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Spiritual Matters
Find grace even in a gift shop

July 23, 2014

This past fourth of July, I did what the majority of pastors do, I took that Sunday off and I spent time with my family in Florida.

One of the things that we planned to do when we were in Florida was to visit Universal Studios.

My wife and I have a lot of history at that park, in fact, in 2003 we won the grand prize, a free trip to Universal Studios in Hollywood.

Our past history told us two things, we could count on the fact that it would be very hot and there would be a lot of people.

What we failed to realize was the day that we decided to go, happened to be the same day that the new Harry Potter ride would open.

A man that I met that day told me his family paid extra money to be able to enter the park early, before the gates opened to ride the new ride. The update that he gave me was that after 8 hours of waiting in line they still hadn't been on the ride yet. Now, that is some serious devotion.

In my time at the park I was able to do a lot of people watching. My daughter and I would camp out in the gift shop waiting for my wife and my son to exit from the ride.

I use to think the idea of having riders pass through the gift shop after a ride ended was a brilliant money making idea but what I noticed was the ones who were actually doing most of the purchasing, usually weren't riders getting off a ride but those who were drawn into the store from the heat.

Those who had just been on the ride, had waited in an air conditioned building, and with adrenaline still pumping through their bodies they passed right through the gift shops onto the next ride.

The majority of those who spent any time in the shop at all, were either family members waiting for their loved ones who had plenty of time to waste in the shop, or passer—byers who had not planned on entering the store until the feeling of air conditioning drew them right in.

It is amazing that they actually keep the air conditioned store doors open the entire time the park is open. Once you are overheated, and you are in that air conditioned room you don't want to leave, so you stay and you shop and eventually you buy.

Before you know it you have just purchased an E.T. stuffed animal that you get to lug around the park, which gets you hotter faster and then the process of finding yourself in another gift shop starts all over again.

The Universal Studios gift shops reminds me a lot of what the church Jesus established should be like. In life, there are many who are weary, who have been beaten and battered by the hardships of life.

They are searching everywhere for relief from the demands of life and every passing day they go without finding rest for their souls, they become more and more drained.

C.S. Lewis said "Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise."

What believers in Jesus have found is life, and in becoming a believer, the Holy Spirit enters our hearts so that wherever we go, we can help those who are far from God experience life in Christ. For those who are seeking peace, we know who the Prince of Peace is.

For those who feel there is no hope for them, we can share with them that they can have a relationship with the God of hope, who promises to fill you with all joy and peace, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in the hope that you lack. May we as the church, the people of God, be for others, like the air conditioning to the tired theme park goers, drawing in the tired and the weary so they experience the refreshing new life that is found in Christ.

The Rev. Dr. Matthew Webster is pastor of First Congregational Church of Clarkston.