Pastor thinks outside the box for Easter gala

By Bob Satnan - Contributing Columnist

Jim Downing believes that compassionate love is woven into us, that it is part of our nature and our character. Yet, he also believes, “We have bought into this idea that we love people when they deserve it.”

Downing, lead pastor at First United Methodist Church/Celebration Center, will use containers and country music to convey his message during the annual “Easter at the Mathewson” celebration at 10 a.m. Sunday at the Mathewson Exhibition Center on the Missouri State Fairgrounds. He will emphasize the concept that we are vessels made to be filled and poured out.

“If you are filled with hate, don’t be surprised if there is hate all around you,” he told me Friday morning. “If you are full of love, pour that out, pretty soon there is going to be love all around you.”

Downing is hopeful the Mathewson will be filled with love on Sunday, as it is each Easter. It takes about 200 members of his congregation, and even more prayerful support, to share the Resurrection story in an arena setting. Downing’s goal is to get people out each Easter to connect with the day’s message.

“Easter at the Mathewson is trying to make a place for people who might not feel comfortable walking into a church building for whatever reason,” he said. “We want people to attend the church of their choice – please go somewhere – to get in connection with this message.”

The larger venue might help those who aren’t “regulars” and those looking for a church home to participate in an Easter service without the attention that the “new folks in the pews” tend to draw. Downing’s goal for all who attend is that they will understand “when the Bible says, ‘God is love,’ it means it, and it is the kind of love that is going to be there even if you are doing the wrong thing, or when you have messed up, or when others have messed you up. That is the message of the Easter story – that love died and love rose and love wants to invade our hearts.”

A secondary message Downing will share is tied to singer Tim McGraw’s song, “Humble and Kind.”

“It is a good reminder of what we all need to relate to one another,” Downing said. “Christ humbled himself to go to the cross. God waits for us, patiently, to figure all of this out. It is out of his kindness that we are led to repentance and we need humility and kindness in our life and that is where we draw it from, from the God who has already modeled this for us.”

Because the Mathewson center has hosted events ranging from tractor pulls to Commencement ceremonies, Downing cannot imagine a better location for a community gathering.

“I love (that) the word ‘community’ ends with unity,” he said. “We need that now – we’ve always needed it but we need it now more than ever. The focus does not need to be on the negative and the bad, the focus needs to be on what good there is in God and in life.”

Congregation members of all ages have decorated small crosses that are being joined together to create a 10-foot-tall crucifix for Sunday’s service. It is a fantastic melding of colors and character that symbolizes how people come together on the most holy day of the Christian calendar. The stage also will have plenty of boxes.

“When we put God in a box, we are always going to minimize the power of God and the love of God,” Downing said. “We are a world that transports things in boxes but it is easy to categorize people and put them in boxes. … (Boxes) cease to hold in God’s imagination, God’s creativity and with that, God’s love.

“God’s love is not limited to our ability to earn it or deserve it; it is vast and endless and it is for every one of us whether we deserve it or not.”

By Bob Satnan

Contributing Columnist

Bob Satnan is the communications director for Sedalia School District 200.

Bob Satnan is the communications director for Sedalia School District 200.

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