I need to be in the presence of people who are seeking to follow Jesus and willing to hold me accountable to the same. The biblical accounts are filled with stories of people seeking to do their own thing, seeking to protect their own interests. Eve disobeys God in the garden. The Israelites are constantly doubting God. The people who Jesus encounters are not much different. Neither am I. I can easily be focused on everything I need to get done and everything I want. I can easily believe that life is about me. But the Gospel will not allow this thinking. Jesus is constantly calling me to let go - to let go of my time, to let go of my talents and to let go of my resources. I need to be in community with others who are seeking to do the same thing. I need to be in the presence of people who will push me to be more faithful - who will dare to ask the question, "How is it with your soul? or When is the last time you freely offered your gifts? or How much time are you spending in prayer each day?"
I need to be in the presence of God. Sure I have experienced the Holy Spirit at this same dining room table where I write today. I have also experienced God in hospital rooms and in the midst of a conversation at Starbucks. But there is something about Sunday mornings in the sanctuary that enable me to sense God's presence more clearly. I love gazing at the brilliance of the stained glass and looking at the ways in which the light of God comes through these different colors. I love singing songs and repeating choruses written 200 years ago and ones written 20 months ago - melodies of praise that cause my heart to swell up over 'alleluia.' I love reading the words of the liturgy that call me to praise, to confess, to pray. I also love what happens when it is time for the word to be preached - how God shows up during that time in ways more powerful than I can imagine.
I need to be with people who are caring for one another. My mom has been in a tough situation recently of being in a new city where she knows only a handful of people. She has needed rides for medical procedures and even needed a ride home from the hospital this week. I suggested she call the church she has been attending. At its best, the church longs to be a place of comfort and spiritual growth but we also long to be a body that is caring for one another. I want to know if someone is planning to go to the hospital by herself or is already in the hospital. I want to know if someone is spending time trying to figure out how to get to a doctor's appointment. I want to know when someone is sick and in need of our prayers. I want to know when pain is seeping into previously joy-filled places. I want to be with each other - in times of joy and in times of pain, in times of celebration and in times of sorrow. The church has the capacity to be present like no other body - and sometimes even better than our birth families.
I need Jesus. I need to be told of his stories over and over again. I need to be reminded of his grace - how his grace was infused in me long before I ever sought to respond and how this grace is offered to me every single day. I need to be told of his life, death and resurrection - how he died for me so that I might experience the newness of life that comes when I confess my sins but also so that I might live eternally. I need to be reminded often of the call to go the extra mile, to turn the cheek, to forgive at all costs. I need to be pushed to care for the people around me who are struggling to secure the basic needs of life. I need to be transformed in ways that nothing and no one other than Jesus can transform. I do not believe Jesus is confined to churches. In fact I think he rather prefers the streets of our city but there is something about being in church that allows me to see and sense Jesus.
The church is far from perfect. I as a pastor am far from perfect. But there is something about this body that calls me to offer my best and reflect when I have fallen short. There is much about Jesus that calls me to be more.
I cannot wait to see what happens this Sunday. See you in church.