On the first day home from my first semester at college, my father woke me at five in the morning on a dreary, chilly December Saturday for mission work. It didn’t seem fair. If my father thought mission work was important, he could have volunteered for himself instead of sending me. It was Christmas break. My agenda was set with plenty of nothing and I was happy about it. But not today. Today I would drive for an hour, wait for an hour, and then ride in a truck for an hour in mud through the flood devastation of Times Beach, Missouri. Where the Mississippi and Missouri rivers combine and there is too much water, the tributaries backup and lives are changed.
I was assigned a small, used-to-be white home. Floods are cruel things. They aren’t random. They destroy everything. I was given a hammer, a shovel, and a crowbar and told to remove all of the drywall and pull out the soaked insulation. The smell of river in the living room, and the sight of cracked fine china in the fireplace shocked my senses. It seemed impossible to shovel silt off kitchen tile. A house without power has a fridge with spoiled food and a furnace that doesn’t produce heat. There is a deafening silence in each room. Everything, without exception, was to be thrown out the broken window and left on the ground for the next crew to pick up. Up and down the street families and volunteers scoured the chaos for salvable things.
I knew I was not alone in this home, yet I stuck to the front part of the house pulling saturated insulation off the walls and tossing it out the window with a shovel along with anything else that remained. The light through the window was all that provided both warmth and light. I worked my way back to the bedroom and greeted a woman, about my mother’s age, sitting on a plastic tarp on her destroyed, nasty bed. To her left side sat a stack of albums. In her lap was a roll of paper towels and to her right was a box of records. One at a time, she took a record and slowly attempted to clean the grooves of the river grime with a paper towel. At first, I laughed on the inside. It seemed to be the most ludicrous thing to do. There is no way they would ever play music again. Certainly, there were more important things to do in the midst of a crisis.
When she heard me enter the room, she spoke without lifting her head. “Don’t know how I’m going to tell which one is which after I throw away the cover.”
Immediately, I noticed she had failing eyesight and I watched her grab a dirty record sitting to her left. Her fingers glided over the jacket and I could tell she was reading the jacket by a label written in Braille.
“Nobody can sing a love song like Nat King Cole.”
I put my shovel down and asked her if I could have a paper towel. As I knelt on the floor beside her, we cleaned records and talked about our love of music. I could only imagine how important these recordings were to a woman who lived her life through her ears.
The sun lowered in the sky, the temperature dropped and a truck honked its horn in the front yard. I gently touched my new friend’s hands, “That’s my ride back. I have to go.”
She smiled, thanked me, and replied, “My daughter will be here soon to pick me up and gather my records. Thank you. Merry Christmas!”
I lowered my head and backed out of the room. My clothes were disgusting. I took off the outside layer and put them in a trash bag in the back of my yellow Pinto hatchback. The trek home was long; the smell of the day followed me every mile. The trek home was silent; I had no interest in the radio. The trek home was cold, but I didn’t even consider turning on the heat. The trek home sprayed water from the road but the flood of emotions was in my head. My blessings overwhelmed me. The needs of wonderful people who suffer plagued me. I have certainly examined the difficulties of my life and yelled, “It’s not fair!” But, this was the first time I looked at the blessing of my life and yelled, “It’s not fair! Why is my life so blessed? I have done nothing to deserve this!” Christmas took on a completely different agenda. And I prayed that every Christmas to follow would be as enlightening as this one.
A prayer like that would alter my entitlement. A prayer like that would challenge my Christmas traditions. An answered prayer for that would change Christmases to come.
Could a Christmas like that lead to a year of change and redefined purpose? How could this perspective last? How could this epiphany remain fresh in my understanding of who I am and who I am called to be and to whom I’m called to serve?
* * *
Jesus was born to teach us about love: how to receive it and how to offer it. Those who learn that lesson live a life differently than the rest of the world. The challenge of Christ to love our neighbor is timeless. Each of us who hear the call simply must respond, both repetitively and generously.
When asked, Christ simply and eloquently offered the Great Commandment as the most important above all others. He then offered up a second commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Christ brings clarity to the concept of “neighbor” through the telling of the parable, The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37.) This parable challenges and inspires us as it gives us a clear picture of love in action. It’s the story of an unlikely individual, who saw a need, felt compassion, and chose to act on it. It’s a simple, yet radical and profound concept. Many of us are challenged to say we have lived up to this story often or even once.
What if performing acts of mission were constant? What if missions were less of an event and more of a way of living? Living this way would require our eyes to be open to the needs of others. It would require flexibility within our calendars and to-do lists. Living with this kind of mission would create compassionate hearts that find greater joy in service than our own selfish ambition. It might be hard, but it would be beautiful and energizing!
What would happen to the Church if the second Great Commandment was lived out with the same enthusiasm as the first? The Church is great at loving God through collective worship but struggles carrying on that action once worship has ended. Is it possible for the Church to spend equal time and effort on the second commandment, love thy neighbor, as we do the first Great Commandment?
To begin; where do we look for examples? What individuals live their lives with mission as a way of living? What communities of faith spend equal time and effort on loving God AND loving others? Who sets an attainable example? Who inspires us to change? Who stimulates our creativity to find unique ways to make mission less of an event and more of a way of living?
* * *
Here is the story of a worshipping community who chose to spend equal effort on both the first and the second commandments as declared by Christ. They set out to begin the process of creating a new and completely unique worship opportunity. They were inspired, after meeting Mike Slaughter, to design a worship experience where hands-on mission was a part of every gathering. Each worship event would allow for equal time to love God and love neighbor. For ten minutes they would focus on the HEART as they praised God through music. Then for twenty minutes, worship focused on the HEAD as a message was shared with the congregation that would challenge and inspire spiritual growth. The final portion of the service was geared towards their HANDS. This would include an offertory and acts of loving their neighbors as they performed hands-on mission. They chose a distinctive name for their new worship experience, “Jerusicho.” This name refers to the road between Jerusalem and Jericho where the story of The Good Samaritan took place.
From the beginning, there were skeptics who quickly imagined several hurdles. Some worried about the practicality, and some found it hard to imagine enough tasks that justified an entire congregation’s effort. They were overwhelmed as they imagined the organization and feared the expense. No matter what obstacles were placed in front of them, creativity jumped the obstacles and a new mission service was born.
Jerusicho was held in a room where the front half of the room was prepared for worship and the back half was set up and organized for mission work. This worship service was popular with families of young children who enjoyed the movement and participation. The environment built an incredible community where new friendships and connections were made through conversations, while working in mission together around the tables.
The creative organizers behind Jerusicho began with Christ’s parable on the sheep and goats: “When did you see me hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick and in prison?” After brainstorming, a list longer than could be accomplished in a year was created.
Do you long for new and creative ways to love your neighbor? May the Jerusicho list below stimulate your imagination in your personal life or alongside your faith community.
Write thank-you cards/posters for soldiers, travel to the airport to welcome soldiers home
Send groups into the neighborhood to collect canned goods and offer an invitation card
Make blankets for the Linus Project and offer to children in hospitals
Collect plastic trash bags and create soft waterproof mats – Kids make tags including a scripture
and a prayer for whoever sleeps upon it – then take to a shelter
Decorate Meals on Wheels Harvest Boxes for senior citizens
Teach choreography to an up-beat song, which culminates in leaving shoes on the floor as
Deliver communion to shut-ins
Bring baked-goods, disperse to local fire departments, say a collective prayer in the parking lot for
their safety and greet the firefighters inside
Sing carols any time of year, in retirement community hallways
Offer organized prayer (appropriate for country, victims of disasters, tragic events)
Depart for a local park with trash bags and clean-up wearing church t-shirts
Tie knots and pray over quilts created and designed to cover cancer patients
Bring in a professional beautician and collect hair for Locks of Love
while others donate to survivor wigs
Collect various items, organize and deliver immediately following when possible:
Diapers/wipes for local school age parent program
Disaster relief buckets
Easter baskets for Head Start
Teacher Appreciation gift bags for local schools
Care packages for students leaving for college
Re-label water bottles and distribute in parks or outdoor events
Socks, rags and supplies to create dog/cat toys for local animal shelters
Books for after school programs and/or inner city summer camps
Movie DVDs for Movie Mission and deliver to hospitals
Travel size toiletries for distribution at local shelter
Soup on Souperbowl Sunday for the local food bank
Clothes for Goodwill
paper goods for shelters
Write notes of encouragement for groups such as these:
Clergy, youth going on trips or graduating high school seniors
Folks in your community serving the military and far from home
Elderly living alone, attach a carnation and deliver
Elderly in nursing homes, create a valentine and hand deliver
Runners, design posters to hold up at the local races supporting health issues
Celebrate Recovery Community, quoting encouraging scriptures
Inmates, create Christmas Cards given to the jail’s Chaplin for distribution
Jerusicho is a worship setting based on the Great Commandment that takes the call seriously to love neighbor with diligence and intentionality, requiring the entire body: HEART, HEAD, and HANDS. The call is clear. Too often, the call to love neighbor is relegated to a quarterly event when the schedule does not interfere with calendars and sensibilities. Why can’t loving neighbor became a constant perspective lived out every day? It is not just a momentary gesture, but a continual mode of recognizing needs, great and small, with the willingness to alter personal agendas for divine agendas. What if every list on every trip to the store included something for a stranger? What if every worshipping community was as focused on loving neighbor as loving God? What if every faithful person spent equal energy on loving neighbor as loving self? What then could faithful people do for the kingdom? What could the church do to ignite a community? Imagine the response of any and all who receive such diligent love! Their response is not ultimately significant, but imagine how some might reflect on God and the Church as a recipients of generosity from faithful believers. The rewards for loving neighbor are sometimes evident, but not always. Every now and then, kindness shown to someone who is wounded brings a new self-awareness to the one serving.
May the needs of wonderful people who suffer plague us. Let us pray that God will disrupt our typical vision and force us to see our hurting neighbors. Let us pray that we are inspired to alter our lives so that others may experience full lives. Let us pray that the joy of faithful giving will exceed our selfish satisfactions to the point where we enthusiastically choose to serve over being served. Let us pray that we understand our blessings as a vehicle to become a blessing.
Prayers like that would take effort. Prayers like that would alter entitlements. Prayers like that would challenge traditions. Answered prayers for that would change agendas, schedule, and priorities. Moments like that would redefined purpose.
But, how could this perspective last? How could this epiphany remain fresh in our understanding of who we are and who we are called to be and to whom we are called to serve? It will come to all who clearly hear the call to love our neighbors and decide to answer the call with action. This will happen to those who understand love equally as noun and verb.
In the opening welcome and introduction to this website, I shared the Scripture that inspired this online adventure, I Tim 6:20. This text is also the origination of the name; “Sacred Chatter.” However, my intent is not to be a singular voice. I invite your voice to be a part of the “chat” and I base this on another of my favorite Scriptures: Hebrews 10:24. “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” I am considering how I can provoke love and good deeds in places beyond where I live. This is my attempt to enter into a Hebrews 10 conversation with you over social media.digitally. Now, I am interested in your feedback. Consider what provoking you can provide with your own Sacred Chatter.
What’s important to you? What really matters?
Add your voice in Sacred Chatter.
Love is ours to provoke. Good deeds are ours to sew.
That the wisdom of Hebrews 10 may flourish and grow.
Email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, they’re potential mediums for the Hebrews 10 plan.
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