June 26, 2008

Bow Ties and Blessings

There is something about a sanctuary full of Presbyterians all (well, mostly all) donning bow ties that endears a pastor to his new church. Some were diminutive and others cumbersome; lots of clip-ons and yet a few really tied; most homemade just for the occasion, with a few dug out of the closet after many years. It was quite a sight: bow ties everywhere, as far as the eye could see. One young man was proud to report later that the tie he was handed at the door actually matched his summer shirt. Terrific.

It was a gutsy move, I suspect. Would the new pastor be blessed or bothered by this sweeping gesture? What will he think about us, clipped-on as we are? Will he get the joke, or will the joke be on us?

I can only speak for myself: Immediately, it was a blessing. What a gracious gesture, to reach out in my direction in fun and in love. What a brave decision, to take the lead is expressing a warm 'hello.' Some would have waited to see who made the first move; many would have held back until it was safe to advance. But a room full of bow-tie-wearing Presbyterians says much about a congregation's willingness to risk, to reach out, to bless and not to burden. (After all, it takes a person of unusual fortitude to don a bow tie!)

Isaiah 6: Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out."

Bow ties remind me of blessings, and God making the first move.

We are saved and so we serve a God who has deliberately reached out and whole-heartedly made the first move; by a free act of grace, crossed the otherwise un/natural divide between us in order that we might be cleansed, claimed, and called. This is a God who does not wait for us to make a first move, does not hold back mercy until the merciless are merciful, does not avoid the risk of reaching out and lifting up. The seraph flies in our direction before ever we had wings for reciprocation. "We love," 1 John rightly concludes, "because God first loved us."

Bow ties and blessings, then. A congregation reaching out in a gracious gesture of welcome; the living God reaching out in a saving act of coal-cleansing mercy. The former, a great gift to this new pastor in a new place and among a new people. The latter: undeserving and undergirding life abundant for us all.

Thanks be to God for both.