Tuesday, December 27, 2005

What really matters

We were called "pathetic" in the Pitch Weekly last week--my congregation, that is. Or the part of it which had gathered in a very cold wind to pray for a sea change in the budget-making process of our nation.

Now, some would say we weren't really being called "pathetic"--my wife among them. The article was supposed to be satire, after all--the writer told us that himself. So "pathetic little gathering" was supposed to be some Swiftian turn of phrase. I'm an English major (and that and a few bucks will buy coffee these days, but I'm still proud of that degree). The satire didn't work for me, at least not in that section of the article. It just felt like a community of people whom I love dearly was being called names.

Maybe if he'd said "paltry," it would have been a less bitter pill. The point was (and this did work) that liberal Christian communities like ours don't often have numbers on their side. Point taken.

But that "sad little congregation" (which is, indeed, a congregation, and not large) is pretty amazing. And Christmas morning, when I was certain I'd be worshipping with the five people scheduled to lead worship and a handful more, we were the liveliest "little gathering" around. I was quite pleased to see the fifteen people who had arrived by five minutes to ten. That was more than I expected.

Imagine my true delight when Ricky Williams came running into worship, followed by his little sister, mother and father. They were at church the night before, and I didn't expect to see them again. Then Bill, who sits in the back and smiles at me while I preach, arrived.

It was a most excellent service, due in small part to my preaching and worship leadership, and in large part to the joyful presence of those in the room. This is a community of people who truly love one another, as evidenced by the cookies being passed around, and the hugs gleefully exchanged at the passing of the peace.

That was my first lesson in What Really Matters this week, and the Pitch article, which really wasn't so bad anyway, just melted away.

Then this morning, Richard Williams, father to Ricky and Gwen, and husband to Niki, went to the hospital. He had chest pain and that awful tightness that usually means something bad, and it was indeed bad. Four stints later, he'll be okay, though he'll likely have to slow down some.

Richard works very hard, taking care of a family in a world which throws up a lot of roadblocks. He is a man I like very much and respect even more. I spent the day trying to keep orders straight at the Bristol and saying a prayer every couple of minutes.

Talk about a lesson in What Really Matters. It's not so easy to be parents, these days, and Richard and Niki do it well. Their family is central, and that is apparent by the way they prioritize their time and energy. That family was blessed today, by the gift of skilled doctors and technicians and nurses. But what is more striking is the way they bless each other every day, and the way they bless our "little congregation" and those who know them.

When Jesus said "I give you this commandment: Love one another," he wasn't offering an abstract platitude that we might reach for but we'd never achieve. He was talking about love, the kind that is simple and oh-so-human. He was talking about real love, the kind one witnesses in a family like the Williams family--love that is patient and kind and strong and constant.

On a day like today, when all that mattered was that family, and the health of its father, it was sure nice to talk to Jesus, and to ask him for help. And to know that his love was there too. When I couldn't get there soon enough, that was what really mattered. In this time of recovery and healing, it will be mirrored by the love of a family, and a community, both of which are pretty darned good at loving one another.

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