As I picked up our gospel reading today I thought back to the Blessing of Animals on Sunday. In Luke, we see the birth of evangelistic spirit amidst this small band of Jesus’ followers.
The Blessing of Animals, and especially the new Blessing of Stuffed Animals that morning in worship, was a great opportunity to “be the church” beyond our walls. The weather was gorgeous; the animals all seemed to have a good time; fun was had by all. But with stuffed animals, there was a whole new excitement amidst our youngest of worshippers.
The best part was that morning, when I got to visit with two young boys, one a member who brought his neighborhood friend. This friend had never set foot at First Pres. Neither of them were particularly into stuffed animals, but it became apparent that neither of them had been so excited about church in a while – gleefully telling me about their stuffed animals and how excited they were to come to church. Mom nodded.
This was the joy of the day! By the end, both felt at home.
In today’s passage in Luke, some messengers from John the Baptist come to Jesus to see if he is the Messiah, and ask him point blank. His response is strange and doesn’t seem to answer the question, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard.”
This is evangelism! Jesus is not running around saying, “I am the Messiah. Follow me!” He is not saying, “Did you accept me into your heart?” He is saying simply, “Tell others what you have seen – whatever that may be.” In this case Jesus had been giving the blind their sight, the lame to walk, the deaf their hearing.
It is easy as a minister to get disappointed. After the afternoon Blessing of Animals, which had good attendance mind you, my general reaction: “Great! Glad you came. Tell your friends all about us!” all the while thinking, “Geesh, we could have had TWICE as many people from the neighborhood and I still wouldn’t have been happy. I was hoping this would be more outreach to people I didn’t know!”
But then I got to thinking about that morning and those two young boys. My heart restored to gleeful status. One has to start somewhere. That young neighborhood visitor felt loved, and included, even sharing his thoughts through a big scary microphone to a church full of people. Not easy leading in worship! And he was unphased – a part of the tapestry of God’s grace that day.
So I declare our Blessing of Animals a HUGE success. Wholeheartedly! It is a wonderful ministry of outreach in so many ways, and I got to see a cross-section of the congregation I hadn’t seen in a while. Jaime Slade did an amazing job putting it together, and I know that God’s spirit was there in our midst – working – maneuvering – planting seeds of grace.
And that is it, isn’t it? We are not called to save the world. We are called to “Go tell others about what is happening…for you…for me.” We spread the word as those early disciples did. We do so in sometimes unexpected and unorthodox ways, inviting, nurturing, blessing, welcoming the fullness of people into our midst.
I know we weren’t doing miracles like giving the blind their sight back. But something happened. And as we ate together in the courtyard with some much-needed snacks for people and snacks for dogs, I saw something extraordinary – it wasn’t just a joy-filled crowd – it was a crowd that had already been touched by Jesus – healed and blessed and filled with hope.