“…the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?'” -Genesis 3:9
I beg your pardon, I’ve been away for some time. Not to go into too much detail, but over the past several months I have finished several doctoral courses, moved several states away, begun a new ministry, moved my mother and grandmother into our new home, and am currently trying to hold down the fort until my wife returns at the end of October. I have had every intention of returning to my blog when time allowed, and I give thanks that the day in question is today.
I give thanks because I just experienced a wonderful moment in ministry. I was on my way back from visiting a church member who recently had surgery, and it being lunch time, I decided I would go out. I knew that one of my members (the man pictured in the photo) worked at the local McDonald’s, so I decided to go eat there and say hello. When I walked in, I saw him hard at work, and when he looked up, he gave a big smile.
My friend asked me how I was doing, and I told him I was doing okay, I was going to get a bite to eat, and I wanted to see how he was doing. I asked him about his eye troubles. He said he was doing well. It was then that he surprised me. He dropped what he was doing and reached out his arms towards me. He quickly wrapped me in a big hug, and he told me in my ear, “I love you, buddy.” I told him I loved him too.
We talked. I told him I was going to get something, and that he should keep on working hard, as is his habit. He said okay. It was as I walked away that I overheard him speaking to his manager: “That’s my preacher. I like him.” Verklempt is a word that doesn’t do justice to what I felt in that moment. In a rush, so many things came together.
I had only met my friend a few weeks ago when I came to visit his Friendship Class at the church as I figure out the various ministries that we offer. It is a wonderful class filled with loving souls, and every time I have gone, they have welcomed me with open arms. In only two visits, everyone now is sure to greet me several times on Sunday mornings as I make my way between our services. They pray for me. No, strike that: they pray for the entire church and everyone they know with a diligence unfamiliar to most of us.
They are also a group that has had to overcome difficulties and adversities throughout the entirety of their lives. Of course, you wouldn’t know that if you asked them. They are joyful, they are loving, and they are textbook definitions of what it means to be sisters and brothers in the household of God. I learned that several weeks ago when I visited their class, and I learned that today as my brother told me he loved me. More than that, he was eager to tell others that I was his preacher, and that he liked me. I would never have had that opportunity if I hadn’t taken the time to visit them , if only briefly over the last few weeks.
In Genesis 3:9, the man and the woman have done a horrible thing. They have disobeyed God, and they know it. Because of their sin, they have gone into hiding so as to cover over their falling short of God’s command. Interestingly, however, God who already knew this before God made them, and the One who certainly knew it as He made His way through the garden asks a simple question, “Where are you?”
Where are you, Adam? Eve? Where are you? I have only wanted a relationship with you. I have made you for fellowship, for love, for connection — for opportunities to greet one another in the nooks and crannies of life with the message, “I love you, buddy.”
Today at McDonald’s, my friend reminded me of God’s question, of God’s desire for our lives. This moment also convicted me of the fact that I, like all of us, spend most of my life making excuses and hiding behind barriers that ease the burdens imposed by fellowship with others. In my line of work, the easiest barrier I can erect is my schedule. “I can’t fit you in this week,” I often hear myself saying, “I’ll let you know.”
Again, I’m not alone. Overworked and overstimulated, with deadlines and practices and schedules to keep, we often imagine ourselves in a world of nothing but pure choices and the listing of priorities. This isn’t to say that some planning is a bad thing, but it is so easy to get caught in that web that we forget we were made for friendship, service and love.
Where are you, today? I believe God is asking all of us this question, whether we want to hear it or not. Are you living a life of service? Are your priorities centered on relating with God’s people and with the deep need of the world? When’s the last time you spoke with your child without a deadline or some other form of accountability in mind? Do we remember how to play? Amongst the people of God, can we discern your shadow in the halls between the conclusion of worship and the deeper relation of discipleship classes, service opportunities, committee and board meetings — in short, the myriad of things we do in living our lives together –where we can grow together in love?
Where are you?
As I left Mickey D’s after quickly consuming my burger, I went to my friend and greeted him once more. He smiled, and he stopped working. Looking at him, I was sure that for him, I was the only person in the room. He smiled. I told him it was good to see him, and I looked forward to seeing him on Sunday. He said okay. He then turned to his co-workers to introduce me. He wanted them to know me, to celebrate me as he was celebrating. “This is my pastor. I like him,” he told them. We hugged again, and then we took this picture. I sure am looking forward to seeing him at the Friendship class on Sunday.
A few minutes later, I was driving back to the office, and I began to reflect. The past few months have been hard, and Lord knows there is a mountain of work awaiting me. Yet, for a moment, God had set aside, God had appointed a time for me and my friend to get together and share a space for love’s witness. I’m unsure of what the future holds, but if it is anything like today, all of it has been worth it.
Thanks be to God!