Saturday I did one of the things I am most glad to do and yet most detest doing. I went to a funeral. Harder yet I helped lead the funeral of a ten year old boy. I was mainly there to help organize, though I also had the responsibility of preaching. Most of what I had to say to the family and the community came from the child himself, his name was Emmanuel so I spent most of my time talking about how God is with us even in situations like this. I thought the hardest part of my day was over after the body was buried and as the community was gathered to share a meal, but I was wrong. I found out that the child most likely died because of neglect on the part of the family. The child and grandmother would come to church, but the parents did not. The mother started coming, but her husband later refused for her to be able to come to the church. The father refused for his wife to come to the church because he wanted his family in the field working on the farm seven days a week, several hours longer than most people around here work in the field, and that is a long time. The father used his family very much like slave labor, making them work in the fields for long hours. When the son fell sick the father took him to the local healer, not wanting to spend the money on a hospital even though he had it as a result of his family working for his benefit. The result was a dead child, a funeral led by the church, and a very angry pastor...not me (though I was also angry), but Anna who loves children and was furious that this happened.
The question I offer now, without a good answer yet, is how can the church be present in this situation. Our motto is, "Don't go to church. Be the Church." With this as a goal we can't just enter church service on Sunday morning and mourn the loss of a child who will no longer make it to Sunday School. We have to be willing to do more. We have to find a way to be present in the community, to be present with a mourning grandmother and mother, to be present with a father who sees his own family as tools instead of loved children of God, to be present with the many men in the community who either feel the same way or at least don't see the point of doing anything about the ones who do.
This is the most important job we have as a church. It is not to have worship once a week, it is not to get as many people as possible to say the Sinner's Prayer (which I still haven't found in the Bible), it is not to fill out Annual Conference reports that make us look better than the year before. Our most important job is to be present in the community, showing them the love God has for His children, the worth that everyone has for the simple fact that they are people, to be a light that refuses to retreat behind the walls of our church building, but insists on being seen and heard as a better way. A way of freedom for the oppressed, not just as they enter heaven as Emmanuel has done, but even as they live here on earth.
Don't go to church. Be the Church...In the community.