Church of the green grass

This past week I have witnessed and listened to a lot of weary people.  The world around us can be cold and stony.  Selfishness can be rapacious and unfair.  And people are scrambling to keep jobs with more hours and fewer staff and resources.  The pressure is on, and people are weary.  One, threatened by eviction from her apartment, called me on the phone.  Others of those weary people dragged themselves into worship this morning.

Where we heard:

The Lord is our Shepherd….
He makes us lie down in green pastures.
He leads us beside still waters.
He restores our soul.  (Psalm 23)

Yes, I know I changed the pronouns to plural.  And then we heard Jesus say:

I am the gate.  Anyone who goes through me will be cared for—will freely go in and out and find pasture.  (John 10, The Message)

So what if we stopped focusing on our individual selves as the recipients of the green pastures every time we hear this psalm?  What if we expand things?  What if we would hear the church, Christ’s visible presence on earth (sort of),  to be the place of green pastures and still waters and restoring souls?  What if we truly knew ourselves as the place where people could come in and out, hear their name called by the shepherd himself, and be made whole?

Would it make a difference in our self-understanding if our congregation changed its name to “Church of the Green Grass” or “Still Waters Lutheran Church”?  Could what we call ourselves refocus how we thought of our mission?  Because I am wondering if that is how our Shepherd is beginning to think of us…a possible green-grass-still-waters site.

After all, in spite of our own weariness, the congregation is indeed helping the shepherd Christ restore souls.  Bit by tiny bit, it seems like it is becoming a place where people keep showing up, coming in and out, being restored.

Not everyone.  Some are bored.  Some are frustrated.  Some our fed-up with the institutional church altogether.  But one by one, a few by a few,  they come out of nowhere it seems  or return out of a distant past, seeking green grass or still waters.

For this past year  several in our congregation, who for many years had never thought of themselves as teachers, especially teachers about God, have welcomed children in our one room Sunday school.  They have opened the doors of their hearts and played with our children who look forward to coming back.

Some have been traveling into the roughest part of the nearby city to refinish and polish the sticky, uncomfortable pews of our sister congregation.  Why?  So that in the swelter of summer this congregation can welcome their neighbors in Jesus’ name in a more comfortable place (sort of like green grass) without folks sticking to the aged varnish.

Some went to a friend’s home a few days before she died and sang hymns with her.  If that was not leading a person beside still waters, I don’t know what is.

Some invited friends to “Prayer Around the Cross.”  Weary and hurting people walked through the unfamiliar doors into a place of quiet worship and prayer where burdens were lifted and shared.

Last Sunday two-year-old, wiggling, squirming Abby was baptized.  As the water poured over her head, she suddenly became still, shut her eyes and leaned back in her mother’s arms.  Bath time.  Still waters.

In the gospel of John, a crowd followed the weary Jesus out into the countryside because they were even more weary and needy.  He had them sit down “because there was plenty of grass in that place” and fed the large crowd with five loaves and two fish.  Jesus fed.  But the grass helped.

So what if our congregation saw ourselves, not as a place of duty, not as a struggling “main-line” denomination, not with a theological or moral heritage to protect, but  as a “Church of the Green Grass” or “Still Waters Lutheran Church”?   Open space.  Spirit’s breeze.  A place for all to come and go.  Stories of the shepherd calling their name.  Anointing and healing.  A meal.   Restored souls.  God’s work place.  Still waters.  Green grass.

Comments

  1. Thank you for this post, as well as your sermon @ St. Paul on 5-15-2011. The Sermon gets us back to the Basics…..our Heavenly Father, not the politics of a local church or denomination. What I got out of the sermon was….. Focus, Focus, Focus, on His way, His will, His Word / His Scriptures.

    As we get into this routine of daily devotions and worship taking the time……then when we are faced with these situations, he guides us, it seems so natural. What a great feeling!

    Read His Word, Pray, listen to Him, talk to Him. When I was facing lifes tough sometimes and horrible situations, I used to think I was to busy to read and study the Word, to pray, listen to Him. That was, until he refocused me, on what our priorities really need to be. Yes there are earthly things are important in many ways, but refocus and put God first. Then those things, the ones we truly need, will fall into place for us, according to His Will, His Way. I know, I have been through some incredibly tough times, that is when I ran to Him. I have experienced His guidance, His Grace, it is an awesome feeling.

    Staying Focused….on Him, Such a priority for us.