I did not quite know what to make of the unusual visitors who quietly slipped into our sanctuary this morning. Frankly, the timing of their entrance disturbed me more than a little, and I was not alone. It was evident that the attention of our congregation was divided: seeking desperately to focus on the weighty and solemn thoughts I was sharing from the pulpit while attempting to ferret out what our furtive visitors were doing provided a dramatic script which demanded our utmost attention.
I felt compelled to begin our service by speaking to the unsettling and heartbreaking events which unfolded in Charlottesville, VA over the weekend. Even as I began to speak of the inherent evil which presents itself in every form of racism, quoting 1 John 4:19-2,
“We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, whoever loves God must also love his brother”
the back door slowly opened, revealing a young African-American girl and an African-American woman carrying a large, white plastic bag filled with something red. Their entrance was uncertain as they sat first in a pew near the back only to quickly make their way to the front of our venerable sanctuary. All ears were on me as I spoke of the challenge of racial reconciliation, but all eyes were on these two strangers who had come among us. Why were they here and what were they doing?
Please understand, people of color are welcomed among us with regularity, so it was not their color which demanded our attention. There were people of color already present in our sanctuary this morning; African-Americans, Latinos, Phillipinos, and Asians. Serving a church in a community which boasts two colleges affords our church family an unusual opportunity to engage with, and love, individuals from every corner of the world. Our church does not have a “spotless record” when it comes to race relations, few do, but we are increasingly known as a place where all are welcomed. But these two were an evident anomaly and the evident purpose of their presence remained a demanding mystery.
I carried on my denunciation of the evils of racism in places near and far and shared my personal horror at seeing this evil so clearly on display in our country. To help our church understand that this evil exists right outside our doors, I made known to them the difficulty which one of our dearly loved African-American members regularly encounters in our community, from both black and white, for daring to join the “white church.”
As I was sharing these thoughts, the purpose of our guests became clear.
They had come unannounced, and unexpected, to bless us.
Even as I stated that “racism is alive and well in Marion, and perhaps even among the hearts gathered here this morning,” these two beautiful saints began handing each person in our sanctuary a gorgeous rose. I continued to speak while they completed their joyful task and as they finished I invited those gathered to “stand and greet one another, acknowledging the presence of Christ among us.” The stunned joy was palpable.
No living man, woman, or child has ever seen the incarnate Christ; we don’t know what He looks like. However, I know for a fact, on this Lord’s day at Siloam Baptist Church in Marion, AL, He looked like a black woman and a young black girl handing out roses.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12