The church I attend has a massive presence in the quiet residential neighborhood that surrounds it. Built in 1927, the brown brick building with the bulky Gothic Revival tower occupies almost an entire city block. It houses a soaring sanctuary that seats 1,600 people and was the largest auditorium space in the city for decades in the mid-20th century.
These days about 160 parishioners attend services. The congregation is still vital, but demographic changes have left plenty of empty pew space. I love to slip into the sanctuary midweek for quiet reflection. Glowing amber windows, discreet burgundy carpet, dark pews, pale walls—the space fairly reeks of sacred.
The demons are downstairs, in the fellowship hall. These are not the “unclean spirits” that Jesus vanquished. They are modern devils—habits and diseases and addictions that bring together people seeking to escape the destructive forces that are preying on them and to wrest back control of their lives.
People in 12-step recovery programs pay about a thousand visits a week to the church. The people downstairs rarely come to services on Sundays (though they are welcome), but they create their own worship each time they gather. They forge the bonds with one another that allow them to get in touch with their own healing reality. They are not the only people who use our building. We host a food pantry, a winter farmers market, election polling, large community meetings, and most recently a prom for LGBTQ+ high schoolers. I am in awe of how people moved by their steadfast faith in Jesus more than ninety years ago built this building so that later generations could find healing and spiritual health. The words of the psalmist come to mind: “Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.”
Show your goodness, O Lord, to those who are good and to those who are true in heart. Amen.
It is sometimes an uncomfortable subject for many, but God does have ethical standards. The author of Proverbs declares that those who act unjustly, particularly if they oppress the poor, will provoke God’s judgment. The psalmist repeats the refrain that God blesses the righteous but is not pleased with those who choose a consistent lifestyle of rebellion against God. James challenges us practically on this point. Do we judge people by their wealth or status? This is not from God. True faith shows no partiality and prompts action. Jesus models this in Mark when he heals two Gentiles. Jews and Gentiles generally remained separate (an ancient form of racism), but Jesus did not discriminate based on their ethnicity. He cared only about their hearts.
Read Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23. How has God shown you that there is no difference between persons who are rich and persons who are poor? How does this affect your actions?
Read Psalm 125. When have you seen righteousness in someone the community (or the church) has labeled “wicked”?
Read James 2:1-17. How do your works support your faith? How does your faith in God move you to action on behalf of others?
Read Mark 7:24-37. God calls us to love all our neighbors. How can you be a good neighbor to those your community has excluded?
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