I spent much of the past week thinking about all of you.
And, about our being here together after a summer of going in different directions.
And about the choir singing and Sunday Spirit beginning.
And a host of other opportunities for ministry and mission about to begin as we move into the fall. And, thinking about our small ‘colony of heaven’ and what that means and about what we are being called to do and who we are being called to be. As I did, I read this online post written by Trudy Smith in RELEVANT Magazine. The title of her article is Why I Go To Church Even When I Don’t Feel Like It. She writes:
“I realized that church was not a place to go because everyone had their act together and was doing things right. It was more like a refuge where all sorts of people could gather to remind each other of the story we were all in—the one about how God loves us, and is renewing our world and our souls in spite of all the damage that’s been done. It was more like a school for conversion where we were all stumbling through basic lessons on how to love.”
I like that.
Church as a reminder of the story we are all in.
As a school for conversion.
Together somehow stumbling through basic lessons on how to love.
That matches so much of what church is for me.
And, what worship is for me.
I don’t know about you, but, in terms of my own faith and my striving to be my best self and to do what I believe God calls me and wants me to do, the truth is…
I stumble more than I run.
I fall short more often than I reach the goal.
I feel broken and weary more often than I feel whole.
Multiple times each day I trip over the person who annoys me or who appears to stand against me more often than I see the imprint of the holy in them as I believe and hope and trust it is in me. What about you?
The truth is I come to church because it is more than just my job.
It is a hospital for my soul.
And, a respite center for my weariness and discouragement.
It is a confessional where I can be honest (or at least as honest as I can be) and be reminded, again, of a love that will not let me go. And, the place where I find shoulders to lean on and those with whom I can share my joy. It is a place which reminds me to say Thank you even when what I want to do is grit my teeth. And, that holy reminder that in the midst of the craziness and violence and hatred of the world, there is a foundation of goodness and purpose and strength that I can turn towards and draw on and believe in and stand with.
I come to church not because I am perfect or to be with perfect people.
I come to church to be with people who, like me, are doing their level best to find their way.
To be with others who, like me, hear some siren song in the words and wisdom and witness of Jesus that inspires them and calls them and challenges them to see beyond their own imperfections and the imperfections of today to the promise and possibility of God’s tomorrow.
I come to church to be with you.
So, as we begin another year together here is my hope.
Both for you and for me.
When you are here, take what you need.
If you need courage, take courage.
If you need forgiveness, take forgiveness.
If you need strength, lean on me or the person next to you.
If you need rest or a place to stop, sit back and close your eyes.
If you need a place to say Thank You, here it is.
If you need a place to make a difference, join hands and pitch in.
If you need healing, we will add our prayers to yours.
If you need a place to see beyond the headlines in the news, we will do our best to remind you of that long arc of history and of the grand dream of God meant for us and for all.
Take what you need.
But, here’s the catch. (There is always a catch, isn’t there.)
Take what you need, yes. And give what you can.
There is no magic here. No magic wand. No magic words.
Just you and me just as we are, human and holy at the very same time.
Amazing and awful.
Lost and found.
Broken trying to be whole.
But that may be enough.
Maybe even more than enough.
So here is my hope.
My second hope for you and me.
When you have strength, share it.
When you feel called to pray, by all means pray.
As you have room in your heart and strength in your soul, rejoice with those whose joy overflows and weep with those who weep. Stand with them all and refuse to let them go.
And, as you are able, wear your faith on your sleeve.
Not to prove you are better than others or that we are better than others,
Or that we know the way and they don’t.
Instead, wear your faith on your sleeve as a sign of hope and promise.
To remind them and to remind me of goodness and grace and gratitude and hope.
To remind them and to remind me of the God who will not let any of us go.
Take what you need.
And, give what you can.
As we do our best to be God’s people in this place and in God’s world entrusted now to our care and keeping striving to follow in the footsteps of Jesus walking in the direction of the dream of God’s Kingdom come.
So back to that article which I read earlier this week. Trudy Smith writes:
I’ve slowly learned that going to church can be about something other than moral requirement, fear of punishment, social connection, getting spiritually fed, or even looking for likeminded people with whom to pursue justice in the world. Going to church can be about holding this space in which to experience the grace of God together, learn together, fail and forgive and stumble forward together.
May it be so, O God. May it be so.