Pastoral Series

Church Matters: People

   We are blessed to be able to livestream our services. Shut-ins, folks who are out of town or hospitalized are able to participate, which means so much. But a few months back, I spoke with a guy who’d just discovered we livestream. “That’s great!” he said. “I don’t have to show up over here any more. I can watch from the comfort of my living room.”

Church isn’t something you watch. And it’s not about comfort. God calls us to be with other people. It’s a lonely world. We need encouragement, and good company in this journey of faith. We do God’s work together. It’s about engagement.

And God wired us so that we can’t get any closer to God than we are getting to the rest of God’s people. How that works is intriguing. Typically we choose a church because we see others who are like us there. God made us where we do need others with whom we have things in common. Young moms need young moms. Retired guys need other retired guys.

But the peril is that when you hang around with people who are just like you, you become narrow-minded, and you mirror back to one another your biases and limited perspectives. God dreams of a church where we are with people who are like us – in that we are all broken, needy, determined children of God. And when we live into that with people who aren’t like us, when we expose ourselves to other samples of the image of God, we are stretched, and get closer to the heart of God. Rev. Peter Storey used to say that when we sing “Into my heart, come into my heart, Lord Jesus,” Jesus responds by saying “Okay, I’m coming – and I’m bringing all these other people with me.”

Sometimes church people can be difficult. Trust me on this… And sometimes when we find people in church who are difficult, who disagree with us, or who make us uneasy because of their thinking or behavior, we tend to withdraw – or maybe we push them out. But God wants us to stay, and for the prickly one to stay too. After all, prickliness is in the eye of the beholder, and we all have our own issues. Scott Peck once asked a woman why she stayed in her difficult marriage; she replied, “for the friction.” God likes fellowship, and friction. Friction is uncomfortable, with the harshness and flying sparks; but then friction produces warmth, and friction polishes.

We love within the church, not because we find the people to be lovable, but because we have been loved by God, and we know the world is desperate for love. Bishop N.T. Wright reminds us that “People have learned to expect rudeness and even violence as the norm. They are thirsty for gentleness, for kindness, for the sense that they matter. They need to be shown that there is a different way of being human, that the true God embraces them, as they are, with the healing power of the cross and the life-giving breath of the Spirit. That welcome is our work, because it is all God’s work, and he invites us to share in it.”

Church matters in this world, and to all of us.

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