SPARKS, Part 5

Based on a sermon for Wildwind Community Church.

At my church we often talk about the idea that spiritual formation takes place when we do what is possible to make room for God to do what is impossible. In communitas, we follow God’s invitation to shared experiences at the edges of life as we know it and we are changed, and while are changed we change the world around us.

Without wanting to come across like someone who thinks he is the ultimate example of the adventurous disciple of Jesus, I’d like to share one more story from my own life about how I have experienced transformation as a result of stepping out of my comfort zone to join in God’s mission to those in need.

A couple of years ago I spent several weeks volunteering at an outreach mission in downtown Flint. For a while I was doing some really exciting stuff….data entry. People would come in with a need and they would have to fill out a form so the agency could keep track of who they were serving. So when I started out I was just sitting down and entering information from these sheets into the computer. I couldn’t wait to actually help people. That’s just who I am, I get my energy from being around people. I wanted to make a real difference and not just sit in front of a computer all day doing work that felt meaningless to me.

But I finally got my chance to actually help people face-to-face. It was pretty simple work. People came in with a referral and I helped get them food, clothes, or various household items. It easy work but something started to happen as I came into contact with living, breathing people who were dealing with things that I have never had to deal with myself. I sensed a deepening care and concern for people. I realized how much need there was in my own community. I felt my heart for people in need begin to enlarge. In following God’s call to serve the poor I began to be transformed.

I remember helping a woman who came in from a local domestic violence shelter.  She had a referral for clothing. She walked in and I checked her referral which just had her name, what she was visiting the agency for, and the name of the agency that was referring her. This was enough information for me to kind of get an idea of what her situation was. What I had pieced together was that she was in an abusive relationship and had to leave. She must have had to leave everything behind in order to get out of the situation quickly. She needed clothes. She only had the clothes on her back.  I said hello and without realizing that it was a very loaded question, I asked, “How are you?” Her answer was probably the most to-the-point answer I could have received. She quietly said, “I’m alive.”

What do you say to someone when the truth is just laid out on the line in such a way as to cause such mixed feelings of heartbreak for her situation and a deep sense of joy for her because she was in fact still alive? Her eyes began to tear up and I said something like, “Well, that’s not a bad place to be” as I handed her a tissue. She turned around walked out. I was kind of freaking out. Had I crossed the line? Was she going to come back? I thought I had royally screwed up but didn’t know exactly how. She did end up coming back in after composing herself and I showed her to the clothing room so she could get what she needed.

Whenever I think about my time working at the mission I come back to this particular experience because I feel like it sums up my time there. I had stepped out of my comfort zone and my life slammed up against the lives of others who were so different from me. There was power in my words and in my actions. I had no idea what I was doing. I was able to offer them something they needed but God used this time to give me something that I needed too. I realized that the experience of communitas is one of the ways that God can form us into the people he created us to be; people who are compassionate, people who are kind, people who are generous people who are loving, people who are willing to set themselves aside in order to serve others.

So what about you? How have you experienced communitas? What happened when you decided to step out of the comfort of safety and security to follow Jesus? What opportunities for joining in the adventure God’s mission do you regret missing out on? What do you think you can learn about yourself and about others by having a shared experience on the margins of everyday life?

To be continued…

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