I didn’t sleep last night. I fell asleep on the couch around midnight, woke up around 2 and went to bed–where I laid, wide awake, until at least 7AM. I know it was daylight, and someone nearby was mowing the lawn when I fell asleep. That being said, I still woke up around 1030 in time to make it to church today, so I was very happy with myself.
At church, for the service that I attend, we have two regular pastors that kind of rotate sermon duties. Periodically, a third guy will step in and preach as well. All three are great guys, mid-30s to early-40s, but #3 has a preaching style that is not quite my taste when he preaches. While I respect every thing he says, he frequently has an air of “huh, how about that?” when giving the sermon as if there are more questions, more things that he couldn’t figure out. I always enjoy his sermons, just the other two guys usually leave me with more to chew on throughout the week. Today, the third guy preached, and for a change, I was actually interested.
Look, I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church. As a kid I was there for service twice on Sunday, music at least one if not two nights a week, GAs and Acteens on Wednesdays, and there was usually something else going on for the weekend as well. I think I went more to get out of the house and to be with friends than I did for any sort of religious purpose or allegiance to God, but still, some themes stuck. And trust me, there is nothing that a SB church likes more than their missions. From Annie Armstrong in April to Lottie Moon in December, you get an earful, and I was fortunate enough to go to a church with a very large pool of missionaries, former missionaries, and people who worked for the Foreign Mission Board as members. So I got a lot of those speeches. There was always something exotic when visitors like Mary Saunders talked about the children in Africa, the Colemans about their stay in Zimbabwe, or the Terrys about Sri Lanka and Laos. Missions were always overseas to me. While I went on youth retreats in the summer and weekend revivals in college, in my mind those weren’t really missions, those were just helping out. Real missions occur overseas and in places where they don’t speak English or have clean water or they live in fear of getting shot. Or such was my perception as a 15 year old.
So today, as pastor #3 preached, I found myself actually getting it for a change. I sit with my friend B, who is new to the active Christian lifestyle and has questions or is forming her own opinion on things, which is great. And I agree with her comment of how she likes more story-style sermons. It is certainly easier to remember things and to relate when you’re getting a six week sermon series on Moses and its applications or spending the summer studying the parables and how it applies. But when you think about it the entire New Testament from Acts to Jude, it is nothing but studying missionary work. From the apostles to the travels of Paul it’s the ups and downs of it all. And while I had always thought of that section as pertinent to foreign missions (after all, every GA has spent hours preparing bibles with the Roman Road for prisoners or quoting the Great Commission found in Matthew 28 telling people to go to all nations–foreign, right?) today pastor #3 made me think of these verses in a new light, in how it applies to my life here, in my town, in my neighborhood, in my everyday actions.
There were, as usual, more questions than answers in his sermon. Are you ambivalent? What do you do with your time? Where are you going? What is most important to you? and the ones that stuck with me–have you become desensitized to sin? Do you think of some issues as horrific but gloss over others when all are equal in the eyes of God? Well, yeah, I do. Living together without being married is a sin, one that I have committed (unfortunately) myself in the past. I have a real hard time justifying that on the same level as beating your wife or killing a man, but yes, in the eyes of God I guess they are the same. And this afternoon I was thinking about things that just don’t bother me anymore that probably should, mostly as a result of my own experiences (again, the unfortunate cohabitation experience–but that’s a whole other post).
Then this afternoon, I found myself questioning it again. There was a very large, public battle across the street today. People screaming at each other, driving off in a huff, getting to the corner, backing up, doing it again, on and on and on. Very nasty names were being yelled at one another. Awful things were said. I called my neighbor, who stays at home during the day, and asked if this was routine or if it was an anomaly. I have seen the police there before, but never this sort of interaction. She said that it happens fairly regularly, but not that publicly, and to please be quiet because her husband was trying to listen at the window. I felt like I should have made popcorn and pulled up a chair. On the other hand, these two people, in their 30s, are not married. Have been together at least a year or so at this time, and have an infant daughter. We could hear her crying in the house, and as man kept getting on his motorcycle and woman kept driving at 80 miles an hour in a huff, we were quite concerned about the baby. Another neighbor called the police, three squads showed up, and 90 minutes later it was all over, everyone left the house, and all was done. They are home now, inside at least, and I can hear no fighting. And I keep thinking about pastor #3s words today about starting to make a difference at home. How can I do that, when I’m afraid to approach these people. I don’t want them to know I heard their argument, as they were not kind when the neighbor said he was calling the police. I am pretty sure there are things going on at that house that aren’t entirely legal, and short of having a wave-as-you-pull-out-of-the-driveway experience have never spoken to them. So is it my fault that these things were happening today? If I had reached out to one or the other of them as even just a friend in the past would it have made a difference? Would it have led to the point where they would feel better about themselves and their relationship and make things different?
I have always been accused of having ‘I LIKE BAGGAGE’ tattooed on my forehead, as all my life my mother complains that I can never have just a normal friend. And I guess that’s true, I always want to help. But I’m a chicken, too. I don’t like to leave my comfort zone. My neighbor and I are good neighbors–talk on the phone, borrow some eggs, but not too into one another’s lives. If I need something I know I can call her and her husband with no problem, and hope they feel the same way. We have talked about church once, no big deal, and if they ever asked any questions I would try my hardest to answer them. But across the street, I don’t know these people, don’t even know if I want to know these people, don’t know if I have ever even wanted to know these people. And yet now I’m left asking the questions that are normally given by pastor #3. What can I do to make a difference in my surroundings and with those around me to make the world a better place and pleasing for God? Maybe it’s the weird sleep pattern from last night, maybe it’s my guilty conscience, but I can’t help thinking that pastor #3 is right–I’m not doing enough in my own backyard to fulfill my responsibilities as a Christian and as a woman of God.