Summit Family, It’s Pledge Sunday.
And typically what your pastor does on Pledge Sunday is tell you all the reasons why giving as a spiritual discipline will help you to follow Christ more faithfully and more deeply. How giving will end up being a blessing to you. That it isn’t so much about the fact that the church needs money so much as it is – that you and I – as followers of Jesus – need to give of what we have.
And I believe that with all that I am. When you make your financial gift to this church – it is a spiritual act. And it will stretch you and it will help you grow.
And – as I said last week – the way that you get better at it – is to do it.
To take a step forward – to practice – to give.
But there is another side of giving that is equally powerful. It is giving that comes out of our gratitude.
And this year and this fall in particular, there have been some other things going on in my life and it has been a season where MORE THAN EVER – I have appreciated this community – both for what it has done for me – but also for my family.
And – since I was pregnant with my youngest son Marcus, I’ve been writing letters. I wrote a letter to him when I first learned I was having a son, around the time he was born, on his first Thanksgiving, and every year since on his birthday.
And many of you know that we have a new son, and so I’ve started writing letters to him. After we first met, when he first came into our home, and now for his first Thanksgiving with us.
I write these letters, not really for my sons as they are now – but for them when they are older, and able to understand. I plan to give them to them on their 18th birthday.
And as I was thinking about some of the things I wanted to say both to you today – and to my new son –I decided that there was a lot of overlap.
And so I wrote a letter this week to Eugene, our new 6 year old son. It is for him, but I hope you will also find that it is, in many ways, for you as well.
What a season it has been for our family! Bringing you into our family has been both one of the hardest and most joyful seasons of my life. From the beginning, it was clear that God was all over this. Through the unexpected twists and turns, through the good and the bad days, God has been more than faithful and you have become woven into our family and our hearts. Life will be forever different. And life will be forever better.
This week is Thanksgiving, our first holiday together. I am thankful for you. I am thankful for the ways all of us have grown since your arrival. And I am especially thankful for the people who have supported us in so many ways through this entire process – in particular, I am thankful for our church – Summit on 16th.
As a pastor, my job is to provide care and support and leadership for my congregation. But in these last few months, it is I who have been carried. It is I who have been prayed for and loved and hugged and encouraged. And reminded that God is faithful and deeply at work through all of this.
And I don’t think I would have made it through without these people and this place.
As a pastor’s kid, you will experience a lot of church. A lot of time at church, in worship, at conferences, at meetings, Sunday school, and much more. I’m sure there will be times that the church will be a source of encouragement and joy. I’m sure there will be times that the church will be a source of frustration and disappointment. And let’s be honest, sometimes the church will be a source of boredom.
And yet, I hope through all of it’s imperfections, I hope you will find what I have found - that the church has shaped you, helped you to find a more full and real faith, and helped you to know the love of Christ whose depth and breadth is wider than you can ever fully realize.
I hope that every church I am appointed to will be a place where you experience that – the way I know you are and will experience it at Summit on 16th.
Summit is a pretty special place. A place that has become a part of my own heart. And a place has something remarkably special to offer the world.
There are few places on a Sunday morning where such a motley crew would be gathered. People of all ages, races, backgrounds, hair colors, sexual orientations, and even people who root for Michigan and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In truth, I couldn’t have picked a better church for you and your brother to first be nurtured in your faith. Every week, you are surrounded by a community of love. A community of people who want you to know and experience the very unique love that God has for you.
They want you to feel special. Like you matter. Because you do.
People really matter around Summit.
In fact, one of the things this church does best is to try and remind every person that God loves them. Just the way they are.
I hope that at this stage in your life, you take that a bit for granted.
Some churches and pastors haven’t always shared that message. To people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender – they have told them that they have no place at God’s table. But the people of Summit church work every week to share a different message. To remind people that God’s love is for EVERYONE.
It’s why we show up every year to march in the Pride Parade. To announce to the city of Columbus that there are places that will love and affirm them just as they are. This year, with 30,000 people watching, a sizeable group of us marched the mile up high street. We hauled a giant rainbow bathtub filled with water. And we blessed people on the sides of the streets, telling them that they were created in the image of God. We watched their faces light up at the reminder of God’s love and acceptance.
In the midst of the blessing and the crowds, I got a bit separated from the group.
As I looked up the street, there was a beautiful moment where I saw the crowd of red Summit T-shirts and watched as one of our students climbed up on top of our rainbow bathtub and started splashing water into the crowd, yelling, “God loves you!” The waters of our baptism – of God’s amazing love – for all people – was spraying out into the streets.
And I heard a roaring cheer from the surrounding crowd.
We have a tag line on the back of our T-shirts. It says, “No, Seriously… This is Church.”
And in that moment, I couldn’t have chosen better words. No, Seriously.
THIS is church, Eugene.
A few weeks before I was reminded of the power that happens when people have a place to come and be reminded about God’s love for them. It was the first night of a new class I was teaching about constructive theology. It was a class designed to help people make the connections between theology and their real faith lives. And gathered together was a beautiful cross section of the diversity of our community. And we were sharing about moments when we knew that God was real.
That night in the study, one of our younger college students began to share that she struggled to see that God was real. She had experienced God when she was younger, but now, it seemed that it wasn’t so clear. Where was God in the midst of her daily life?
As she finished sharing, another man in the group began to share about his own struggles. He was having a difficult week. The night before the study, his son had been threatened and harassed by another teenager in the neighborhood and he had decided that he could no longer take it any more. He had to defend his son. He had to keep him safe. And so he took a gun and he went out in the neighborhood looking for this kid. And he knew what he was going to do if he found him.
And he began to encourage the young college student. Encouraging her to keep the faith – even when it was hard. He shared what had happened the night before and then he said, “I know God is real. Because God saved me last night from finding that young man. He saved the young man. And he saved me. And he brought me here – because God wants something different for me and for that young man.”
THIS, Eugene, is church.
Next summer, you will get to experience your first Freedom School. You’ll get to be a part of a movement – reminding you and all the other scholars – that they can make a different in the world, through hope, education and action. And even though Freedom School happens in the summer for 8 weeks, the culture and the conversation and the movement for justice are happening all year long at Summit. That’s why there were students organizing in the church this year to lobby that Wendy’s join the Fair Food Program. It’s why many of our Freedom School staff and scholars are still gathering in the building through the work of our friends at the Ohio Student Association, educating people about the continued impact of institutional racism on our young people today and building a movement to hold people accountable and leverage the power that is in all of us to build a different world.
We’ve got a long way to go, but this church is having some hard conversations about what it will mean to not just be a diverse place, but to listen and learn from each other across our differences. To build the kind of community that is working against systemic injustice. So that - the future will look different - especially for young African-American men like yourself.
THIS, Eugene, is church.
Things don’t often stay the same around Summit. Which can be hard sometimes. But it also means that we have lots and lots of opportunities to grow.
In this year alone, I’ve watched a young seminarian find his powerful voice as a barefoot preacher with a prophetic message.
I’ve watched a young musician share publicly the ways that God had helped her to become more open-minded and faithful.
I’ve watched a family find ways to be faithful and pray even through one of the hardest seasons of their life.
And I’ve watched a church of people heal and forgive – even after some wounds that were incredibly painful.
This, Eugene. THIS is church.
Even before you came to join our family, I could tell that you knew God. I could hear it in your prayers at night and in the way you speak about God and the way you speak to God. But it’s become evident that you are catching on to this idea of church.
I could see it when you noticed Bobby and Tony, our harmonica players. And when you asked the following Sunday whether you could bring your harmonica along and join the song.
And my answer to you was,
Of Course, Eugene.
Because, This is church.
This is church.
And to this community.
THIS is church.
All these years later –
I hope you are still finding a place
To Come and hear the good news.
To bring your harmonica
And come splash some water on people.
To remember that God is REAL.
That God is in this place, this imperfect place we call church
and God is with you my son, with a love for you that is beyond your wildest imaginations.
I love you.