Blessings in Christ
Christ Ministry Center was originally Christ United Methodist Church in Normal Heights. Over the years membership dwindled. The district was considering closing it down. Maintenance of the facility was costly and they only had about 20 members of the church left. Pastor Bill Jenkins decided to try something new. Rather than shut down, he began renting out portions of the facility to outside non-profit groups and other churches. Instead of closing the church and selling off the property, they became a ministry center. Twelve different congregations worship there and a variety of nonprofit groups have their offices at the center. I learned about Christ Ministry Center at annual conference one year. I was so intrigued by the idea that I decided to do my internship at the center to see how it worked.
Christ Ministry Center is open and active more than 12 hours a day, seven days a week. They offer free space to organizations that provide a service to the community. One of those is a free clinic run by the nursing school at Cal State San Marcos. A small church in Coronado partnered with the clinic to provide dinner to the staff of the clinic, the patients, and folks in the neighborhood who need a hot meal. This little church was providing dinner every Thursday. As the clinic became more popular, providing dinner each week become too costly for them. I started bringing dinner once a month and invited other Methodist churches to provide meals as well. I was excited to share this service opportunity with Linda Vista UMC. Last week it was our Thursday to provide dinner. What a wonderful meal we had. Teriyaki chicken and Chinese noodles, rice, fruit, and dessert. Everything was delicious. There was enough food for all, and enough to take some home. There are a few regulars at dinner. One of them is a woman named Lupita. Every time I see her she brings me groceries to help me provide food. She puts tremendous effort into collecting food from grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and other churches. She loads her stroller and wheels it over to various places to give food away.
On Thursdays, she wheels her stroller over to the center. Lupita is quite a character. She will tell you she has been collecting food for the homeless for 30 years. She has a husband, a son and a daughter. Her son is HIV positive and is very sick. Her daughter died last year. She was diabetic and alcoholic and had been very sick for a very long time. Lupita took care of her three grandchildren. At some point, the children were removed from her custody. Now they live with their father. Lupita gets to see them occasionally. She talks about them all the time. Lupita loves celebrating birthdays. She brings birthday cards and leftover cakes to celebrate. She loves to pray with people. Her prayers are full of personal concerns and references to current events. They don’t ask her to pray for dinner because she goes on too long. Once in awhile Lupita will sing for us. She sings when the Holy Spirit moves her. She sings of the power and love of God through the blood of Jesus Christ.
On any given day if you ask Lupita how she is, she will tell you that she is blessed. From the outside, it doesn’t look that way. She has no phone and she has no car. People make fun of her stroller, asking where the baby is. She explains that she uses the stroller like a walker. By using the stroller she can collect food from wherever she goes and give it to others. Some days the bus driver won’t let her on the bus with her stroller because it’s full of her junk. She’ll cry when she gets turned away, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. She has many physical ailments. She has diabetes, she has a problem with her wrist and her knee. In spite of all these worldly difficulties, she knows she is blessed. She knows that she is blessed because she is a child of God. She knows that life here is hard, but she finds comfort in the Kingdom of God that is not yet but still to come. She is in Christ.
When I read the scripture for today, I thought about Lupita. Today’s scripture wraps the entirety of our faith up in what was, in Greek, a single sentence. This passage gives us the big picture of our faith held together in one long sentence. The scripture begins by praising God our father and Jesus Christ. It then states that God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. “He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. From the beginning of time, God planned to adopt all of us. We were chosen to become God’s family. God adopted us.
God chose us, but I have a hard time with the idea of being chosen. It brings up bad memories for me. In elementary school, I was always the last one chosen when picking teams for sports. I knew if they didn’t have to choose me they wouldn’t. It made me sad and it made me sad for those, who like me, were among the last to be chosen. But the amazing part of God choosing us is that God chooses everyone. No one is left out. It doesn’t matter who we were or who we are, God adopts us to be among his children. Adoption implies that our being in God’s family was God’s choice. There is nothing we can do to be worthy of or to earn God’s election. We are already his.
Adoption was common back in the time Ephesians was written. Among the elite, it served the important function of providing for an heir if one had no children, or if one’s children died. The adopted person (who could be a child or an adult) gained social status through association with the parent’s social status. In the same way, a biological child would the adopted child benefitted from the social and political connections of their parent. They also gained wealth through their inheritance. In return, the adopted child honored the parent by taking the parent’s name and being loyal to them.
As adopted children of God through Christ, we gain the social status and wealth of our adopted parent, God. “God has so blessed us with every spiritual blessing.” How do we respond to such blessing, such grace, such love? A child of adoption honors the parent by taking the parent’s name and being loyal to them. God wants us to take God’s name and be loyal. According to the scripture, God wants us to praise His name and glorify him.
But that means more than praying and singing hymns We are called and privileged to glorify God, not just in singing and praying, not just in doing things we identify as “spiritual,” but also in every part of life, in every action, every thought, every feeling. Just think of how different your life might be if you began to think of glorifying God as the core purpose of everything.
Let us take a lesson from Lupita. We must have confidence in our inheritance from God and share it. We can share our inheritance through our praise and our worship and our very lives. I pray that together with our congregations will be loyal to God, our adopted parent, by discerning and responding to the call he has placed on our lives and our church.