For about one year now, I have what I call my Thursday morning ritual. I go to the Dunkin’ Donuts in the seminary neighborhood and I order two items. When I get in line, the owner of the store greets me and she says, “Good morning, large coffee, cream, no sugar and a non-fatty blueberry muffin to go.” This is her way of showing that she knows what I want and that I am a welcome customer in her shop. Occasionally, just for fun, I change my order to a toasted bagel with butter.
One Thursday, I went to a different store. The cashier was talking with the next cashier and there was no welcome or greeting. I did not need to hear her conversation and when I did not run my credit card properly, she was annoyed that I did not know how to do it. She did not thank me for shopping there that afternoon or wish me a good day. She was interested in her conversation with her friend.
Recently I saw an article about friendliness within churches. The interviewer had three segments. In the first segment he interviewed the members of several churches and asked them to rate themselves on how friendly they thought their church was. On a scale of 1 to 10, most churches rated themselves between an 8 and a 10. The interviewer sent a small group of outsiders to the same churches and asked them to evaluate the friendliness of the church. Only a few churches rated between 8 and 10. Most churches rated between 2 and 4. The third segment was to compare the notes of the two groups. They found that most of the church folk are friendly with one another – they greet one another and talk with one another after the service, but the people who are visiting leave after a few minutes because no one talks with them.
For all of our churches, the biggest attendance is on Easter Sunday. We have people who are our Christmas and Easter members or family members who are visiting from out of town, but we also have some people who come to the church for the first time. On Easter we present the greatest story that the world has ever heard – Jesus Christ, the Son of God defeated sin, death and the devil. He rose from the dead, and death no longer has any power over him.
The disciples kept this great news to themselves until the day of Pentecost. On that historic date, they knew that the news has to be proclaimed to the entire world. How did they proclaim this great news? They challenged all the people they met – in the temple, synagogues, and marketplaces. They acknowledged those who responded to the good news and they developed a strong fellowship by eating together, by praying, and by learning the Word of God.
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I am amazed by the end of the Epistle to the Romans when Paul reveals how many names of individuals and families he knows. As an international traveler, he stayed connected. He stayed connected because he had the greatest product, the greatest news, but also because every individual that he met was very important.