath, so it wouldn't hurt so much when they don't reply, because, you know they aren't ignoring him, it is just because they didn't hear him. And so he says hello here and there, very quietly, under his breath.
And this guy turns and says back to him "hello"
And Sam says how did you hear me?
And the guy says "you feel like no on in the world can hear you, don't you?"
And that was a miracle because Steve did feel that way, and this guy heard him and he got to know this guy.
And healing is when your friends say hello, and when you see your friends, and healing is when you make a new friend just by saying hello, really quietly, under your breath.
And the ideas continued. Sometimes you don't really get healed. Or maybe you get healed a little bit, but the hurt doesn't go away. Maybe it is because God wants you to keep working on that issue. Or maybe it is that you need to go deeper, that you haven't really found out what is wrong, or what is the underlying problem. So you are a little healed, but not completely. And then you figure out the next part and you work on that and you are a little more healed. Like it is little tiny steps to be healed, not just one big thing.
(From September 2009)
Andrew has died. I don't know him, except to say hi, and to ask how he is. I met him most clearly after he was pushed at the shelter a few months ago. He broke his wrist, and had a broken nose, and some internal bleeding that kept him in intensive care for a about a week. Georgeanne pointed him out to me: "that's Andrew" when he arrived at church, and I went over to meet him.
He remembered me, so clearly he had been to church before. He was cheery and friendly; he easily to let the fact that I didn't remember his name slide. An altogether pleasant man; he joked about the wrist, and about the bandage, and expressed how pleased he was to be alive.
This is one of those hard things about getting to know folk at Worcester Fellowship. What we see on Sunday, in the crowd of lunch and worship, and even in bible study; what we meet the first two or three or eight times we talk to someone, is, just like for you and me, a very superficial part of their person. It is a real part of them, for sure, this cheery, confident, hopeful self, but it is not their full story.
And indeed, I know from Georgeanne that Andrew was not fully pleased to be alive, and, while he was rather amazed by the way people had come to take care of him, to check on him, and the many more who asked about him, he didn't really get that this was honest caring. In intensive care, his body was right on that line between life and death. And then he had turned the corner and was back with us, with a cast and bandages and bruises and an outwardly cheery demeanor. He expressed thanks, and did well for a few weeks, but that other part of him, that shadowed, deep, lonely, and fearful part of him quickly took over.
Anyone who met him, on the street, or at lunch, or just hanging out in the park, met the cheery, obviously well-adjusted guy. He shared that he was alcoholic, and that he was depressed, but all in a "don't worry, I'm going to beat this" way.
One of the challenges of our ministry is that the visitors mostly meet the cheery exterior of our parishioners, mostly hear about the successful days sober, and the alleluia about a new apartment, and the thanks for a great relationship. Or maybe that is a strength of our ministry, that visitors see that there is hope, and that they can be part of that hope.
There is hope. Struggling people find pleasure, and calm, and serenity in the fact that they can share their shadow side with us, and still be loved. I don't know if they all believe that God loves them, but many do believe that WE believe that God loves them. And they have a better hour, and sometimes a better day, or a better few days, when they have had the opportunity to be their well-adjusted, cheery selves with someone who cares about them. And they have a better hour, and sometimes a better day, or a better few days, when they have an opportunity to share their at-the-end-of-their-rope part of themselves, and have us sit with that, acknowledge it.
It helps that we believe that what they share is true, that we don't downplay it, or ask that they return to the cheery outward part of themselves. We let the whole person exist, and suggest that the whole person, the up-one and the down-one, too, is loved by God.
Andrew gave up and died about a month later. I didn't know the depth of longing and shadow within Andrew, but Georgeanne did, and I know she sat with him in those down places. I know Worcester Fellowship made a difference in Andrew's life. I know that Georgeanne made a difference by accepting Andrew's down side as a real part of him. I know that I made a difference by accepting his cheery upside as a real part of him.
As is the case with every one of our parishioners that have died, I wish, more than anything, that we could have done more. But I know, too, that we did something, and that doing something, in love, matters.
A friend recently told me about a dream he had. He was pulled over by a very nice police officer who proceeded to give him three tickets. All three of them were for things he had NOT done. And then he woke up.
"What stood out," my friend explained, "was how very kind the police officer was. I couldn't figure out what to do with the unfair tickets, because the guy was so nice."
Yeah. I began to wonder about my insistence that God is loving.
Imagine for a minute that you believe that God is in control of the universe; that all that happens is perhaps caused by God, or at least that God is ok with it. And then you get three, or six, or twenty-eight hard things added to your life. Ordinary bad things: illness, being laid off from your job, losing a loved one, an accident, your things are stolen.
And then imagine some do-gooder pastor comes by and says "God is love". What on earth does that mean? How does that fit with what you just experienced? Wouldn't it be easier to imagine that God is judgmental, angry, or mean?
If I were to get three unfair tickets while driving I'd really want them to come from someone I could describe as rude, angry, and mean. I especially don't want to be treated unfairly by someone who seems fair, considerate, and kind. I want to rant and rage and demand justice. I certainly don't want someone to tell me that this unfairness is just.
What do you think?
(originally posted by Liz August 22, 2008.)