When 40,000 cars drive past your church’s campus every 24 hours, you know that there will be opportunities to meet people.
That statistic was among the first things I was told about our congregation’s location after being assigned to a mission restart on Long Island, N.Y. Our campus is located more or less dead center on the island, right at the intersection of a main north-south artery and the Long Island Expressway, or “LIE.” (The joke we tell around here is that the lie in LIE is “express.” At rush hour, it resembles the world’s largest parking lot.)
Forty thousand cars a day; close to a million people within a twenty minute driving radius; certainly there’s opportunity for us to meet people! So we put out some new roadside banners and cleaned up our roadside landscaping; we put out a big clothing donation bin; and we pop out for every flat tire that pulls into our parking lot (probably three a week) with a water, a smile, and an invitation to church.
There’s other opportunities to meet people, of course! There’s street fairs and festivals every weekend from June to September, where smiling people from a small, friendly local church can hand out some frisbees and tote bags and. . . you guessed it. . . an invitation to church.
And when you’ve taken all these opportunities to meet people that present themselves, the funny thing is, you end up meeting people!
You meet people who’ve been in church all their lives and people who’ve never darkened the door. You meet people whose home lives are very buttoned up and neat, and people whose home lives are anything but. You meet people who want to ask every question under the sun, and you meet people who fear the sound of their own voice. You meet people who are happy, who are sad, who are kind, and some who aren’t.
And with the eyes that our Savior gives you – eyes like his own eyes – you love them. “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them” (Matthew 14:14).
New Yorkers are busy. Every time I leave our island, I see how much more slowly everyone else lives life. Not New Yorkers. Our lives are fast-paced, and our days are full. And being that busy, we don’t always interact well with one another. The caricature of New Yorkers (“I’m walkin’ here!”) isn’t terribly inaccurate. We’re “peopled out.” It can be hard to love at every opportunity when you can easily bump shoulders with hundreds of strangers on a normal day.
But it’s what makes Christians stand out.
New Yorkers guard their affection. It’s doled out sparingly. But the love God puts in our hearts, as his children, doesn’t need to be guarded and measured. We let it spill out, out our front doors and into our commutes and our workplaces, our schools and our supermarkets, and into every interaction we have. Why? Because while we may have new opportunities to meet people every day, we just can’t be sure how many opportunities any one of us has left.
Maybe 40,000 cars don’t drive by your church by every day. Maybe you don’t see new people on every trip to the supermarket. Maybe it doesn’t feel like the same opportunities exist for you to show love. But I promise you, and more importantly, God promises you: They do.
Written by Rev. Timothy Walsh, serving Grace of God Lutheran Church in Dix Hills, N.Y.
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