All are welcome

I Believe Even When …… We Are Out of Step

As a 13 year old incoming Freshman, I showed up the first night of summer band practice just a little nervous. In a town of 3000, the high school educated about 250 students amongst the four grades. Maybe with the smaller numbers and the fact that you knew almost everyone, and everyone surely knew you – or at least THAT was what you thought – fitting into the culture was imperative. Dragging Main Street on Friday or Saturday night. Hanging out on the town square before, during or after dragging main meant you were in the crowd. The culture was set. You didn’t rock the boat. Your job, fit into it as effortlessly and quietly as possible.

So, on that first night of summer marching band practice, my senses were heightened meaning here, 35 years later I can still remember Trumpet Section leader, Senior Kerry tell us wide eyed Freshman that it mattered that we step off together. When we marched, we marched as a unit. We stepped at the same time. We took the same size steps. We hit the yard markers on the beat in something like 8 steps. It matters that we marched together. Stay in step…..Always. And, Kerry said, “Here’s one reason why. We have a white stripe down the outside of our legs on our uniforms. When we step off together, it looks sharp. The white stripe parallel to and in sync with all the other white stripes looks great when we are all in step together.

Never, ever, did I want to be out of step! Not on the marching field, not in the classroom, not on the drag on Main Street, not at a fellowship gathering — you name it — it was about how to fit into the crowd to blend in.

John the Baptist didn’t have these same beliefs nor needs. The story goes that he came wearing Camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, eating locusts and honey. He was out of step with the common culture of the time. The camel’s hair was to say, “I am a prophet as in the days of Elijah and Jeremiah. I bring words calling us to repentance. We, or rather, You must repent. For the One that has been prophesied of the days of old, this One is coming.

Can you see him, standing up on a hill shouting down at the gathered crowds, gathering handfuls of locusts and shoving them into his mouth and then crunching? The insect’s wings and legs were at times hanging out of the sides of his mouth while he boldly crunches these insects swallowing handful after handful after handful. And then he washes it down with honey.

Locusts were the eighth Egyptian plague. Honey was always reference to a land flowing with milk and honey. This One who comes will again deliver us from the current plague of an oppressive regime. A land flowing with milk and honey is again on the horizon. But first, you must repent. Turn around. Change your ways. Get out of step with the current culture.

John the Baptist was the epitome of counter-culture. And, he still believed.

Did you hear the deeper understanding of the Herdman’s earlier as our youngsters offered their theatrical pursuits? This story entitled The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is one of our favorites. Deb introduced it to me in both book and cassette form. There for a while, it was a tradition that we read or listen to the story each Christmas. As the step-in, substitute leader of the yearly pageant, Mary Bradley takes over the play when Ms. Armstrong breaks her leg.

Gladys Herdman shouts "Hey, Unto You a Child is Born!"

Gladys Herdman shouts “Hey, Unto You a Child is Born!”

The Herdmans are the meanest kids in town. They lie, steal, smoke and cuss. Teachers pass the kids on to the next grade because inevitably another Herdman will be coming into their class. There were six Herdmans – Ralph, Imogene, Leroy, Claude, Ollie and Gladys. Their father had disappeared when Gladys was two and their mom worked double shifts at the shoe factory and was never home. The Herdmans were bullies and did whatever they wanted. So, it surprised the town when they showed up one day to Sunday school. Charlie told Leroy Herdman that they could get free food if they showed up at Sunday school – never thinking they would come. But they did, the Herdmans decided to come the day that the Christmas pageant parts were being assigned. They ended up taking over the pageant. But in the end the whole Church learns the true meaning of Christmas – including the Herdmans![1]

The Herdmans – out of step with the world around them some of us would say. They weren’t necessarily wanted. The kids were mean. They didn’t fit into the culture around them. But, they had a boldness that dictated whatever situation was present.

Help me understand, why is it that most bullies get their way? They can be out of step with their world and their out of step-ness creates the way.

On this third Sunday in Advent, when the darkness is still getting longer, and still we wonder how long the darkness will go, can we learn how to believe even when we are out of step?

You know what this actually says don’t you? When are you going to get out of step? When are you going to notice that going with the flow of the culture around you is not really getting you what you want or need? Your houses are filling up with things that demand more and more of your time. You are missing the truth of the situation that our consumerism, our needing to fit into the culture is actually taking us to places that frustrate us. Our focus is so much on our own lives and survival that we can’t seem to see or look for solutions to poverty, or solutions that will create more economical feasibility or we can’t seem to see the very ruts we are in because we are so deep in them.

Let us get out of step!

Let us form our own route, our own path, and our own road that we may find new ways to offer grace, new ways to order our lives, new ways to help those in need around us.

We may need to be the lone marcher clearly out of step. Hopefully neither the tuba nor the bass drum will crash into us. But, if they do, they too will join us in our out of step-ness and then what we will create will be even bigger!

I believe even when we are out of step.

Can You?