I Was Surprised Anyone Showed Up

Until she explained why she was there.

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Our community ministerial association is hosting outdoor services every Tuesday of Lent at noon in a neighborhood park just off the downtown square.

It is an idyllic space. An open field surrounded by picnic benches, a playground, and a covered stage pavilion.

When you think of quaint, small-town outdoor events, Dahlonega’s Hancock Park is what enters your mind’s eye. Some have compared the setting to the town center on Gilmore Girls. 😁

This week was my turn to deliver the Lenten homily. The entire service is short – just 30 minutes. A welcome and a few announcements. A prayer, a song, an offering. Then the message followed by a closing hymn.

Last week was the first of our services in the park. It was sunny and 70 degrees. Perfect weather for such a gathering. The turn-out was great, too. As one might expect.

Things were not as perfect for my Tuesday. Overcast and in the low 40s, it felt much colder.  

As noon approached, I wondered if anyone not officially connected to the service would show up. I probably wouldn’t if I were not preaching.

About a quarter to 12:00, an older gentleman with a wool cap and camp chair claimed his spot in the middle of the field. It wasn’t like there would be much competition for the best seats. For ten minutes, he sat alone.

Then a woman wrapped in a down puff jacket and several scarves showed up and popped open her folding chair. Every 30 seconds or so, someone else would wander in and get situated. A couple here, a couple there. A few sat on the picnic benches on the outskirts covering themselves with a blanket.

By the time we were into the second stanza of It is Well, there were over twenty people sitting in the cold to sing and pray and listen.

Why were they there? What would cause someone to show up for a community worship service on such an unpleasant day?

Nobody was taking roll. Those present would understand if others decided not to attend. There would be next week and the next to punch that card.

In the lull before the service started, a friend shared with me about her family and asked for prayer. While she didn’t use the exact words, the reason why she came became clear.

“I need this.”

Wherever and whenever the gospel is proclaimed, the thirsty will find it.

If it takes gospel dehydration to make you desperate enough to sit in 40-degree weather to drink deeply of the good news, so be it.

I’m with her. I need this.

I need to hear of the Father’s grace again and again. I need to hear about Jesus. His kindness, mercy, grace, and love. I need to be reminded of the cross. And that Jesus lives and reigns right now.  

Maybe I was surprised that folks showed up because I forget how the gospel works.

Grace is not for the self-sufficient and satisfied. It is for the thirsty, the weary. It is for the beggar who hungers for even the smallest morsel. When that crumb is from the Bread of Life, I’ll endure far worse conditions, as none could compare to what Jesus endured for me.

Oh, that we may eat and drink of his mercy, flowing from the cross to give life, and light, warmth, and hope to sinners who will just come. And be reminded. One. More. Time.  

That I need this.

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