In case you’ve been otherwise occupied recently, I can tell you that the Toronto Raptors won the championship of the National Basketball Association last week, and that the city hosted a little party to celebrate the victory in downtown Toronto on Monday.
Oh, by the way: that little party had about two million people in attendance!
In some ways, the news about the victory parade from the Canadian National Exhibition grounds to Nathan Phillips Square (Toronto city hall) was a bigger story than the Raptors’ win itself. Everybody expected a crowd, but nobody expected the size of crowd that appeared.
Sadly, there was some violence that marred the happy occasion, but thankfully, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
I think there are a couple of lessons in this for the people of God.
One is that we should always be prepared. In the wake of the parade and its many onlookers, the City of Toronto sought to learn from its mistakes and be ready for such a gathering if it ever were to happen again.
A maxim to which I’ve long subscribed is that the church will always receive as many guests as it is ready to receive. So, for example, if a congregation is hosting a ‘big day’, such as Christmas, Easter, or an event to which the community is invited, it needs to be sure that it has sufficient priority parking spaces set aside for guests. It needs to have people prepared to be hospitable and welcoming to those who may be stepping inside the church building in fear and trepidation. It needs to be prepared with the words that are used so that no ‘insider language’ is used, and people who may be unfamiliar with the church and its worship can fully understand what’s going on.
Another lesson for God’s people is to be aware that, as Jesus said, “The fields are already ripe for harvest” (John 4.35, NLT). Many congregations struggle these days, but the aerial views of that parade last Monday were a reminder for churches everywhere – not just in Toronto – that there are still many people who have yet to be reached with the good news of God’s saving love in Jesus Christ.
That’s not to say that all the people attending that parade were not followers of Jesus; I know for a fact that some of them are! But when we despair that the church is going to die for lack of attendance, we do well to be reminded that there are many people in our communities, large and small, who do not follow Jesus. Our task from Jesus is to reach out to them in grace and humility with the truth of his love and mercy.
It’s God’s job to grow the church, but he yearns for willing partners in accomplishing that task.
So, congratulations to the Toronto Raptors! And may the church of Jesus be ready to receive the many people who have holes in their souls and need the good news that only he can offer…through us.