"Then he saw a poor widow..." Luke 21:2
This Sunday and next we will look at a couple stories where Jesus noticed people others around him didn't: a poor widow who contributed her last two coins in the temple treasury, and next Sunday a blind beggar in Jericho. This was typical of Jesus. The people who caught his eye were often folks others, including his own disciples, could walk past without giving any attention.
It reminds me of an old Carol Burnett skit where she meets a friend in a restaurant. She's withdrawn and depressed, complaining that no one notices her. The friend thinks she is just being silly. Then the waiter comes and takes the friend's order and walks away as if she wasn't even sitting there. The same happens with the person filling the water glass. From there it gets even sillier as people run into her, bump her, and try to lay things on her chair as if she's not there. There is perhaps nothing more dehumanizing than not to be noticed. On the other hand, there are few things more life-giving than to be recognized.
This is often the number one reaction from people after visiting a church. They may come wondering about the worship or the people or the programs, but when they leave, the impression they carry away is whether people noticed them. This is part of the mission of the church everyone of us shares - helping people feel noticed. How different would your Sunday be if you made it a mission to notice people, particularly those others might be walking past? Sometimes this gets awkward. We worry about offending someone. What if we treat someone like a visitor when they've been in St. Luke's longer than we have?
Let me offer one of the most brilliant questions I've learned for dealing with this situation. "Excuse me. I don't believe we've met before." Now I don't mean to be patronizing in suggesting that, but honestly, this little question avoids assuming anything about a person's time in the church. Perhaps it will be a chance to get to know a fellow member. If nothing more than a name is shared, then a follow up question might reveal much more, "How long have you been coming to St. Luke's?" From there it's easy sailing. If someone is new to the church you might ask, "How have you found it so far?" You may end up being the very reason someone comes back again.
I have found when I work at noticing people in church, I can't help but start noticing people away from church, and when I do that I frequently experience God's presence.
The center of the Christian faith is that God so loved the world He sent his son. God didn't send instructions, texts, emails or messages in the clouds. He sent a person. We experience God in relationship. I have found an interesting relationship in my life between times when I feel disconnected from God and my distance from people. When I tend to isolate, I grow cold in my faith. The closer I stay to people, and particularly noticing those who might need a word of welcome, encouragement or support, I find God's presence more real and providing the same blessings to me.
I have encountered all kinds of churches in my life, and about the only common denominator I have witnessed in churches that are alive is the radical way they notice people. Let's make it our mission to see that no one ever goes unnoticed at St. Luke's!