Dear church,

The ladies would put sunflowers out in the church sanctuary in the summertime.

It was part of the annual rotation of decorations at the church. I’ve forgotten some of the color themes from the year. But I knew there would be oranges and browns in the fall and red, white, and blue in the early summer. And then came the sunflowers. They weren’t real sunflowers. Their fabric petals would need to be dusted off each year when they came out of the storage room.

I used to chuckle to see the sunflowers every year. Sunflowers are a symbol of my home state. So I liked them. For a time, though, I thought this rotation of decorations was somewhat silly. Year after year, it was the same stuff. And was all of this necessary?

But I’m learning new things. Our actions have meaning. Even our little actions can have meaning. There was something to walking into the church building and seeing the change in the decor – sensing the changing of God’s seasons outside and seeing the change within.

Perhaps this isn’t for every church, but it worked well for that one. It was a subtle action. It had joyful meaning, perhaps especially for the ladies of the church, to see the bright yellow as the season brightened up. It had meaning – intended for us all – that this church was not dead. It continued to change, year after year, and it continued to stay the same, year after year.

Paul encouraged the people on the boat to eat. “You have continued in suspense without food,” he told them. It had been two weeks, and the boat had been battered by the wind and the waves. They didn’t know where they were. It was possible at any moment they could strike rocks, and the boat would be broken up and they all would drown.

And Paul urged them to eat, to take something to strengthen them. “Not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you,” Paul said. Perhaps they didn’t believe him. I imagine most of them didn’t believe him.

And then Paul did something interesting. It was a small action with great meaning. He took break, gave thanks, and broke it. We can think of the Last Supper here, I suppose. And then Paul ate. I prefer not to read too much sacramental meaning into this moment. Paul simply ate. I bet he was hungry. And he knew he would need his energy. So he ate.

This was a hopeful action. That might be the primary meaning in it, after all. Paul was giving the people hope. Even in a very hopeless-seeming moment, Paul began to do something that looked forward – beyond the boat and the wind and the waves and the never-ending sea. He was looking forward to the moment they would be on land. He would need his strength.

This was an action of hope.

And “they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves.” I think in that moment Paul gave the people hope. He simply lived as if this wasn’t the last moment, as if there were more moments to come. And the people saw that, and they began to hope. 

We don’t come into a church building primarily to see the flowers. But in some way, they do remind us of the deep meaning of the church. There are people here who care. This community of the faithful is one where people share with one another and look after one another – and who like to brighten days and warm hearts when possible. It’s a church body that is ever changing, too – like the seasons. It grows and shrinks, it moves fast and then slow, it enters turbulent waters and then calm ones. There’s joy and sorrow. Things don’t remain the same.

And so I think the changing of the flowers is OK! This is a small act, and it carries meaning with it.

As Christians we are people of hope, and our actions mark out the hope we have. Like Paul, we’re looking beyond the broken here and now. We gather, hoping for the day when we will gather face-to-face with each other and with Jesus. We sing as a profession of our hope in a future that goes beyond our own earthly deaths and whatever tragedies may befall us on this earth. We pray to the God who promises to listen to our prayers and who promises to be “with us” in every moment. We read the words of that promise. And, yes, we break bread and share the cup – to remember and to hope.

As people of hope, it would do us well to look around our small worlds and see what small action we can take today to bring a little hope to those around us, and to ourselves.

Chris

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