By Daniel Schantz
“I left you a little treat for breakfast,” my wife says, as she passes my study door, on her way to the grocery store.
“Thanks, Hon!” I am doing my morning devotions. When my stomach begins to rumble, I wander into the kitchen and sit at the table. Sharon has set out an odd assortment of items, including a big bowl of white flour, a smaller bowl with three raw eggs in it, two cups of sugar, a cup of cold butter, a glass of lemon juice, and a glass of milk.
“Hmm,” I say to myself, “This is an odd treat.”
OK, I’m lying, but only a little bit. What my wife really left me was a generous slice of lemon cake. The individual ingredients of a cake are not very appetizing, but when they are blended together and baked at 350 degrees, something magical happens. A delicious confection comes into being, because a cake is more than the sum of its parts.
Church members are like the ingredients of a cake. Some of them are as sweet as sugar, others as sour as lemons. Some are as flat as flour, others as rich as butter. A few members may be as unappealing as raw eggs, but others are as refreshing as cold milk.
Yet, when all these members come together for fellowship on Sunday, something mysterious happens. Their interaction “bakes” them into something wonderful.
Here are the ingredients of fellowship:
I’m on the road most weekends; my wife a “worship widow.” So, when I am in town and go with her to church, I have a lot of catching up to do on relationships, and it sounds like this:
“Who is that skinny woman with Robert?*” I whisper to Sharon, during the prelude.
“The blond? That’s his wife. She just lost 30 pounds.”
“They are married?”
“Hon, they have been married for years, they have three children, you knew that.”
“I did? Well, where is that old man I like, I think his name was Henry.”
“Henry died 10 years ago, Danny.”
“Sweetheart, you were a pallbearer. Think!”
“Oh, yeah, now I remember. Well, who is the tall man with the big Adam’s apple, looks like Ichabod Crane?”
“I don’t know. We need to get acquainted with him.”
I see church people all week long, around town. I saw Rita at the bank and Roger at the hardware store, but when they come to church I see them as a married couple, and they are still holding hands, after all these years. Only now I think it’s to keep from falling down.
Some of the relationships I see at church surprise me. Like those two women who always sit together. They are like a lion and a lamb. The one is as sweet as honey, the other will snap your head off, but they get along perfectly in church, a tribute to their faith.
A long-haired man is serving me Communion. Not until I see the tattoos on his arm do I recognize him as that guy who rides a motorcycle around town. That must be his girlfriend, in the leather jacket. I never thought I would see them in church.
All these relationships become visible when members assemble for church. Church is a kind of “group photo,” where we can see everyone in one place.
“Friendships have to be warmed up, now and then,” my wife reminds me, “or people will drift apart.”
She’s right, of course. I know how fragile friendships can be.
The other day I saw an old friend at a rummage sale, and I was teasing him about his hair loss. He just glared at me and said nothing. All week long I wondered if I had offended him. Today I see his wife at church. “I hope I didn’t offend your husband when I was teasing him at the rummage sale.”
She laughs. “ No, no, you couldn’t offend him. He’s losing his hearing, he told me he didn’t hear a word you said.”
I am relieved. Sure enough, I see him in the hallway, on my way to Sunday school, and he is as friendly as ever, but I secretly vow to watch my words more carefully next time.
Strolling through the hallways, I shake hands with all kinds of people, and a handshake is like an electrical connection with people, a kind of interfacing. An elderly woman’s hand is limp and cold, from poor circulation. It reminds me how lucky I am to be strong and healthy. Silently, I pray for her health. The hand of a beautiful brunette is warm and soft, but now my hand smells of Jergens Natural Glow Moisturizer, and I will have to explain that later. A grinning, 300-pound farmer grabs my hand with a bone-crunching grip. Did I say I was strong? Suddenly I feel as weak as the old woman.
Each handshake is a little physical reunion that says, “I am glad we are still friends.”
This morning the church foyer looks like a hospital emergency room. Two church members have their arms in slings from shoulder surgery. A young man is on crutches because of a soccer accident. An elderly woman in a wheelchair has a bandaged foot, and an old man is sitting off to the side, trying to put new batteries in his hearing aid, but his eyes are worse than his ears, and he keeps dropping the batteries. His pretty granddaughter comes to his rescue.
My friend Jack passes me and doesn’t speak. It’s so unlike him to snub anyone.
“What’s wrong with Jack?” I ask Sharon, and she gives me the look that says, “Think.” And then I remember his cancer diagnosis, and I go after him, putting my hand on his shoulder.
“I’m so sorry about your diagnosis,” I say.
At first he shrugs it off, almost cavalier about it. But then it all comes out in torrents . . . the shock, the anger, the anxiety, the bewilderment, the despair. And then that wonderful sense of humor bubbles up, and I know he will be OK.
In truth, all of us here are wounded from a week of spiritual battles. If we could see these wounds, everybody here would be covered with bandages.
Here, at church, we can find sympathy and healing. The radiation of affection and the chemo of compassion are powerful medicines.
I like to sit in the church foyer and just watch people coming and going. They are so interesting!
Children are the best . . . little perpetual-
motion machines, with springs for feet. Three little girls are practicing their ballet skills in the hallway.
“I can remember when I was that flexible,” an old woman quips, but her friend replies, “Well, your memory is failing you, because you were never flexible about anything.” They laugh.
A teenaged boy is toting a Bible Bowl trophy his team won. He shows it to everyone, with a proper pride, and I wish more young people today had his sense of values.
Three home-schooled boys are “working the room,” shaking hands and charming everyone, dispelling the myth of “weird home schoolers.”
A well-fed man is passing around a box of chocolate chip cookies his wife made. He couldn’t be more popular if he was giving out gold doubloons.
The elderly are quiet heroes. Once they were the energy and leadership of this church—the teachers, the elders, the deacons, the big givers. One of them was a minister of this very church. Now they are just look-alike grayheads, and the young have no idea who they are. But without these elderly ladies and gentlemen, this church would not even be here.
I think of church as a serious place, so I am amazed at how much laughter I hear. People stand around in clusters, and every few seconds a grenade of laughter goes off in a group. It’s contagious, and I find myself laughing at their laughter.
As Sharon and I head for the front door, I am smiling, still laughing inside, and it feels good.
This morning I came to church for the meal—the Lord’s Supper.
I also enjoyed a thick and juicy sermon, and Sunday school was a tasty salad bar.
That was dessert.
*All names are fictitious
Daniel Schantz is professor emeritus at Central Christian College of the Bible in Moberly, Missouri.