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Even Jesus is Angry

There are only a few times in the Bible we see Jesus angry.  The most vivid, of course, is the scene in the Temple.  Jesus expected to find a sanctuary – a holy space where people could bring their sins and griefs to God; a place of forgiveness and healing and, above all, safety.  Instead, he found the poor being exploited, seekers being crowded out of the only sacred space available to them, and prayers being drowned out by the din of doing business.  The house of prayer had become a den of robbers.  And in righteous indignation, better known as “wrath,” he fashioned a whip, turned over the tables, and drove the perpetrators out.

This past Wednesday evening in Charleston, the Emanuel AME church became something far worse than a den of thieves. It became a killing ground.

In today’s New York Times, an African-American op-ed writer titles her piece, “No Sanctuary in Charleston.”  Patricia Williams Lessane describes the role the church has played for the black community in the south.  A place where slaves were free to worship, where runaways could find safe passage north, where the community could organize and mobilize to meet their challenges. She writes, “The black church has always been the one place where we most often felt protected and nurtured.”  Not anymore.

Lessane is angry.  So is Jesus, I believe.  And it’s time we should be, too.  Angry enough to stand with our brothers and sisters of color.  Angry enough to speak out against violence and hate in all its forms.  And angry enough to face our own failures to bridge the racial divides in our churches and in the broader Body of Christ.

Matthew’s gospel tells us that after the moneychangers had been driven out, and the dust had settled, the blind and the lame came into the courtyard.  And Jesus healed them.  The children came in with songs of praise. And Jesus delighted in them.

By God’s grace, and the mercy of Christ, may we do whatever it takes for our churches to become the sanctuaries they were meant to be, where Jesus is able once again to heal the sick, to free the captives, to pardon the sinful, and to inhabit the praises of His people.

A Next Gen Perspective on One Church Sunday

A blog post by Ruthie Seiders, Grace Chapel's Pastor of Next Generation Ministries

Mark, Sam, Nathalie, Becky, and Jesse. Sam, Victoria, Hannah, and Gabi. James, Gracie, Emma, Ester, and Zoe were names I “collected” at One Church Sunday on May 17. As the Pastor for NextGen Ministry one of my goals is to get to know as many of the names of our children and youth as I can! So Sunday was a great opportunity to add to my collection since we were all gathered for worship in one place.

My day started with donning an orange vest and carrying a wand to direct traffic. Joined by members of the Student Ministry Team and a few hearty young people we welcomed dozens of musicians and singers who arrived between 7:00 and 7:30 am to set up and rehearse. When the second shift of traffic workers arrived I called one of the high-schoolers over to take my spot so I could enter the arena. My next stop were the childcare areas to see how the Children’s Ministry Team was doing. They were busily setting up our spaces to care for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Whole family groups chose to volunteer taking care of the youngest children, along with an assortment of teenagers and adults. There was an air of excitement and joy as they waited for the littlest members of Grace Chapel to arrive.

My third job was to stand in the lobby greeting people as they were arriving. This was a great way to meet members of the Grace Chapel family, collecting more names! Yani and Johann were getting baptized. Harrison and Caroline were excited to worship with mom and dad. I watched as the Prayer Team gathered for their marching orders and off they went to pray over every seat in the arena. The Welcome Team clustered together to be briefed on the procedures for welcoming thousands to worship. Our new friends from local helping agencies were setting up their tables in hopeful expectancy that donations would indeed be coming through the doors. And behind the scenes the Event Leadership Team was working in harmony with the Arena Staff to make sure all was well.

And then, after traffic jams and long lines, the worship service began! I made my way to my fourth stop, the Family Seating Area (aka “the bar”). I found families with little ones beginning to worship in a space where their children could get up and move around. Additionally, several of our SHINE kids and their teen or adult buddies were using that space as home base. Occasionally they would go for walks around the arena to see what was happening. A number of older adults found the family space to be a comfortable place to sit even with the children happily sitting just behind them. It reminded me of a family reunion.

What a unique worship experience! The music with combined teams, orchestra and choir was phenomenal. I saw adults and youth of all ages leading worship side by side, playing instruments and singing songs. Casting my eyes around the arena it was amazing to see so many seats filled with adults, teens, and children worshiping together.

Children carrying their little worship bags entered the arena and sat with parents and grandparents, as well as the faith parents of other adults all around them. They saw their campus pastor greet them along with the others, all excited to be together in one worship service. They got to hear the Mayor of Lowell give thanks for the gifts they brought to help those in need in the city. They watched a video recorded and produced by some of our own students, interviewing some of their friends! They saw the coach of the Celtics taking a stand for the importance of his faith and regular church attendance for him and his family. They counted how many times Pastor Bryan mentioned Jesus’ name in his sermon (I have yet to get a total!). And then they not only witnessed the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon those attending, but some of the older children and teens came forward themselves to confess, unashamedly, their faith in Jesus Christ and step into the waters of baptism.

People of all ages kept streaming out of their seats. We watched in awe as men and women, young and old, in multi-colored t-shirts stood next to a pastor waist deep in water. Proclaiming their faith they humbly submitted to Jesus Christ as Lord of their lives. Rising to new life, they emerged from the water with tears, smiles, hugs, and praises for what God was doing in their lives that very moment. One little guy was so captured by the event he stood next to Pastor Jeanette and held towels and signs for those going into the water.

The service concluded when four young people joined the musicians on stage to lead us in the singing of the modern hymn, In Christ Alone. Listening to their voices as they sang, “No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from his hand,” I realized this was a unique moment in the life of our church. This was a true intergenerational event with children, youth, and adults, side by side, serving, leading, worshiping, and boldly confessing Christ as Lord!

Your NextGen team longs for more opportunities for our children and youth to experience what it means to be part of the worshiping congregation here at Grace. This is a perfect time to announce our summer initiative called “Families in Worship.” On every campus the NextGen Team is making available the opportunity for families to worship together during the month of July. You’ll be hearing more about this soon, but for now, plan on our worshipping congregations having more of an intergenerational feel. Faith parents, see how many names of young people you can learn this summer, just by coming to the worship services. It’s a great time to start your own “collection!” Have you met John, and Stefan, and Edward, and Beverly, and…?