Originally posted October 12, 2011, at sinibaldo.wordpress.com. Republished with permission of the author.
On Saturday, October 1, 2011, we attended a concert given by a boys choir in the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, Germany, listening to music Johann Sebastian Bach created generations before. The church was magnificent and filled to the brim.
The literature says the church can seat about 1,400, but I am willing to bet with all the people standing by the doors and aisles attendance was closer to 2,000. Our friends, Soenke and Cornelia, whose wedding we would attend the following day, invited us to hear this internationally renowned choir.
What I did not know about this concert in advance was that it was also a church service — so scripture was read, followed by a sermon, and I thought to myself:
“How cool. Here we are in secular Germany, where statistically less than 4 percent of people go to church, and our friends, good Lutherans that they are, brought us here to witness this amazing thing. In addition, here is a church full of people who came of their own accord — without gimmicks or threats, and are hearing God’s word proclaimed in Scripture, sermon, song and prayer and (for the most part) have smiles on their faces doing it.”
During one of the hymns we got to sing (which was also pretty awesome), a little girl who was sitting behind me walked into the aisle and then approached me. I looked at her and smiled.
A few minutes later (during the sermon) she approached me again; this time handing me her bulletin which she had folded into a paper hat. I thanked her and smiled and turned around. Her dad gave me a head nod, and she went back to her seat.
When the concert was over and we stood to exit, I noticed this girl was fast asleep on her father’s shoulder.
We exited the church and I thanked my friend for inviting us to take part in something so beautiful. He talked a little about Bach and the church and that he had the afternoon planned with tours of the city and dinner at his favorite restaurant.
I told him how impressed I was to see a packed church of that size on a Saturday afternoon. He nodded.
A missed opportunity
Then I asked, “So what was the sermon about?”
Soenke replied, “It was a disaster. She asked everybody what it means to be happy and then went into some popular sayings about feeling good.”
“Oh,” I said, with a sinking feeling in my belly. “That’s too bad. This was an opportunity to give people something good — about faith.”
“Exactly. Many people do not go to church normally and the pastor could have given them something to take with them.”
Then I told him the story of the girl with the paper hat. Soenke smiled.
“You heard a better sermon I think,” he said.
Sometimes we try so hard that we miss the opportunities we are given.
Sometimes we see our historic faith as a liability in a modern/post-modern society that moves on a much quicker pace and wants something new every minute.
Sometimes we do our best to read the culture or reach out to where people are in their lives that we forget to share what we are as people of faith and why that matters.
Sometimes people will simply show up, and the question we are left with is, “What will we give them to take with them?”
Sometimes a child handing a paper hat to a stranger who does not speak the language says more than the best crafted sermon ever can.
I hope we hear that sermon and live it well.
P.S. My paper hat now sits in the display case in my study. I took it with me.
Find a link to Geoff Sinibaldo’s entry at sinibaldo.workpress.com at Lutheran Blogs.