I’m not what you would call a “runner” but I do enjoy jogging and I have run in a few races over the last 5 years that I trained for and enjoyed. My best friend and I are training for a Virtual 5K at the end of this month and I needed some practice. Since moving here 3 months ago, it hasn’t been cool enough to run outside much, but this morning was different. After dropping the kids off at TCA, I parked my car at the Orlando Museum of Art and decided to go on a jogging adventure. I have loved exploring my new city and especially with this beautiful weather, I was ready to find something new. I followed the Orlando Urban Trail a bit and then kept moving in the direction of the Mead Botanical Gardens. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was so glad that I took a chance and explored because I wouldn’t have just stumbled upon this place, so if you haven’t been, you ought to check it out. What impressed me most wasn’t the paved walking paths, the beautiful butterfly garden, or even the prayer labyrinth (even though that was pretty special), no. What impressed me the most was the “Happy to Chat” bench (pictured below). At the end of the walking path is a Greenhouse and a School, I believe. Right in front of this Greenhouse is this bench where you are encouraged to sit and wait for someone else to sit down next to you so you can begin a conversation.
I don’t know if it was because I was a little hot and thirsty, but when I looked at that bench and thought about its intent, I clearly heard the Holy Spirit nudge my heart and say, “That’s what I want my Church to become.” I couldn’t agree more. What a novel idea! What might it be if the church became a place where anybody and everybody could feel comfortable sitting and having a chat with a stranger? But we aren’t there yet, are we?
I won’t say much about the Presidential Debates last night because I am still so saddened and embarrassed by what I saw and heard. But what I will say is that last night clearly showed what a broken people we have become and how quickly humanity is posed to only sit with, engage, and listen to those who we agree with. As I listened to the news, and read social media and hear the hearts of those I love, it seems to me that Church has failed to be a place where anyone can come, regardless of who they are, and are welcomed to Sit and Chat. Now when I speak of the Church, I am not specifically naming one church, or denomination or faith expression; but I am referring to the Body of Christ and I count myself as part of the problem. I have not done enough to show up on the bench and take the time to listen to “the other”. I have not found it in my heart to forgive my enemy all the time and pray for them. I have said unkind and unChrist-like things about people and institutions I disagree with, and I am part of the problem.
In last night’s Fruit of the Spirit Book Study, Pastor Craig led us through Chapter 4 of Francis Chan’s book, Forgotten God. The question we ended with was this:
“Who is God asking you to love FOR GOD today?” We pondered that question as a large group and in our breakout room and I had to say with all vulnerability and truthfulness that I don’t love “the other” as I should or as Jesus would. Notice the question is not about who God is asking you to love FOR YOU today, but who God is asking you to love FOR GOD. There is a big difference. Because let’s face it, we love those that benefit us, don’t we? Our nature is to love and spend time with those that are like us, who vote the way we do, and who reciprocate our love in return. But that is not the way of the Cross; that is not the calling of one who follows Jesus, I’m afraid. In one of the hardest and most convicting chapters in the Gospels, Jesus says these words:
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.
33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Luke 6:32-36 (NRSV)
I think Mercy looks a lot like the “Happy to Chat” bench that I saw and sat down at this morning. I think Mercy is what Jesus had in mind when he taught us to pray the prayer that asks God’s Will to be done on earth just as it is done in Heaven. And I believe that the world, and especially our nation needs followers of Jesus to live into the uncomfortable moments ahead that open ourselves up for a conversation with someone different from us. It won’t be easy because cultural Christianity has been confused with actually following Jesus and obediently loving as God loves. But I think last night proved that we are in desperate need of a cultural change, for a revival of God’s Holy Spirit and for people who claim to love Christ to be willing to sit at a “Happy to Chat” Bench in their own personal lives and see what God does next.
Let it be so.