With almost Christmas or Easter-like attendance at yesterday’s St. James Presbyterian Church Preschool celebration, I left the service feeling grateful for all that God is doing here.
I wasn’t here in the beginning, when the Preschool was founded, but I am now, and I am grateful for the life that the Preschool’s children and their families breathe into this body day after day.
Yesterday’s worship service seemed to have it all. Preschool alumni, who live as far away as Pittsburgh, returned to say “thanks” to Jane Michaliszyn, who proudly serves as the Preschool’s one and only director in its now quarter-century long history, and her staff. Jane, the staff and their families were there to celebrate our mutual commitment to children, and there were Preschool families, some of whom are not all that Presbyterian, in attendance, too (along with the many wonderful people who come Sunday after Sunday and make St. James St. James).
Leading up to yesterday’s service, I fielded questions from Preschool families about how churchy the service would be. As I engaged these folks in conversation, it became clear to me: 1) that they are not interested in church membership (membership in any church really) 2) that they did not want any high pressure sales pitch from me and 3) that they are not in the market for any fire-and-brimstone preaching (as if I am even capable of that).
The Scripture readings for the service were set months ago when I committed to preach the Lectionary readings from 1 John during the festival of Easter. It wasn’t like God didn’t already know what was going to happen in the service. God always knows the sermons that I preach before I preach them. A sermon, after all, is often framed theologically as a “word” from the Lord.
Still, I believe that God speaks to us through our relationships, and as I discerned the tone for this past Sunday’s sermon, I gravitated toward the theme of love, which, as it turns out, does not lend itself to high pressure sales pitches or fire-and-brimstone preaching.
Love lends itself to warmth and laughter, and laughter, according to Anne Lamott, is “carbonated holiness.” Based on the congregation’s response to yesterday’s sermon, apparently, this sermon is among the funniest ones that I have ever preached. While, on one level, I hope that the sermon would be humorous enough to help people to experience God’s grace in the form of a little laughter, I did not expect the big belly-laughs that bubbled up from the preaching of this sermon.
Part of me wishes that I could be that funny every Sunday. Part of me is glad that I do not aspire to such lofty goals (as every actor I have ever known points out, comedy is more difficult than drama). I am grateful that self-deprecating stories help people to understand that pastors are people, too. I also am grateful that laughter lowers our defenses enough to hear what the Spirit says to the church even when one does not consider himself or herself a member of the church.
I hope that we, as a congregation, will think more and more about that which draws all people, but families with children in particular, into God’s ministry and mission with us. I pray that we will gravitate toward forms of ministry and mission that opens the church up to other people, especially children. Nothing fills up a place quite like the laughter of children does, and it’s even better when the laughter of adults is added to the chorus. In these moments, we are reminded that God is love and that God loves laughter at least as much as we do.