In all of my years of attending church, there are two sermons that always stayed with me, and both were given by my father.
Dad wasn’t your usual minister. Though he was well-versed in the Bible, he rarely quoted scripture and never used it to win an argument. He never tried to convert anybody. In fact, he was never troubled by anyone who disagreed with him about religion; what mattered to him was that people had faith and that they found a way to connect it to their daily lives.
He delivered what they called “the talk” at our church about every two months, on a rotating calendar.
As a child, I was always in bible class while he spoke to the adults. But one Sunday, because my teacher was out sick, I got to stay and listen. He started out talking about me. Now that’s a sure way to get a kid to sit up straight!
He had taken me fishing the day before, just the two of us, and when we got back he told everyone that I’d caught twice as many fish. That was a very sweet lie, when in truth he’d simply caught more on my fishing pole than on his own. He was tending to both of them most of the time, while I wandered down the shore playing in the mud.
That next day at church, he talked about sitting there by himself, watching the water … and how he noticed a caterpillar crawling up the tall grass along the dock. The wind kicked up and the caterpillar fell into the water. Dad watched him absentmindedly for a while, struggling against the gentle waves … until finally he realized he could save it just by dropping his net down to give it something to crawl onto. Ten seconds later, it was back on dry land, getting on with its life.
It made my dad reflect on all the times he’d seen people helping others, and how often a simple act of kindness can mean so much. We are conditioned to waiting until people ask for help, then deciding whether to respond. But often people won’t ask for what they need. Maybe they don’t want to be a burden, or are convinced that help won’t come. Perhaps they don’t know where to turn.
He challenged us to look around, past the borders of our own lives, and notice people struggling. Then find a way to lend a hand.
The last time I heard my dad give a sermon, I was an adult visiting home. It happened to be Communion day, and dad began by commenting on the low attendance. That surprised me because he’d never been the type to look down on anyone for not attending, or to insist that sitting in a pew is what makes one a good Christian.
Quite the opposite, he was saddened that so many people were skipping that day because it was Communion.
I need to explain at this point that in our church there is no such thing as not being in “good standing.” After your baptism, you are welcome at any point to attend Communion, drink the wine, and eat the bread. However, like most churches, people who don’t feel they are worthy will pass. And that is what my dad was rallying against.
It’s such a shame, he said, for people who are feeling lost in themselves to forego church because they feel they don’t deserve it. Or for people who feel they have let themselves down to stay away altogether.
Church, as he saw it, was the best place for healing. For finding community. For learning the ways to overcome the aspects of yourself that you’re not quite proud of.
And as church members, he said, we need to remember that the people who shy away from Communion are often the people who need it the most. Reach out to them with love and fellowship.
In other words, put down that fishing pole and lend a hand.