On Sunday we returned to Linworth UMC for worship. We had visited here on July 13 (read about it here) and really enjoyed it. This time we went with John and Jackie. Linworth is only a mile from their house.
We enjoyed our second visit even more than the first. The sanctuary at the 10:15 “New Connections” service was almost filled and the congregation is diverse. There were young singles, families with young children, teenagers, empty nesters, retirees, and even a few seniors. There was also a sizable group of developmentally disabled people within the congregation. We were greeted at the door by a family who all shook our hands – from the two-year-old on up.
One of the things that I really like is that welcoming the stranger is first and foremost to this congregation. The first thing on the front of the bulletin is a paragraph that invites visitors to stop by the welcome center and stay for refreshments after the service. The back of the bulletin, where they list upcoming events, includes a contact person for the event and their phone number. Each week Linworth highlights one ministry of the congregation. This week it was the MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) Group that meets twice a month. The congregation furnishes babysitters for the kids and Mentor Mothers who spend time with the MOPS and encourage them in parenting. The announcement mentioned that they can always use more volunteer babysitters with the Moppets – the children – and I was ready to volunteer – except we won’t be in when they have their next meetings.
The band was wonderful, as it was previously, but the highlight of the service was six baptisms of children, from newborns to a four-year-old. There had been baptisms at the other services that morning also. The words used in the service were familiar to me, but they were modernized a bit. The Senior Pastor and Associate Pastor alternated performing the baptisms. When the baptisms were over and the congregation had made their promise, the children were carried down the center aisle to the applause of the congregation. The Holy Spirit was surely in this congregation at that moment.
The sermon was on the Beatitude “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy,” taken from Luke 6:32-36. Pastor Rae Lynn Schleif talked about the difference between justice which has (or is supposed to have) a direct correlation between action and consequence and mercy, where the action is not deserving of the consequence. Justice tells us “don’t get mad, get even.” Mercy tells us “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Forgive those who wrong you.” With mercy we respond to the condition and needs of a person, not their actions. And we forgive even when they are not deserving of our forgiveness.
Our example in this, of course, is God. God responds in mercy to every sinner, withholding justice in favor of love and forgiveness. When we practice mercy, those who receive it are often transformed. And even if they are not, we who practice it are transformed. Pastor Rae Lynn challenged us to go beyond empty talk of mercy (we should all love and respect each other) to actual acts of mercy – getting involved in the world, working beyond justice for peace, showing the same care to sinners as we do to saints.
It was a powerful sermon and I have continued to think about it this week. How can I practice mercy in this nomadic life? How can Tom and I move beyond surface tourism to being agents of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness. How can all of us become instruments of God’s mercy to this hurting world and the people in it?