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A “free unconditional gift” is what started me writing for The Wilson Times back in 2017. It was a slow burn subject that rolled out for almost three quarters of a year as I prepped for the 500th anniversary celebration of the Reformation.
I had all sorts of theological and historical highlights from the Lutheran perspective to explain Martin Luther’s reforming revelations that he had gleaned from the words of none other than St. Paul and Jesus himself. And for all the bluster that has come from “religious talk” through the years, the bottom line still stands that God’s love is offered unconditionally and free to God’s children — that’s you, by the way — and that’s what makes the message the Church proclaims “Gospel,” which literally means “Good News.”
There’s no bait-and-switch Law thrown into this Love equation, and to show that, my little Lutheran outpost threw its first free, open-door Oktoberfest to culminate that message and illustrate what Luther would want you to know that the Church was meant to be: A place with open doors, a people with open hearts and a gathering with open minds.
It doesn’t matter who you are: if God made you, then you are welcome! And in case that’s not clear, God made everything and everyone, including you!
So, we’ve done the Oktoberfest a couple of times as a free gift. Then we also have had a couple of geek-inspired mini-Comic-Cons called “Free Comic Book Weekend” to once again offer the example of “free” that kind of started my whole writing gig off. So now we are closing in on next weekend and what has become a split decision of assessment at least in nomenclature of our first ever Contoberfest.
Now, all the geeks out there will tell you that you can mash together just about anything these days. When Archie, Jughead and the gang tackle zombies without a second thought you know almost anything will work. And just remember the seemingly ill-conceived accident that drove a Hershey bar into a jar of peanut butter. “Two great tastes that taste great together!”Not only marketing genius, but absolutely true!
So next weekend, Ascension Lutheran Church is once again offering free admission to not one but two events in one as we combine those two annual events into one event called Contoberfest. Some think the name displays brilliance in combining one event that was primarily outside with one that was primarily inside into one great thing. Others think that no one knows what a Contoberfest is (because we simply made it up) and so it is insipid and stupid. But whether you like the name or not, you just might like what we will have on our campus.
There will of course be free admission, free comics and also vendors for food, art, toys, books and more with artists and writers displaying their crafts all weekend long. Friday night we will run from 6-9 p.m. with a free showing of the recent “Shazam” movie starting at 6:30. Saturday will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with comic-based panel discussions, all sorts of free activities for kids from pumpkin painting and face painting, to Wild Animal Adventures, and many outside games for kids and adults alike. Sunday will start with a geek-based worship service at 11 a.m. and then run to 5 p.m. with a cosplay parade and victor crowning around 4. We also are blessed with a large number of geek-related collectibles and art that will part of a door prize/raffle during the weekend.
And there actually is absolutely no catch to this event. But most folks ask if they can contribute something to help us offset the cost (a point of contradiction when you are doing your best to give something away for free). So at the very first of these types of events, we designated Veterans Residential Services as beneficiary of anything donated so that our gift is still free, but folks can show their gratitude.
For this event, if you want to donate, we are asking folks to donate canned food. You can see a list of what is actually needed on our church’s website, www.alcwilson.org. Our goal is to collect more than 1,000 cans — to be specific, 1,775 cans.
You may be looking at that number and wondering if that is a significant date. Is that a holy number? Nope! That’s just my own geeky goal, because it is what I estimated we would need to make a pyramid of cans 6 feet high using some untrustworthy math I made up myself and counting on some untrustworthy engineering skills that we will test in the narthex of our church next weekend (By the way, just in case the front door to the church doesn’t seem to open next Sunday because it feels like about a ton of food inadvertently collapsed against it, the back door should be unlocked!)
So, we’re opening our doors once again to you and your neighbors to come share with us a sense of God’s creative Spirit, a little of that shared joy of just gathering together and a bit of that unconditional love and acceptance that Jesus talked about 2,000 years ago.
Despite what it might look like sometimes today, we think Jesus’ love for everyone — even, as Jesus puts it, “the least of these” — just may be making a comeback. And we think Jesus’ words are really cool and that they might make a difference if everyone would just listen.
Perhaps understanding that unconditional love is exactly what you need and indeed what the world needs today more than ever.
Pastor Zach Harris has been an ordained minister for 28 years and currently serves Ascension Lutheran Church in Wilson. His column, “Through a Lutheran Lens: A Pastor’s Perspective,” appears weekly in The Wilson Times. Previous columns are available at WilsonTimes.com.