A San Francisco Lesson…
November 4, 2014
“Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” -Matthew 22:37-39 (NIV)
Recently Debbie accompanied me on a trip to San Francisco Bay area where I participated in the ABSW Board Meetings. Before and after, she and I enjoyed spending some time exploring the area. We found ourselves in downtown San Francisco on the weekend the World Series was being played there. To say the city was alive does not fit the mood!
We had just ridden the Hyde-Powell street cable cars and walked down to catch a street car to return to Fisherman’s Warf. Debbie decided she wanted some coffee and was in a chain purveyor (from the Seattle area – not Peet’s! But we did have lunch at In-and-Out Burger ). I was outside on the street watching the goings on.
We had already seen a street dancer who had gathered a crowd and having so much fun and connecting so well with the people that a spectator joined him in his dance. There was a vocalist singing “Hello Dolly” with great appreciation. Then, across the thoroughfare were two street preachers with their portable PA. So I stopped and watched.
It was interesting. It seemed that there was a bubble that enveloped the space these two men had staked out forced people out and around the area. While I couldn’t hear the preaching clearly over the rumble of the traffic and the cacophony of other sounds, what I could hear was a repeated use of the word “sinners”. Perhaps it was this message or just the stereotype, but for whatever reason, the crowds would veer away, avoiding eye and any form of personal contact. It seemed they found these “men of God” distasteful. I’m sure the man was talking about God’s forgiveness for sinners, but his preaching, his methodology and his awareness of the crowds seemed as disconnected as the dancer was connected with the people on the street. It made me wonder if this was a picture of the American church?
I hope I’m being paranoid. My theology of the church is simple. I believe the church is to incarnate Christ as Christ incarnated the Father. In other words, the church’s approach to ministry should imitate that of Christ. When I study Christ’s ministry it began not at the wedding feast turning water into wine, but when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And in that dwelling among us, God (and Jesus since He incarnates God) loved us. As a result out of this love, ministry happened— from turning water into wine, to healing the lame, feeding the hungry and all the way to ultimately fixing our broken relationship with God by His sacrificial death. This is what the church is to imitate.
So, if the church is as disconnected to the world around us as these two street preachers were…. Well, we’re doing it wrong. The question is “Why?” I think the answer is we don’t love the world around us in the same way Christ did! I am also afraid that some of us don’t want to do that. We want them to change and become like us, not to learn to love them in their current state. And yet, aren’t we glad that Christ first loved us exactly as we were, sins, warts and all.
Prayer: Lord, help me and help your church to love the world as you love the world. Let us learn to be present with the world in order that our ministry will grow out of love for others and not out of obligation. Amen.
Reverend Dr. Steve Van Ostran
ABCRM Executive Minister