Some years ago, in an effort to both broaden my horizons and get away from the church office, I decided to boldly go where I had never gone before: I signed up for an adult woodworking class at the local high school.
I am pleased to tell you the experience was a positive one; not only did I emerge several months later with all my fingers still intact, I actually built a fairly decent nightstand that still graces our bedroom. I can also say, looking back at it now, that I was probably one of the slowest moving woodworkers you’ll ever find. You know that old adage about measuring twice to cut once? For me, it was more like measuring a half-dozen times to then ponder whether it was time to actually make the cut! Even the instructor, who in retrospect was incredibly patient and not at all unkind, would regularly ask, “Are you still working on that?” But that was alright, because I was learning something new, and while I’ll never be confused with a skilled furniture maker there was a certain satisfaction in taking the time to do everything well and in good order.
Take glue, for instance. Early on in the process, I discovered that wood glue is powerful stuff. Correctly applied, it can give several diverse scraps of wood the look and strength of a solid block; it bonds joints and panels in such a way that they’ll stand together firm and as one piece of furniture. Too much glue, and it’ll get drippy and gloppy, and even stain the wood; too little and the whole project falls apart on you. I discovered that such considerations are crucial to success, and a good carpenter will instinctively know the proper combination of glue, pressure and drying time to keep everything together.
Actually, much the same thing can be said about many people I’ve come to know in my “day job” as a church pastor. For instance, many years ago I was asked to lead a memorial service for an elderly woman who was the matriarch of a large and extended family, most of whom still lived in the community. The very fact that this group would be gathering for such a service was something of a concern, as it was well known that there were a lot of unresolved issues within that family; festering conflicts and lingering grudges had long divided them and could easily flare up given the strain of the moment. As I recall, even the funeral director expressed worry as to what might happen when this entire clan ended up in the same room!
Our worries, however, were unfounded, because over the next several days the family rallied and supported one another in a way that surprised nearly everyone; none more so than the family members themselves! One of the grandsons, however, understood perfectly, and explained it to me. “This is all because of Grammie,” he said. “No matter what else has gone on in this family, Grammie was the one who always loved every one of us, and did everything in her power to make sure we knew it.” He went on to tell of the countless cards and letters she’d written to family members over the years; the words of encouragement that were offered at vital moments; the unconditional (and non-judgmental)love that she expressed time and time again. They might not always have been able to get along with each other, but they always knew they were connected to one another because of her love and care. “She was the glue that held this family together,” he said with a tear in his eye.
It was a glorious example of how what people do in faith and out of love, however small and seemingly unnoticed, so often turns out to be of vital importance. This is a truth that is revealed again and again in the gospels as Jesus sought to explain the nature of the coming Kingdom of God. A mustard seed that grows into “the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree?” (Matt. 16:32) More seeds that when strewn upon the soil will yield a hundredfold harvest? The smallest portion of yeast that will leaven a huge amount of flour? (v. 33) An impossible scenario, until you consider the grace of God and how very expansive God’s will and purpose is for our lives and the world!
But did you notice? In each of these examples, as in so many of Jesus’ parables, there’s someone “behind the scenes” doing the work. Yes; there’s the man who takes the mustard seed and plants it in the soil, caring for it and nurturing it so it might grow; here’s the woman who mixes the yeast into the flour, stirring it and turning it and kneading the dough so it will rise. I like to think that Jesus includes these details as a small but profound reminder that while God is bringing forth the miracle, you and I still have a part in what’s taking place; and that by our actions we can either be instruments of grace, or stumbling blocks of hope. As disciples of Jesus, the choice is ours; but one that makes all the difference as to the final result.
My point is this: when we do “do the work” of the kingdom, in whatever shape and form that ministry takes, we’ve become like… glue! By his Holy Spirit, God is working through you and me to hold things together and to keep things strong for the sake of the Kingdom, so that God’s purpose might be fulfilled in and through our lives and living. It’s also, I might add, what keeps the church vital and strong in these changing times.
Over the years I have found that our churches are filled with folks who are “the glue that holds it all together.” And as a pastor, I shall be forever grateful; for these are the people in the congregation who are always out there, quietly and unheralded, doing the work that needs to be done so that we can be the church we’re called to be in the community and in the world. It might not seem to us at first glance that routine tasks like raking and clearing out brush, changing light bulbs in the sanctuary chandelier, or folding and stuffing worship bulletins on a Saturday afternoon can possibly further the Kingdom of God; yet it’s precisely such small acts of love and service, along with the fellowship that grows from the shared effort, that not only binds the life of a congregation together but also builds important ministries in Jesus’ name.
Granted, as I found in building that night stand, it’ll often take time and a few false starts to get it right and to “do ministry” in an effective way; but that’s alright. After all, we’re all still learning what it takes to do the work of the Kingdom; and when you’ve got the glue to hold it all together, with ample help from the Creator himself, eventually it’ll be solid enough to stand strong.
c. 2013 Rev. Michael W. Lowry