“This 15-year-old boy came into the ER at Grady Hospital where I work,”said Teresa, a clinical nurse educator in pediatrics.
Morning worship had just finished, and I was shaking hands with people exiting the sanctuary. Teresa was the last to leave the sanctuary. She obviously wanted to talk. There are few jobs, I imagine, that could be more disheartening than working as a nurse at an emergency room in the inner city.
The young man Teresa described had been shot in the back. It was quickly determined that he would no longer have the use of his legs. His breathing had been impacted. A tracheotomy tube was inserted. A teenage male, African-American, involved with gun violence, from the inner city – all these facts conjure up certain stereotypes. Before long some of the staff at the hospital were making comments like, “That’s what you get for getting mixed up in the drug game.” “Serves him right,” quipped another.
“Why don’t you ask him who he wants to win the Super Bowl?” Teresa asked one of her co-workers.
“He won’t care,” came the blunt response. “He’s not into that sort of thing.”
“How do you know?” Teresa wondered.
She walked into the young man’s room and found a Bible resting on his lap. She began to ask him some questions and slowly discovered, through an almost inaudible whisper, that he had tried to break up a fight and was caught in a crossfire. He had never been involved with drugs. He was a good kid with a lively faith.
“Who do you want to win the Super Bowl?” she asked before leaving the room.
There was a pause and a slight smile. “New York Giants.”
That night on the way home, Teresa stopped by the mall and bought the young man a New York Giants jersey, extra large. After all, she explained to me, “It’s embarrassing for a 15-year-old to wear a hospital gown. “
You should have seen him when we slipped the jersey on him,” she shared. “His eyes filled with tears. He was elated.”As this ER nurse processed the experience, she added, “You know some of my co-workers just don’t see it. These are kids. They want to be loved like any other kid.
I can understand the cynicism of her colleagues. As I get older, I find it takes energy and intentionality to resist the negativity and pessimism that pervades our culture. It takes effort to get to know the real story, to ask questions, and to see more clearly. I need to meet people, like Teresa, who live differently in difficult work places – who still muster up the strength to go the extra mile and make the effort to look beyond the stereotypes. I need living witnesses who infuse ordinary jobs with extraordinary doses of compassion and love. Teresa reminds me that it is possible to go beyond what is expected.
~ Rev. Chris Weichman
As John records the feeding of the five thousand a large crowd was following Jesus as he went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus went up the mountain with his disciples to sit and rest. They looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward them. Jesus asked Philip, “Where are we going to buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip answered him, “Six months wages would not buy enough bread for them each to get a little.” This is often how we look at a problem. We focus on what we do not have; ‘We don’t have enough bread to feed these people or enough money to buy bread.’
The passage says Jesus asked this question, “Where are we going to buy bread for these people to eat?” of Philip to test him. In other words, is does Philip, or for that matter do we, believe that God will provide. No one knows the human heart better than Jesus. He knows we tend to operate with a theology of scarcity rather than a theology of abundance. A theology of scarcity results in not seeing the resources God has available to us.
Andrew chimes in, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” I always envisioned the boy opening his basket and saying this is what I have to contribute. What seemed like not enough, what came from the most unlikely person, was enough for the Lord to use.
The Gospel of John is the gospel of abundance. The gospel begins with abundance in chapter two – Jesus turns six jars of water into the best wine. The gospel ends with an abundant catch of fish – the net was so full they could not haul it in.
The boys’ willingness to share what he had was the key to feeding so many people. The faithful Christian and the faithful church can operate on the assumption that God does provide everything for faithful ministry and mission. The question is what are you keeping in your basket?
~ Rev. Chris Weichman
The church faces many challenges today that it has not faced since it began almost two thousand years ago. The church in America is no longer in the position of influence it has enjoyed in previous decades. These days are more like the days of the church of the New Testament church, where the church is on the margins and not at the center of society. The mission field is right around us as well as around the world. We can no longer assume (if indeed, we ever should have assumed) that everyone around us is Christian.
So the question to ask is what was the early church like? How did it see itself in the world? A quick scan of the Book of Acts shows that the church was different because God’s purpose for the world is different than human kind’s purpose. God gave the church a vocation (from the Latin: vocatio = calling). The church was and still is called to serve God’s purposes for the world. The church was never about being “successful” rather it was about participating in God’s mission to redeem God’s creation and save men and women from their sin. Churches that are about God’s mission show different traits or patterns. No one church has all these, rather every church is strong in a few.
Pattern 1 – Missional Vocation: The congregation is discovering together the vocation of the church. In other words, who is the church to the community. Success and vitality are understood in terms of faithfulness to God’s calling and sending rather that in counting “noses and nickels.”
Pattern 2 – Biblical Formation and Discipleship: The church is a community in which all members are involved in learning what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. The Bible is normative in the church’s life.
Pattern 3 – Taking Risks as a Contrast Community: The church is learning to take risks for the sake of the gospel. The church understands itself as different from the world because of its participation in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Pattern 4 – Practices That Demonstrate God’s Intent for the World: The pattern of the church’s life as a community is a demonstration of what God intends for the life of the whole world. The practices of the church embody mutual care, reconciliation, loving accountability, and hospitality. It is important how Christians behave toward one another and toward non-believers.
Pattern 5 – Worship as Public Witness: Worship is the central act of the church where the community celebrates with joy and thanksgiving God’s presence and God’s promised future.
Pattern 6 – Dependence on the Holy Spirit: The church confesses its dependence on the Holy Spirit, shown particularly in its practice of prayer.
Pattern 7 – Pointing Toward the Reign of God: The church understands its calling as a witness to the gospel and the reign of God and strives to be a sign of that reign.
These patterns are outlined more fully in the book “Treasure in Clay Jars.”
As a church we are to look at ourselves and ask questions, “What is God up to in our midst?” and “How has God gifted this church to bear witness in our community?” As you think about FPCC, to a greater or lesser extent, these patterns can be seen in the life of the church. This is good news. May God continue to grant us humility to listen and boldness to follow as the Holy Spirit leads.
~ Rev. Chris Weichman