Rachel Held Evans, whose blog I follow, posted this question on FaceBook. Great question. I read about 100 of the responses trying to remember what Jesus loves about Church and that there are congregations out there that my cynical heart cannot dilute.
One church that we attended amazed me. I’ve never been a part of a congregation like it before or since. On one side of the aisle sat the old-timers who still practiced ‘holiness’ teachings (women shouldn’t cut their hair, no make-up, modesty in dress, no/little television, no shopping on Sundays–basically trying to keep your life ‘pure’ from ‘worldly’ influences). On the other side sat the people in AA. I’m not kidding, and the irony was not lost on me. The two groups seemed to cohabit well. I hope I never get the image out of my head of one of the older ‘holiness’ ladies going to the alter, kneeling and weeping, in support of a head-to-toe tattooed and pierced owner of a tattoo parlor whose marriage was failing. The tenderness and compassion embracing two people from such different worlds took my breath away. The memory still takes my breath away.
Hoping to see more incidents like that one from 17 or 18 years ago keeps me going to church. Oh, I have a deep theoretical love for THE Church–Jesus’ bride, the Body of Christ as a whole. The local community of faith trips me up. Theory becomes application in the local congregations. Personalities conflict in the local churches. Theologies collide in our ‘home’ churches.
I’ve grown cynical and need to remind myself that not all who follow Jesus fall into the ultra-inflammatory camps that make the news. Sometimes in a fit of self-pity, I fall into the same delusion that Elijah believed–that only he was left (1 Kings 19:10). Of course, in the previous chapter, Obadiah had told Elijah that he had hidden 80 of God’s prophets. The cause was far from lost. But Elijah, in his weariness of fighting the good fight, felt abandoned. I have felt abandoned and need a reality check. I need to remember the many every day examples of how to live out the gospel of Jesus.
So, what have I loved about local churches we’ve seen? I love the people who just want to help their corner of the world. I love the challenges of loving difficult people and maybe getting to see them become lovable. I love knowing that, more often than I care to admit, I am that difficult person receiving grace from others. I love worshiping with people of all ethnic, cultural and ability backgrounds and how united we become in the presence of God. I love the hope that fills my soul and spirit that the Good News of Jesus can still change the course of personal and collective history. I love that, even if it’s for just the duration of a church service, humility takes me down a peg and I can allow the Spirit to convict hearts, the Father to judge hearts and Jesus to heal hearts while I stand in awe full of love toward those hearts and their journey.
I love that in a tangible, congregational presence of God, away from the spiritually theoretical life, I know that I don’t have to have all the answers, the person next to me doesn’t have to have all the answers, the pastor doesn’t have to have all the answers; but God loves all of our imperfect selves and smiles over us.