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This Place

By Dan Baumgartner on
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Jan 31 in Musings
At last Sunday’s Annual Meeting of the Congregation, Pastor Dan was slated to give a five minute “Word of Encouragement.”  What follows is a rough approximation of what he shared:
                                                            “This Place”
So the program for the meeting now says: A Word of Encouragement...which could be a ringing affirmation, or a push to move forward.  I’d like this to be both.
            This place. 

Hollywood.  Gower and Carlos.  Have you ever marveled over where we are?  If you have lived here for awhile, maybe you don’t even really see it anymore. Gower and Carlos. One block away from Hollywood Boulevard, and the walk of stars.  Historic theaters and buildings. In the shadow of the Hollywood sign- we’ve all seen photographs of the iconic sign, with the steeple and cross of Hollywood Presbyterian right below. We’re just a few blocks away from the Hollywood Hills, where the property values climb steeply the further up you go.

If you stroll down Hollywood Boulevard, you’ll hear every conceivable language being spoken. Some of that is the people who live here, because in so many ways the whole world has come to Los Angeles, right?  But it’s also because so many people visit here, everybody wants to see Hollywood, and so there are tourists from all parts of this globe.

            This place.

We are also in the middle of a place where many of our brothers and sisters are living on the street. This is not news. There are tents all over the neighborhood. But not just here. They line the LA River bike trail. They pop up in many neighborhoods. And if you go downtown, they are under every overpass and on every bridge. LA County, as you undoubtedly know, has roughly 58,000 people who are homeless, in poverty and have needs of many kinds. And in this is very, very visible.

You know that our church community does a great deal of ministry with people on the street. You know a good portion of our staff and budget and volunteer time is committed to the people that are around here, in this place.  You know that we partner with city leaders, service providers, LAPD, the Department of Mental Health, all sorts of agencies and other churches to work together and problem solve and shelter and assist people with housing. 

That is good work to do in this place. Because this is exactly where God has placed us. And I think it might be exactly WHY God has placed us here. God might have put us here at Gower and Carlos to be his people right here. Not to solve a problem called “homelessness,” but to be friends with and walk with and minister to people. Real people. God’s people. In this place.

There’s a lot of good work going on. And I’m wondering how it is changing us as a community. Martin Luther King Jr used to talk about a vision of what he called “The Beloved Community.” His dream was of a place where poverty, hunger and homelessness were absent because human decency wouldn’t allow it.  A place where racism and discrimination and injustice were overcome by mutual love and trust. It’s a big vision, and a profound one.  And I guess I’m thinking quite a bit smaller. I’ve been reflecting just on that title- “the beloved community.” 

 I’m wondering what it would look like to keep growing into that, in this placeBeloved community.  That would be a place where we had such an overwhelming sense of being loved by God in Jesus Christ...of being beloved...that people we interacted with would be drawn in and embraced. That would happen from the parking lot to the sidewalks, from the open doors of the sanctuary to how people were greeted and embraced and welcomed.  It wouldn’t matter whether they were tourists or official church members or friends living on the street, they would know God’s love in this place. And our attitudes about worship and people different from us and those in need would be absolutely transformed. We would all be overwhelmed with a tangible deep gratitude of how much God loves us. In this place.

I’m wondering what will happen this year. We had a great year in 2017, and I anticipate
that God will stretch us and grow us and use us, if we are willing, in 2018. Amen.

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