(This also appeared in the Faith column of the Sentinel-News in Shelbyville, KY on February 6, 2015)
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good (Genesis 1:27-28, 31a, NIV).
I have a confession to make.
Like many of you, I spend a certain amount of time each day reviewing the news media and endless commentary of current events. In some ways, it seems to be the responsible thing to do: to be aware of what’s going on in one’s community, nation and world. But in so doing, no matter how hard I try to resist, I often become bitter, cynical, angry and frustrated. Spend anytime online, watching cable news, or reading the paper, and it doesn’t take long to come to the conclusion that this world seems to be on a collision course with destruction.
And that dismays me that I can be that way because I also claim to be a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That means I have been called to the profession of proclaiming the good news of God’s work in the cosmos, including our lives. And again and again, I find myself caught in the net of negativity. And it isn’t that I think ministers should be Pollyanna, blindly and eternally optimistic despite all circumstances. But I also think that we shouldn’t forever be shaking our heads and our fists, saying, “this world is going straight to…” well, you get the idea. I told you this was confession time.
So now that I have admitted that I am as susceptible as anyone for believing in the absolute hopelessness of the world, I want to tell you about church last Sunday.
In the middle of delivering the weekly sermon, a group of four young people walked in off the street and sat down in our pews. They were three young men and a young woman, early 20s, wearing clothes that were dirty, worn and grey. Their hair was matted and greasy. When they passed by me on the way to a pew, I could smell the pungent odor of stale sweat. Having no idea what might have brought them in the door, I finished the sermon and we completed the service as usual.
After the service, every minister’s dream came true for me. The people in our congregation surrounded our guests with hospitality and affection. They lined up to introduce themselves, ask questions, and to listen. We came to find out that these young people were traveling on foot from Michigan to Florida, to join family. They expressed their gratitude for the service and asked if they could help clean the church before heading back out. But before the end of the day, the members of the church treated them to a pizza lunch, accommodations to shower, replenished some supplies, and drove them to Lexington where a friend from eastern Kentucky drove up to meet them. We traded stories, laughter, a few gifts (we made sure they had a copy of the Bible and some snacks for the trip) and heartfelt farewells.
There were at least three blessings that I received that day. The first one was that young people in need considered the church still relevant enough to walk in the door. Boy, I don’t ever want to take that for granted! Because the day young people no longer see the point in going to a church for rest, support and encouragement, we are in serious trouble. Secondly, I serve a community in Shelby County that understands Christian faith is not simply our beliefs but a lifestyle of service and love to be demonstrated by our action. The faithful life is not an idea; we have to live it.
And the final blessing came right out of the mouth of one of our guests. A young man named Gabriel (that “Gabriel” is the name of God’s angelic messenger is not lost on me) said with bright eyes and a wide smile, “I want you to know that everywhere we have been so far, people have been so kind and friendly. It has restored our faith in humanity.” After polluting my mind day after day with the negative and inflammatory reports about the rotten state of the world, a young man about half my age told me something I had almost forgot. How refreshing it is that even in a world so troubled that a 20 year old can lose his faith in it, there are nonetheless still enough people that reflect the image of God to restore his hope. His hope as well as mine, that is.
And so it is my prayer that this message has found you in the midst of your day, perhaps choking in a cloud of negativity, about to toss your hope in humanity out the window, like a cool cup of water, reminding you that God is still working in the world. I invite you to dip your bucket in the well of this good news that has refreshed and restored me, and pass it on to someone else who thirsts. For this is the only way I know how to pay forward what those four young people gave me last Sunday.