I am certain someone can find a reference in the New Testament that gives biblical authority for the church to own two vans. Jesus sent the disciples out two by two and certainly wants His church to purchase vans in pairs. I say that because we have two church vans. Our most recent van purchase is a white van. There is no signage on the van which identifies it as a church van. I have given up on advertising on church vans. I can find no good in plastering the name of the church on the side of the van. My cynicism says the name on the side of the van only makes it easier for the plaintiffs to figure out where the money is coming from in case of an accident.
Last weekend a group of Methodists went to New Orleans on a mission trip to feed the homeless. The Methodists have a community center in the middle of one of the more troubled neighborhoods of that city and the folks were there to cook and feed. Several members of the mission team were riding in our non-descript white church van.
A couple of years ago, we decided to have an outdoor service on our pumpkin unloading day. Since we were going to be outside for church and then unloading pumpkins, we had orange t-shirts designed for the day. It was really fun to see all those orange clad Methodists outside praising God and then unloading pumpkins. From time to time you might see a Methodist in one of our orange t-shirts. We wear them when a group of us are together on a mission trip.
This weekend many of the team members riding in the non-descript white church van were wearing orange t-shirts.
Our team found out that in Orleans Parish a certain branch of government drives non-descript white vans. That branch of government also transports people in their vans. Most of the people being transported in the non-descript white vans of Orleans Parish were wearing orange jump suits.
I think the mission team had a moment of reflection when they became aware people seeing them in transit might assume something about their character that was untrue. I know we have decided to place our t-shirt design on another color shirt for future trips to New Orleans. Orange t-shirts and unmarked white vans might not be a good combination.
On behalf of my clergy colleagues I will say one application for this is what you see might not be what is really happening, so don’t speculate nor gossip.
As for the spiritual application, I think I will just let you figure one out. Think along these lines, Jesus came to earth to identify with us. He knows what it feels like to be you. He knows what you are going through. He not only identifies with you as you are, He wants to transform you. That transformation is much more than changing the color of a t-shirt.
Let me know what you come up with as you think about the Methodists who looked like prisoners or prisoners who might have been Methodists.