Standing in the church kitchen, cup of lukewarm coffee in my hand, I glanced at the child-care bulletin board. What I learned in 60 seconds: “Max cannot have milk.” “Libby cannot have peanuts.” “Carson cannot have chicken nuggets.” Scribbled notations—the live voices of parents pleading for attention and help from our staff.
The microwave hummed while a thought played in my mind: “Here are serious, well-intentioned restrictions that apply to the children we care for. What if we typed out a list like that for the members of our congregation?”
Jeff may not have unsupervised Internet time. And that goes for you too, Tara. (Good grief, Tara, what were you thinking?)
Tim and Mary, cut up your credit card. Mildred cannot spend her afternoons at the casino. Memo to Brenna, age 12: you may not have a TV in your bedroom. Brian can’t spend summers with his father anymore. Carrie can no longer be trusted to go south on spring break. Michael must not be left alone with kids. Jackie needs to seek out friends who are nonsmokers.
Caley simply should not be home alone for three hours after school. If Glenn is stopped by the cops once more he goes to prison. James has a little problem saying no to a poker game. Michelle has this idea that Americans have an inalienable right to a new car and a new house at age 26.
Stevie needs to branch out and not spend most of the day in a room by himself with a guitar. Paul should discard the phone number of a sports bookie he keeps in his pocket. Kate should find other friends; her current circle of theater acquaintances is tilted pro-gay. John doesn’t do well in the freedom of a quiet house and cable movie channels. No one may count Sunday’s offering by himself anymore. Curtis just needs to be away from firearms.
Remind Ryan to attend church; he’s going places . . . too bad church is not one of them. Of all people, it was Marlene who asked whether it would be wrong to share an apartment with her friend Len “to save money and be a good steward.” Carlos spends untold hours wrapped up in violent video games. Jenny says, “I am 21 years old. I can’t use alcohol. I’ve had no success drinking in moderation.”
Congregational life is like family life. In its ongoing conversation of love, we don’t lack for bitter lessons and subsequent prescriptions: “Learned from painful experience.” “Not equal to the challenge.” “Couldn’t handle the responsibility.” “Proven herself untrustworthy.” “Too much freedom.”
You, believer, are an heir of God and a co-heir with Christ (Romans 8:17). You will inherit all your Father possesses. You do have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. You and I are restricted to what will help our neighbor: Love one another. Be devoted to one another. Honor one another. Submit to one another. Bear with one another in love. Accept one another. Instruct one another. Encourage one another. Admonish one another. Spur one another on. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
Before God, I am free. Before my neighbors, I am restricted. I live in Christ by faith and in my neighbors by love. Modify your behavior to serve your neighbors according to their needs.
Living Hope Lutheran Church, Omaha, NE