I am sitting in the sanctuary at the church waiting. It is during that short break between Sunday School and the morning service. I usually take this time to check out the program for the day, the weekly announcements & birthdays and to place bits of paper in the hymnal marking the songs we’ll be singing during the service. As the noise levels around me would indicate, it’s a time for smiles and hugs and catching up on what’s been going on all week, greeting visitors, making them welcome, and doing all sorts of odds and ends that need to be done before the service gets started.
I sit quietly listening to the pleasant hum of all this activity while pondering the morning’s Sunday School lesson and wondering what topic the pastor will choose for today’s sermon. It’s Missionary Month and I read that today we’ll have a guest speaker from the Prison Missions Program. Thinking of missionaries, I notice Eric chatting with Kim over on the “Hallelujah” side about the latest news he has received from Mlachivka. For the past ten years or so, he has led a missionary group over to this small community in the Ukraine to help out a church and an orphanage there. A staff housing building was lost in a fire recently and funds are being raised to try to help re-build it. He is deep into details about buildings and children and already making plans for leading another team next summer.
“Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we you hungered, and fed you? or thirsty, and gave you drink? When saw we you a stranger, and took you in? or naked, and clothed you? Or when saw we you sick, or in prison, and came to you? And the King shall answer and say to them, Truly I say to you, Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brothers, you have done it to me.” (Matthew 25:37-39)
Little Kelly comes running up to Pastor Mark with something important to tell him. He sweeps her up into his arms…up to his level… and she chatters away, using every one of her ten fingers to emphasize the information that she needs to tell him…probably some wonderful thing she might have heard in Sunday school this morning that the Pastor should know. Just as quickly as she arrived, she is out of his arms and chasing down the aisle after Sammy and Delia who are most assuredly trying not to see their mama’s stern look reminding them that it is time to settle down and find their seats for church. But they’re off…totally ignoring mom……streaking by the Pastor’s wife, Sarah, who comes in loaded down with two oversized tote bags filled to overflowing with pencils and crayons and books and construction paper and hand sanitizer and crackers and all the other bit and pieces she’ll need at one point or another throughout the day. Three more little ones trail behind her like wayward ducklings first going this way and that before heading to their seats up on the second row with the other kids where James is waiting patiently for them and handing out quarters and dimes so that they too will have coins for the offering plates. I find myself thinking about the special memories children will have who are raised in church…how all their lives they will remember the stories about Jesus being born and the verses they’ve memorized….. and they will know that overall feeling of acceptance that every father and mother, grandmother and grandfather, uncle and aunt in the whole congregation somehow also belonged to each of them.
“But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said to them, Suffer the little children to come to me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:14)
More and more people are starting to drift into the sanctuary and the noise level, though still pleasant, increases…..lots of talking and catching up going on today. A rousing rendition of “Power in the Blood” is coming from Michele at the organ over on the “Hallelujah” side of the sanctuary. In the meantime, Marlene sits over by the piano over on the “Amen” side silently fingering the notes on her flute for the special song she will play for us right after the morning’s announcements. She studies the music sheet in front of her and nods her head in rhythm and as she mentally practices at getting everything just right. Karen moves past her and sits down at the piano so she can spend just a few minutes going over the hymns for the songs the congregation will sing today. She stops for a moment to smile and wave at someone at the back and then gets right back to the task at hand. The music I hear provides a lovely backdrop to all the chaos and I find myself humming along as Michele changes to “Because He Lives”.
“I will praise the LORD according to his righteousness: and will sing praise to the name of the LORD most high.” (Psalm 7:17)
I see one of the deacons heading up front to check to make sure the offering plates are where they’re supposed to be. His wife stops by the communion table to straighten up the autumn floral arrangement making sure all the yellow, orange, and golden chrysanthemums are arranged just so and looking their best. Her hand lightly moves across the linen table runner pulling out any wrinkles and then settles on the open Bible to smooth down the pages that have curled up in the breeze of someone just passing by. She gives the flowers one last smoosh and heads back to her seat towards the back. She stops on the way to say hello and get hug from Inez who has made a double-sized batch of cranberry conserve for Thanksgiving dinner and is busy passing out pint-sized jars of the sweet tangy relish so that others might also enjoy it with their turkey and dressing this year.
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:3-5)
Steve heads up towards the pulpit with a hymnal in hand and I know we must be very close to the time to get things started. As I look around at all the activity going on, I am filled with thankfulness for this joy, this love, this congregation, and above all, the shared beliefs that have brought us together on this Sunday to this place. I bow my head and reach for that still quiet place deep down inside that I know will always be there and I whisper a little prayer that all these ordinary but wonderful things going on around me, all the chaos, all the noise, all the hugging and smiling and chattering…will always be the same and that we will always come together like this in thanksgiving to remember the gift that was given and the price that was paid. And I am thankful for this grace….this very ordinary but amazing grace.
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…..was blind but now I see.”
“Victory in Jesus”, Words and Music by E.M. Bartlett, © 1939 – Administrated by Integrated Copyright Group, Inc., All rights reserved; Lyrics – http://www.popularhymns.com/victory_in_jesus.php
“Amazing Grace”; Words by John Newton; 1779; Music by Virginia Harmony; Lyrics – http://www.popularhymns.com/amazing_grace.php
“Because He Lives”; Songwriters – Matt Maher, Jason Ingram, Ed Cash, Chris Tomlin, Daniel Carson, Bill Gaither, Gloria Gaither; © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Essential Music Publishing, Capitol Christian Music Group;1971; Lyrics – http://jesus-is-savior.com/sounds/Hymns/because_he_lives.htm