Monday, October 22, 2012

Hands Empty. Hearts Full

It was the look that got me, the look he gave toward the altar after the offering plates were collected. That look wrenched my heart, wrenched all our hearts, but what could we do?

At Shepherd King our adult ushers collect the offerings during worship on Sunday mornings. But often when there are children in the service the ushers ask a couple of them to carry the full plates back to the altar as the congregation sings the doxology. A worship assistant waits for them in the chancel, receives the plates, and takes them to the credence table.

On Sunday Kathy was the worship assistant. Conner and his little cousin, Hudson, were chosen to bring the offering forward to the altar. Conner has done this many times before; he's 8 years old and quite capable of participating in various ways in the service. Hudson had helped once before, but at barely 3, it's harder for him to handle those collection plates with checks, bills, and coins in them. So as the boys came forward Conner held the plates and Hudson walked alongside him, hands empty.

As soon as they started forward Hudson began to lobby for carrying one of the plates. He reached for a plate, but as the bigger and more responsible one, Conner held them fast. Hudson veered slightly in front of Conner. Conner patiently guided his little cousin over to the side and continued walking. As they got closer and closer to Kathy, waiting for them at the altar, Hudson's appeal for a plate become more demonstrative -- reaching again, giving his cousin pleading looks, getting in front of him. Conner didn't waver, just brought the plates forward. He had probably been told to carry them both for fear that Hudson might drop one, sending checks and cash flying.

Finally they reached the front. A few feet short of the altar Hudson came to an abrupt stop. Conner continued on and gave Kathy the plates, then he turned and headed back to his pew. But not Hudson (who loves Conner more than anything and usually follows him everywhere). Hudson just stood there - his body turned partially towards the back, his face turned toward the altar, his head down. And the look on his face was heartbreaking. This boy used to be so shy he would not come to the front of the church even with Conner or his Dad. But now he stood there all alone with a look of dejection and defeat on his face. We all ached to console him.

Kathy had begun walking toward the credence table with the plates, but Hudson's expression made her pause. For a moment she didn't move. Then she went back, reached down and invited Hudson to re-give her one of the plates. He happily moved forward, took the top plate, lifted it just a little, and put it back again. Then he turned and walked proudly back to his seat while Kathy took the plates away.

Grace had come to life right in front of us. We saw a boy who felt left out, rejected, and dismissed be acknowledged, be welcomed at the altar - the home of God. There, in God's presence, Kathy shared God's kindness, God's tangible love, with a little boy. The whole congregation sighed. Our hearts were filled by that gracious gesture. And Hudson learned, again, that he is loved in this place, that he matters to us, that we see him and care for him as a child of God, our brother in Christ.


Pastor Kris

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Grief and Grieving

I don't know how to grieve. People grieve differently, of course, and there is no perfect way to do it. Even so, the process I follow, the ways I express my grief seem inadequate.

I feel like a child standing on a street corner with a lost look on my face. When I first heard the news I could only think to say these two things: "but I just saw her" and "oh God, oh God, oh God." We wander blindly through grief, not knowing where the path will lead us, unsure what to say or do, stuck fast in disbelief.

We did just see Julie, on Sunday. She was her usual delightful self - smiling, helping set the altar for communion, singing in the choir, talking about her kids. Who could imagine Mt. Zion without Julie Klutz and why would anyone have done so? Her grandmother lived to be 97; surely Julie had many more good years of life left.

But she didn't. On Friday she collapsed, went into a coma, and died, sending a whole community - church members, neighbors, friends of her sons, her family and her own friends - into shock. It didn't seem possible.  It didn't seem real. It didn't make sense -- still doesn't.

I don't know how to grieve. Mostly I am numb and sad. My attention may be diverted by a task at work but as soon as it is finished I remember: "Julie is dead." When I awaken after a night's sleep, feeling the heaviness within, the thought comes quickly: "Julie is gone."  On the outside I appear calm, normal, but inside a tiny "me" is beating her fists on the walls and screaming "no! no! no! It isn't fair!"  I would cry if I could but the tears only come at inopportune moments - during a meeting, in worship when I'm giving the announcements or trying to sing. I don't know how to grieve.

Grief comes as it will, expresses itself on its own terms. One friend can't eat; several friends are having trouble sleeping. Julie's family is surrounded by people, come to offer their condolences. They get to talking, remembering, even laughing. But when the house is empty and it's time for bed, 'reality' (as Austin put it) smacks them in the face, punches them in the gut all over again.

I don't know how to grieve, but I do know this - we grieve together. We check on each other and talk even when we don't know what to say. We play music to relieve the pain and share special songs with our friends. We fix food and bring it to those in mourning. We encourage one another to rest, to eat, to know we are all still loved. We come together for worship to be comforted, to cry and lament, to hear the Word, to hold each other up. We do not do this grieving alone but with each other; together we keep going. And we remember - her smile, her kindness, her laughter, her goodness, her friendship. Yes, we remember.

"For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven:
     a time to be born and a time to die...
     a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted...
     a time to weep and a time to laugh...
     a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing..."  (Ecclesiastes chapter 3)

Now is the time to grieve, and grieve, and grieve.  It is also the time to live, giving thanks to God for the life of Julie Klutz, for each other, for the nearness of the Savior and for the promise of life everlasting.

Pastor Kris