Jason Myers offered this commentary during the May1, 2011 Day1 program:
“I can only help for a few more minutes, and then I’ll need to leave and go to church.” This statement was made in Green Valley, Arizona, a community consisting mostly of retired Anglo residents about forty minutes north of the Mexico border. It was uttered by a man who was kind and generous, and part of an organization called the Green Valley Samaritans, who consider it their mission to tend to the needs of migrants who have crossed over from Mexico and been walking in the Sonora desert for several days. A young man who had gotten lost in the midst of this dangerous wilderness was discovered by a couple of the Green Valley Samaritans. In response to this confession of ecclesial obligation, the other Samaritan said, “David, this is church.”
This reminded me of something I once heard my pastor say in a sermon: “Church is not really about church.” A dangerous idea for someone whose very livelihood and sense of divine calling hinges on the sustainability of church to express – I nodded my ‘hallelujah.’ How can someone who is taking care of his neighbor – the least of these Jesus calls our attention to in Matthew 25 – think he must set aside his ministry in order to go to a particular building and sing particular hymns?
I do not mean to disparage hymns, nor to say that houses of worship do not serve vital, crucial roles in our lives. Often a sanctuary can be the only sanctuary some of us find. I once was lost. I moved to Atlanta in the summer of 2008 and had no idea what I was doing. I came with a broken heart, a lot of debt, a master’s degree (in poetry) that had little cache in any professional fields, and few connections. I did have some very good friends living here, including one who suggested we meet one Sunday at Ebenezer. Having long admired, and read somewhat extensively about, the life and ministry of Martin Luther King, I was happy at this idea. Still, I didn’t think of myself as a religious man, and I expected to attend a single service and tell friends and family I’d been to Dr. King’s church. God thought otherwise. At the Methodist seminary I now attend, we often hear John Wesley’s famous Aldersgate words referring to his ‘heart strangely warmed.’ That Sunday my heart was not warmed. It was set on fire. It melted into Christ. I went back the next week. And the next. I had been so lost I did not know what I needed in my life. I needed the cross.
There is a guest house just outside Port au Prince called the Matthew 25 House. An 80 year-old nun who has more energy now than I do at 30 runs the joint. She serves the men and women who come from all over the world to experience the beautiful and jubilant and heartbreaking place that is Haiti, and she serves the hundreds of women and men and children who have lived in tents since the earthquake of January 2010. She has coffee on by 5 in the morning, and sells arts and crafts made by local painters and artisans all afternoon. She leads prayers at the communal supper, and sells Prestige, the delicious Haitian lager, until midnight. How does she do it?
What would we do without that church, the Matthew 25 House? Haitian painters would lack a place to sell their inspired and haunting canvases. Doctors from Duke would need to find somewhere else to sleep between free clinics. Life-changing conversations would be lost. What would we do without that church, the Green Valley Samaritans? Our sisters and brothers would die in the desert (as they are doing, but perhaps in greater numbers), never knowing there are some who love them as Christ loves them. Future ministers might feel hopeless without such shining examples, seeing only evidence of despair. What would we do without that church, Ebenezer Baptist Church? Let us not entertain such bleak thoughts. Let us go into the house of the Lord, which the author of Hebrews might remind us is everywhere, everywhere.