Thoughts Between Sundays

Some of what crosses my mind between Sundays


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747 Rocks in a Bowl

I am coming to the place where one of the places I consistently find joy in my week is the weekly chapel service I lead with our After School Program children.  Around 150 children, grades K-3, their teachers and para-pros, a piano player and I participate in weekly worship and singing.  It is loud, a little crazy, not always predictable, and really fun.  The last 2 weeks I have walked out of the sanctuary so glad for the time I get to spend telling the smallest people in the building the they are loved by God.  Today, the crux of the lesson was that I cared enough about them to count out 747 small rocks into a bowl and know exactly how many were in there, but only God loves us enough to know how many hairs are in our heads –all of us all the time. 

For many of these children, our church and their school may be one of the few places they hear how great they are.  They are labeled “at risk” and have to be referred to our program for poor test scores and academic performance.  We are working hard to increase our diversity – -the population is mostly Hispanic.  Some are churched, some are not.  For most, I am the first woman minister they have seen.  It does not seem to phase them. 

My goals for chapel are pretty low, between you and me.  Teach them that this is God’s house.  Tell them the story of God and Jesus.  Teach some of the basic songs I learned growing up.  Tell them they are loved and church is a safe place.  Show them that God and Christ will always care for them.  Some weeks it can be the most missional thing I do.  It has been interesting for me to wrap my head around figuring out how to teach a third grader who God is – I don’t remember learning “who is God” – that fact was as basic to my being as “who are my parents”.  So I talk, they listen.  We sing and dance.  The theology of “Jesus Loves Me” and “This Little Light” and “The Bible is a Special Book” probably teach more than I do.  But we have fun.  No one cares that I sing off key, or sometimes forget the motions.  Together we learn about grace when the music leaders have to work together.  I am indebted to our new organist who helped me find some new songs to teach, and teachers who are willing to sing the Butterfly Song for 4 weeks in a row. 

Last week I passed a class in the hall on their way to snack.  One of the little boys stopped me and asked about my left hand – the one that only has 2 fingers.  “That’s how God made me special.  Just like God made you special.”  He looked at me and said “and God loves us both, right?  Can we have chapel today?”  That’s why today I counted out 747 rocks, one at a time.  Because we had chapel and they are special and they need to know.  God loves us.

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Grace

It was Grace that started me thinking about this writing space — not Grace-with-a-capital-G-Jesus-Grace, but grace said before meals.  A specific meal.  The first Friendship Table dinner I worked at with the Deacons left me with thoughts that seemed worth sharing and a wondering where and how to share them.  Here we are, several months later, and as we prepare for another Friendship Table meal, I am thinking about grace, once again.

I had been told that the honor of saying grace before the Friendship Table meal is served is usually reserved for 2 of the guests who come each week.  It is one of those unwritten rules.  This week, neither of the men who usually offered grace were there; I asked one of the Deacons if I should offer to bless the meal.  She thought for a moment and said maybe we could see if anyone else would like to bless the food.  I welcomed our  visitors, and then extended the invitation to those waiting in line – -“would anyone like to bless the meal?”  There may have been the sounds of pins dropping, some crickets chirping, and then a man in an orange t-shirt raised his hand and said “I would.”  I asked his name, and he said “Tom*”

“Tom, please pray for us.”

I honestly do not remember the prayer he prayed.  You could tell it was one he had learned in childhood and had been saying all his life.  Maybe it was “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest” or “God is great, God is good.”  It was honest.  It was heartfelt.  A few minutes later, I passed by his table, and he waved me over.

“It’s been a long time since anyone asked me to say the blessing.  Thank you for the honor.”

The honor of saying the blessing.  Those words are words that are still making me think.  In my line of work I get asked to pray over a lot of meals. Sometimes, these prayers can feel routine – -the room quiets for a momentary pause in conversation and then the buzz continues right where it left off.  These prayers do not mean any less than the ones I pray in worship or in hospitals or at bedsides.  But it took someone in a bright orange t-shirt to remind me that it is an honor to thank God for the meal we are eating, to thank the one who created for us the seeds that grew the grain and the people who harvested it.  There are people who are never asked to say grace – maybe they are not seen as articulate enough, or holy enough.  There are people who refuse to say it when asked – -they worry their words for God are not good enough for everyone to hear.  The thought that either of these scenarios would be true breaks my heart, and yet they are.

I also have wondered if perhaps there are ways to extend this honor to more of you.  Sunday, I was asked to bless the brunch before worship, and it was not until just now (on Tuesday) that I thought, “I wonder if anyone else would have liked to have done that.”  I wonder what will happen if I just ask someone to say the blessing?

What I learned from Tom that day was that the words don’t have to be fancy, poetic, or long.  Just honest — and not always said by the ones we expect to say them.  I have seen the the most beautiful blessings said by the most unlikely people.  Sometimes the words from childhood are the ones that say the most:

God is great.

God is good.

And we thank God for our food

By God’s hands we all are fed

Thank you God for daily bread.

Amen.

*Name changed