Earlier this week I was in Memphis to celebrate my mother’s eightieth birthday. One part of the days-long celebration was a gathering of my mother’s friends at her house, a collation of a dozen or so women, middle-aged and above, who spent a few hours extolling the virtues of my mom. As I stood among them, I was delighted to see her surrounded by her people, those who are willing to share in her sorrows and stories, to stand amidst her strengths and struggles. As the afternoon progressed, there were times of laughter and tears as the ladies retold their memories of the birthday girl. It was a glory to witness.
I have come to realize that this, in some deep recess of my psyche, was something I needed to know that after eight years of living in a community 1,100 miles from her old neighborhood, my mother had people who cared for her. She had church friends and development friends. She has others to talk with or to cry with. She has women who have taken an interest in her and she has taken an interest in them. It was a comfort to be introduced to people who loved my mother deeply and dearly.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:9
It is comforting to have ‘people’. It is glorious to know, through Christ, that we can be ‘God’s people’. It is hard to fully comprehend that we are chosen by God to engage with Him personally. As we contemplate this relationship we have with the Almighty creator of the universe, we begin to realize that it is less like meeting a world leader in his ostentatious office and more like my birthday party. We ought to cower in His presence, perhaps, but instead we are warmly and joyfully embraced as we swap stories of sorrow and delight. We have a place beside Him. We are included in the inside jokes. We are part of ‘God’s people’.
There is no one who needs to go their way alone. We are all sojourners and travelers; the residences we occupy are only temporary housing and the companions we make are very changing. Yet, we are, at every turn and through every step, blessed by God with His people to make the journey more glorious. It was a joy to meet some of His people as we celebrated Mum’s birthday. I pray, too, that we all realize this blessing of being, and being surrounded by, God’s chosen people as we make our way through life.
Last weekend, my family and I went to the movies and saw Minions. If you haven’t had the chance to see the movie (or the previous two which featured them, or the dozen or so commercials on television), minions are diminutive yellow creatures with tiny arms and legs whose purpose in life is to dutifully serve their master. They have their own language (which seems to be a combination of English, Spanish and gibberish) and their own culture (which venerates bananas and pranks). These loveable little guys are by no means perfect (causing disaster after disaster throughout the 90 minute film) but their hearts are always in the right place.
Watching a movie where the dialogue is largely unintelligible was challenging. As we watched, we understood what was going on through the minions’ behavior instead of their words. We saw their acts of care and compassion even when we could not make sense of their conversations. Watching Minions also made me wonder about visitors to our church. Do they see our actions and are they amused for more than an hour, even though the language used sometimes sounds like gibberish? Do they recognize our desire to serve our master and love one another even though we are by no means perfect? Or do visitors feel that a church service is just goofy looking people using goofy sounding words?
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” 1 Peter 2:9
Clearly, an animation studio is capable of conveying a compelling story through odd characters using odd terminology. It is not a stretch to believe that the church can share the greatest story ever told through a group of peculiar people utilizing peculiar words. Just as these big screen ‘corn pops with eyes and overalls’ told their story through their actions, the church can share the Gospel through her acts of love and service.
But we can also do more. We can work on our terminology and resist the temptation to use words like temptation, iniquity, transubstantiation, eschatology, justification, sanctification, anthropomorphism, and atonement. These are great words which are full of meaning but may be heard as gibberish to the casual attendee of a worship service. They would likely sound like Kevin’s, Stuart’s or Bob’s words in Minions sounded to me. While it may be entertaining for an hour or two, eventually unintelligible communication becomes too difficult to follow and too much trouble to engage. It would be better simply to keep it simple.
Like minions, we who are followers of Christ dutifully serve our master, Jesus. We are by no means perfect and we often make great messes of life. We have our own language and our own culture, both of which convey care and compassion for others. We often look and dress differently than most. If you give the church a chance, it will likely entertain you at first but eventually you will fall in love with the people you see there. Maybe after a little bit of time, you’d even be able to understand what most people think is meaningless sounds.
And, like minions, we love to sing!