My mother was a teacher and when my brother and I were children we lived off her salary plus several credit cards. My Grandfather, a retired truck driver, helped us get our three-bedroom ranch house by co-signing the mortgage. His pension and social security gave him a nice income to pay his share, go to the track and Atlantic City once or twice a week. Our cars were leased or used, my mother and I shared a bedroom, but there was enough. After my parent’s rocky divorce and a winter with no heat but plenty of fish stick dinners, “enough” was the imaginable ceiling for us of what a family could want.
There was one exception to this unspoken understanding. Every December when the strange guys in Santa suits started ringing bells and standing by metal buckets at the entrance to grocery stores my Grandfather never passed one without throwing the change in his pocket into the can. We all knew why.
Holding court at the kitchen table Granddad told the story many times of when he went “bumming” during the Great Depression looking for work. Once, when he jumped off a box car the wind blew and he realized that the back of his already threadbare pants had worn out completely, instantly changing his status from “bum” to “indecent bum”. Walking into town as discretely as possible, he saw a Salvation Army Hall with a meeting going. Like any street wise kid would, Granddad snuck in the back of the Hall and when he thought the coast was clear he stole a pair of pants. On his way out the door he was met by on old woman who said “You don’t need to steal those, son. Put them on and come back in for a meal.”
This story was a source of romance and mystery. Without the Salvation Army it might never have occurred to me that there was an another option in life besides trying to get along and have enough. There’s also option “B”: throw your lot in with other people who aren’t even your biological family and share. But how to try that out and where to begin?
The answer didn’t come till years later when I started going to church: that bizarre collection of accountants, homeless people, nurses, bikers, reggae singers and retired postal workers who clearly wouldn’t have chosen or found each other any other way.
A cranky retired business man at one of my churches once looked up after reading the Beatitudes out loud during a Bible study and exclaimed: “This is the most ridiculous thing I ever heard!” It’s true. Jesus says things that sound impractical at best and impossible at worst about storing up treasures in heaven, giving to everyone who asks, loving the next person who comes your way no matter how weird and treating them as if they were God in the flesh.
But just like the apostles, some people are haunted by Jesus and can’t seem to help it. Once in a while they’re good people but usually they’re a mix, (like me and probably you,) and they just keep trying to follow Jesus, however haltingly, away from the silos of their immediate families, office cubicles and fishing boats. That’s because the ridiculous things Jesus says makes their hearts ache for the world that could be that he promised one day will be. And we all wind up at church because somehow, in the corny/ exquisite mix of pot lucks, communion wafers, winter sock drives and Gospel processions, the church gives out sample tastes of everlasting life..
Stewardship season begins this Sunday at Grace and ends with a celebration on Sunday, November 12th. You’ll be asked to make a financial pledge for 2018 which is less about bill paying (even though we do have bills) and more about throwing in your lot with the strange, holy, chosen, group of unlikely people that is Grace Church Van Vorst. Making a pledge is just leaning more into the world our hearts long for where people share and find there is enough.
I hope Grace Church Van Vorst’s 2018 witness in Jersey City works for God’s purpose like the weird guys in Santa Suits ringing bells for the Salvation Army; causing anyone who is searching, curious or lost to suspect there might be another way to live other than just getting by.
Your sister in Christ,