Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What's the Difference Between the Y and the Church?

. . . practically nothing.

Most of you know that I go to the YMCA quite frequently. With few exceptions, I go at 6:00 in the morning 5 days a week and quite often on Saturdays too. I have a routine to not only my week, but my days. Certain days I go to the locker rooms, while other times I simply put my things in a small locked box. There are machines that I work on, there are classes that I take, there are lanes that I swim in routinely, and there are faces there that I know. I’m not the only one with that routine. If I were to take you with me, I could almost definitely point out specifics about people and their tasks and habits.

I have a routine when it comes to church too. But I’m sure that you do as well. Every day when I look out at you, I can tell if you’ve been there based upon where you sit. Now, there are some of you who like to mix things up – but for the most part, I know where you sit. You come in through the same door each week, you speak to the same people, you read the bulletin, you park in the same place, and you leave through the same door. I know which songs you will sing and which ones will challenge you, I know who falls asleep, and who doodles during the sermons.

The YMCA has a message and a purpose. The church has a message and a purpose. The gym has regular attendees, as does the church. There are guests, there are opportunities; there are those who participate, there are those who don’t. There are people who like to make “suggestions” in both places

But if there’s practically no difference between the gym and the church, why do people routinely greet one another while they somehow bristle at the opportunity in the church.

The other day as I was finishing my swim, I engaged in conversation with someone. I was curious about a piece of equipment that he was using – so I talked to him. It wasn’t more than a few sentences in before he stopped, apologized and said, “I know we’ve seen each other around for the last few years, but I don’t think we’ve been introduced.” I concurred, introduced myself.

Last week, during a class in the morning, someone new came into our class. While I had been away for several weeks during Lent he had been attending, but had not recently. Standing next to me he too said, “I don’t think we’ve met.”

In recent months, I’ve been invited to different activities and classes by other members, I’ve been asked about events and standings, I’ve had conversations about “spiritual” things (yes, many people know that I’m a pastor). And within each of those circumstances, I often reflect about our willingness as a church to do the same.

Now, I know that there are some of you who do everything that you can to welcome and invite. However, I also know that there are many of you who fear the very thought. How many times have you ever used the excuse, “I’ve seen that person so long now, I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t know.” “I’ve asked before, and I’ve forgotten – I’m embarrassed.”

And I also know that we are often afraid of asking others to join in an activity that we’ve got down to a T. Sometimes we’re afraid that an additional hand will spoil the broth.

We’ve been talking a lot recently about the need for authentic relationships. These relationships can lead to conversations and lead to changed lives. But how can we share the message without the relationship? How can we begin a relationship that is honest and authentic without reaching across the aisle and greeting one another in the peace of Christ, and introducing ourselves by name?

“Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:1-2

One simple statement caused me to write these words, “I know we’ve seen each other around for the last few years, but I don’t think we’ve been introduced.” I’d be missing out on a new person this week had we not greeted one another, and I might just have missed an angel in my presence.
While the Y and the Church are similar, they are different. Our message is different and that’s where the power lies. But quite often the message is lost in the church because we lack the relationships that lead to those spiritual conversations.

I’ll be the first to admit to you, introducing yourself to someone you think you should know can be an awkward experience, but so is missing the opportunity to share in Christ’s presence. Take some time to welcome the stranger in your midst this week, you will be blessed.

1 comment:

Barb said...

I have never read Hebrews 13 before, and fell in love with it, thanks to you~
This whole post makes me curious as to how many angels that I have missed, or forgotten to introduce myself to...it could have made the difference in my day!