Saturday, October 3, 2009

Your Presence is Requested (Dialogue Column 9.29.09)

I wrote this for The Dialogue, the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Often, I'll post here on the blog my columns for the weekly newsletter.

The Buddhist master and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Thich Nhat Hanh, once stated, “The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence.” As Christians, we tend to intellectualize our faith, understanding it as a set of beliefs we somehow hold or possess. Or perhaps we view it as a membership that we claim as in a club or an organization. Leave it to a Buddhist to remind us Christians that our faith should be about “presence.”

More often than I would like to admit, my wife Jennifer catches me staring off into space and asks me, “Where are you right now?” She does so, because in such moments I am not present mentally with her and our sons at dinner or around the house. Instead, I have to admit to her and to myself that my mind is still focused on something that happened that day at work or something soon to happen at church. I am chagrinned to admit that I am not fully present with the ones I love most.

Similarly, because we are not fully present or mindful in important relationships, we are likewise not present for God. Since we understand our faith as something other than a relationship with God, we give little thought to being present to God or allowing God’s presence to make a difference in our lives. Our prayers are one-sided and given hurriedly in desperate moments rather than as chances to connect with the divine. With no time for reflection upon or reconnection with God, it is little wonder that our days can feel lacking in purpose and meaning.

When we fail to understand the difference our presence makes, our attention turns inward in an unhealthy manner. In the Christian life, community matters; it matters that we are present for others. It matters that we gather together as believers to worship God, to care for one another, to grow in our faith and to serve people in need. When the gift of presence is neglected something results far worse than empty pews; the individual, the community and even the world are robbed of opportunities for God’s grace to flow, simply through the gift of presence. If there is any truth to the idea that God’s Spirit dwells within each of us, then a person’s absence from a faith community denies others the chance to experience God in a particular and wonderful way.

This fall we are in the midst of a stewardship campaign that is unlike past ones here at First Christian Church of St. Joseph. The Stewardship Committee has worked hard to make the point in a variety of ways that being a steward or trustee of what God has given us is about more than money. There are financial realities that cannot be ignored, but being a part of a church is about being present to other members of the community. Simply by showing up for worship, your presence whether you realize it or not makes a difference to those around you and to the feeling in the room. By sharing of your time and energy for one of the ministries of the church, you are giving the best thing you have to give. In worship and in The Dialogue we are taking extra time and space to make sure new and long-time members alike know what the different groups in our church are doing, so that each member can know how he or she can join in with others who share the same passions.

First Christian Church of St. Joseph is unlike most churches I’ve known in many wonderful and positive ways, but in other ways it is just like every other church I’ve experienced. There are certain people who step up and do the bulk of what needs to be done. Whether by temperament, humility or obligation, certain souls will do more than their fair share of things at church and most other folks will gladly let them do it for any number of reasons. Such a way of operating robs everyone involved of the joy of being present in one another’s lives and the joy of being an instrument of God’s presence.

As your minister, I encourage you as a member of First Christian to think about the gift of your presence. Whether it is serving on a committee, ministering to a person in need, teaching children or youth about the faith or helping set up for a special event, your presence makes a spiritual difference beyond the actual tasks accomplished, because you are doing it as a part of a community of believers. This is not a call to add one more thing to your “To Do” list, rather it is a call for you to be intentional with the greatest gift you have to offer: your presence.

Grace and Peace,

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