One day when my youngest son and I were at a small church in Schaumburg, we were singing worship songs and I noticed he was getting teary eyed. I was holding him as we sang and I noticed that his eyes were trained on the cross with a white cloth wrapped around it and a picture of Jesus from the waist up nailed to the cross leaning against it. I asked him what was wrong and he said “Why did they have to do that to him? Why did he have to die like that?” As I choked back my own tears I wanted to say something that was theologically accurate, yet simple enough for a four year old to understand. All I could say was “love”. It was love that put him on that cross and held him there. There’s nothing like getting a lesson in theology from a four year old!
Paul tells us what love looks like in 1 Corinthians 13 by saying that love is patient, kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not easily angered, it is not self-seeking, it keeps no record of wrongs, it doesn’t delight in evil, but instead rejoices with the truth and that love never fails. He even goes as far as to say that love is the greatest out of faith, hope, and love. Jesus, on the other hand, shows us what love looks like. In John 13, he tells his disciples that the end is near and that he will no longer be with them. So, in parting, he gives them a final commandment to love one another as he has loved them. Just to be sure that they get what he means, he washes the feet of the disciples earlier in the chapter (after a few instances of Peter’s hard-headedness) and makes the point of telling them that he has set and example for them to do likewise.
When I first came to Immanuel United Church of Christ I met an elderly lady who told me how much she loved the church and that in their hour of turmoil she hoped it would persevere. Being a know it all not unlike Peter, I thought to myself, “What do you mean you love the church?” It’s a building. That’s it. It’s an old building. It’s a cool building. It’s a historical building, but nonetheless it is still merely a building. She should be loving the people in the church. On that fateful day when I walked in expecting second service and ended up at a congregational meeting, I saw that I had been wrong. I saw that I had been taught a lesson. The church that she has spoken of was the people. It was the body of believers and I stood corrected. When I saw the conversations take place, even though sometimes heated, I thought to myself – “There is love.”
I visited with my older son and that day the heater happened to be broken. He didn’t seem to mind and someone was nice enough to give him some crayons to write with. At fellowship hour he was given hot chocolate and his face lit up. Fast forward a couple of weeks later and I asked him where he wanted to go to church that Sunday. He said he “wanted to go back to the church with the broken heater.” I asked him why because we had been to many churches and at Willow Creek you get a number and your kid gets a number stuck on his back and then disappears down a slide into kiddy land with more toys than Wal-mart. Why would he pick a small church over this? Love. He felt love at IUCC and wanted more and so did I. Just like Jesus had his arms wide open on the cross and throughout his life, we have our arms open to the community.
Most people today have a bad perception of the church. They don’t mind Jesus, but they don’t like those church people who look down on them and judge them and tell them how to live their lives. If those people saw what happens inside and outside of these walls, I have no doubt that they would say not that is how church is supposed to be as we open our arms to them and accept them as they are. Just as Jesus did.
Tomorrow is Father’s Day. I have no doubt that soon a father will be driving by with his child and see the golf lessons for kids taking place out front or some of us in the parking lot handing out food to those in need or seeing the kids enjoying VBS and the child will ask his father “Why are they doing that?” And I know that just like mine was, the father will respond because they are being disciples of Christ. They are being Jesus. Because “there is love”. There is love at IUCC.