The Manhattan Church of Christ
sponsors the work I do in Brooklyn. Laura and I attended the Manhattan Church until we got the Brooklyn church up and running. Rarely do I get a chance to attend services at Manhattan Church of Christ but when I do I'm always reminded of how many visitors it attracts.
For those of you not familiar with the church landscape, the Church of Christ is a small, mostly southern denomination. It's a theologically conservative church. It's members (or parishioners) are so devoted that when on vacation - say, to New York City - they'll take time out of their sightseeing to attend a Sunday morning service. And so it's very common to encounter visitors at the Manhattan Church of Christ.
Problem is, Manhattan Church of Christ doesn't exactly wear the "theologically conservative" label that most Churches of Christ do. For example, the Manhattan Church of Christ allows full participation of both men and women
in its worship service. In other words, you might see a women pop up from a pew and read scripture, lead a prayer, share a testimony and - while it's only happened on a couple of occasions - preach.
For those visiting from our southern sister Churches of Christ, this can be quite alarming. It's not unusual for our guests to get up and walk out in the middle of the service. And even more common is for our guests to write a formal condemnation of our actions on the back of an attendance card. (It's amazing how much can be crammed on the back of those small cards!)
Two Sundays ago I preached at the Manhattan Church of Christ. Before the service I met four visitors from Texas. I wondered how they would react to the woman leading us in worship that morning. I then wondered how they would respond when, in my sermon on the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5, I used my brother-in-law's lines:
We associate God's blessing with power. We associate God's blessing
with success. We associate it with strength. To which of these
Beatitudes do our politicians of both parties refer when they repeatedly
insist that God Blesses America? To none of these. Because in
the world we live in we most certainly do not equate blessing with meekness
or starvation, or poverty. Our national creed is of confidence,
abundance, and wealth. And it is in the service of such aspirations that we
invite and assume the blessing of God.
I was sure they would be repelled by the woman leading singing and if that didn't do it, then surely I would lose them when I mocked our politicians in wrongly assuming God's blessing upon America.
But they sat there. They sang and they prayed and they read scripture with the rest of us. And when the service ended, one of them approached me. Surely this chosen one was going to chew me out.
But she didn't. She handed me an envelop, said, "thank you," and walked away. Inside was a $100 bill and a note that read, "for the work in Brooklyn." No name and no address.