Saturday night, when my work on Sunday’s sermon stalled-out and my mind had gotten stale, I walked from my office over to the city park, found a place to sit in the grass, and soaked up the sights and sounds of “Shindig on the Green.” I was pretty far back from the stage, so the music was hard to hear; but it wasn’t hard to hear the laughter of children, who were running in and out of the crowd, and the bright chatter of friends who were glad for the cool breeze and a break from their routines.
I was amaze by how diverse the crowd was: young and old—very young and very old. There were white collar, blue collar, no collar, and even dog-collar people. People clothed in all black, with tattoos and piercings covering their bodies, sat alongside people in overalls and bright cotton dresses. There were apparently rich and pretty obviously poor.
There were people who knew a lot about the traditional mountain music they were hearing, and people who knew not much at all. But no one was going around conducting tests about how much people knew or asking for commitments to the music. The people who staged the festival trusted that the music itself, well played and graciously offered, would do its own inviting and generate its own commitments.
That diverse crowd at Shindig is in contrast with the congregation that gathers in the congregation I serve. We’re more diverse than we look, but not nearly as diverse as the community in which our church is located.
There was something about Shindig that made everyone feel welcome and glad to be there.
When we who follow Jesus are most like him, there is something about us, too—something that makes everyone feel welcomed and included. We freely play the music Jesus is teaching us—the music of love and joy—and it reaches out to all kinds of people—to everyone.
Everyone, including people who struggle and are uncertain. Everyone, including people who are searching and seeking. Everyone, including people it is hard for some of us to accept. Everyone.
Our town is filled with spiritual seekers. They, we, have a hunger for God, even when we don’t know that it’s God for which we are hungry. That hunger shows up as a desire to live a life that is worth living and makes a difference; as a craving for wonder and mystery; as a gnawing need for forgiveness; as the feeling that we ought to say thanks; and, most of all, as a longing for love. These are pangs from our primal, sometimes unconscious, hunger for God, the hunger that has so many people searching.
The church can be a place where people who search, seek, question and wonder know they are welcomed and where they can find help and hope for their quest. It can be, at least, when the Spirit of Jesus is the spirit of the church.