The Realm of God on Sunday Morning

Today our congregation swelled by nearly 50% when an extended family gathered for baby Zach’s baptism. Amy, in the time for joys & concerns, offered a prayer of gratitude for the opportunity to participate in this family’s celebration and to welcome this family into the congregational family, naming Heidi & Ford and Zach. It was exactly the right way to ‘claim’ this family that has, so far, been barely connected to the congregation. She embraced this couple as they are without even a hint of judgment and made it real that they belong, not simply because of their connection with the pastor, but because the community loves them.

We overheard a tender, Divine assurance of presence when the pastor held baby Zach and sang to him:

I was there to hear your borning cry,

I’ll be there when you are old,

I am here the day you are baptized

to see your life unfold.

Next to the baptism family was a young woman named Gina with tiny baby Finigan, just nine days old. She lives in our neighborhood and has wanted to find a church. Her friend was in town to help celebrate the new baby, and Gina asked her to come to church with her. Today was her first visit—nine days into motherhood, she came like a pilgrim to meet God in this place. And she was wrapped up in family she didn’t know she had.

Sue spoke up during the prayer time to share that her mother-in-law died this morning, the end of a long, painful decline with Alzheimer’s. The love in the room was palpable—that holy moment of breath drawn in, silence that’s full, tears welling up in many eyes, hugs that continued all morning.

Peggy, one of the matriarchs, invited prayer for 86 year-old Don next to her. Don has been a neighbor of the church for decades, but he’d never been part of the congregation until this summer. He collects discarded liquor bottles as beautiful objects, and he and they became the centerpiece of a sermon in July (see Mr. Macdonald). He was embraced that morning in the old folks’ Sunday School class and in worship, and he’s been part of the congregation ever since. Don’s sister is dying and he was waiting all morning on the call that she was gone. “When the phone rings,” Peggy said, “you’ll know why.” When his phone rang right after the service ended, he stepped over to the side of the sanctuary to take the call. Bart, younger than Don’s sons, stood by him with a hand on Don’s shoulder while he talked on the phone, a silent witness to the entire congregation’s care. It was Don’s daughter who called to tell him his sister died early this morning; she began by asking him where he was. He said, “I’m at church. I’m with friends.”

Tom, a well-known jokester with a soft heart, spoke up in the prayer time, too. He got a laugh out of all of us before he spoke what was breaking his heart—he just found out yesterday that his brother is going through a divorce. It’s a situation he understands well, and isn’t surprised to hear about, but his heart is breaking for his nephew & niece, who will learn in a week that their parents are splitting. The emotion of it was on the surface as Tom shared his sadness with his faith family.

We celebrated last Friday’s annual Turkey Dinner with Bruce expressing joy and appreciation that many of the youngest adults in the congregation were there serving, and we heard Cathy’s expression of appreciation for all who shared in the ministry and of $900 raised for the Indiana United Methodist Children’s Home, where children and youth in crisis find a safe home among other kids and adults who care. There was genuine celebration of each other, of the pride of being community together, of the act of pooling our skills to provide for others.

And in the midst of so much beauty, the pastor tried to juggle, adding chairs and making sure everyone had a bulletin and making up choreography for the baptism and filling out the certificate and getting signatures on the charge conference paperwork and posing for photos and embracing the grieving and sharing his own journey of discipleship, messy and quirky as it is. Marveling at the life of the community around him. Full of joy at the experience of speaking and hearing the Word of God in so many forms all at once.

This morning was a beautiful piece of music falling into shape through no direct efforts of any of the players. Each of us just shows up and makes the sound in our soul today, and what emerges is a symphony––the sound of the Realm of God.