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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Neighbor 2 Neighbor or Angels Unawares

On Sunday morning at 9 am, a group of members, friends, family, Interfaith partners and a few folks who just happened by the church, gathered in our courtyard to be "commissioned" to go out into the community or stay at our church, and serve others.  A small group of committed volunteer leaders and coordinators were launching the 2nd annual Neighbor 2 Neighbor day.  Our worship that day was our work.



We had projects ranging from visitation to some of our less mobile members, pack rice and beans to be given through food share programs, paint park benches, build backpack racks at a school, write letters to military personnel and children in a Romanian orphanage, repair and build bikes, and much, much more.

There was a lot going on and as my colleague and Head of Staff at the church made clear, nothing we did that day was going to fix problems or even really make a dent in any of the need or problems that we were addressing.  It was more about experience God's love and compassion and expressing our love and care for people and places in our community.  And as a result, some really amazing things happened and we did show forth God's love and communicated a desire to be a community of caring and sharing in a time when greed, power, political positioning and a seeming lack of compassion rule the day.

What I saw when we re-convened at the church for a closing time of worship and sharing, was a group of people who were ecstatically tired, happily exhausted and joyfully spent.  These are people that would not often choose to hang out together as a whole, and when they are in Session meetings or other church gatherings or committee meetings, don't always agree with one another or even get along all that well.  But on this day, that didn't seem to matter.  In fact, the dividing walls, defenses and tensions seemed to literally melt away.  Viewpoints, ages, interests, and all the other ways we separate ourselves took a back seat to the work of the people (i.e. worship) on this particular day.

People shared a word to characterize the day...included in the litany of words were fulfilling, sharing, love, community, diversity, accomplishment, gratitude, caring, just to name a few.  And then there were the stories.  There were several stories about fear of not having enough...enough help, enough paint, enough people to receive the gifts we were giving.  None of the fears were realized.  One of our coordinators told a story that moves me still.  She stopped at Safeway in the morning to pick up snacks for the workers who stayed at the church to do projects.   The store was fairly deserted at that hour of the morning and she met eyes and shared looks and exchanged greetings with the one other woman at the store.  Later on in the day she went to the park to participate in feeding houseless people a lunch.  She looked at one of the recipients, and they looked at each other several times, and then the woman said to her, "I saw you this morning at Safeway."  I had goose bumps as she shared this story and my very first thought was of Hebrews 13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

Another story involved the bike builders and repairers.  A boy came to get his bike fixed and his 16 year old sister was with him.  The volunteers asked if she would like a bike, as she did not have one.  She said yes.  She had never ridden a bike before.  Then, the volunteers looked over and saw this young woman learning how to ride her new bike.  And these are just a few of the stories and words and spirit of the day.  The church at large has many tasks and many challenges, but perhaps none so great as redefining what it means to show hospitality.  We can no longer sit in our "homes" and wait for guests to arrive so that we can welcome them.  We have to go to Safeway, to the park, to the corner at the bike repair station, to the women's shelter, to the prisons, to the schools and offer a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus Christ, or a bike or a bag of beans or a letter or anything we've got that says "once you were no people, but now you are God's people."