Jesus said, ‘Remember this: …if two or three of you come together as a community and discern clearly about anything, My Father in heaven will bless that discernment. For when two or three gather together in My name, I am there in the midst of them’ –Matthew 18:19-20.
I almost vetoed the house we own because of all the wallpaper in every bathroom and the master suite. The wallpaper and all the white flooring made me queasy as I watched our then young children exploring their new digs. This summer, we’ve finally taken down the floor-to-ceiling wallpaper in our master bedroom and bathroom (the other bathrooms lost the wallpaper a few years ago). The 1980s mauve and blue English victorian garden that covered the walls when we moved in 15 years ago finally had to go. I say ‘we’; but in reality, Jud stripped all the wallpaper, and I will do the painting (at least most of it) this Fall. In stripping the wallpaper, I contributed to the work by networking with friends to figure out the most expedient way to bring it down. Most of our friends had stripped wallpaper in their lives. The suggestions ranged from getting a steamer to Downy or vinegar mixed with water in a spray bottle. Because of the size of the walls, we opted for the steamer (although Jud also used the spray bottle, at times). Regardless of the method, stripping wallpaper is messy, time-consuming and exhausting. I’m not a visual person, so I’ve enlisted the help of a friend to tell me what I like for style and paint color. The enormity of the space intimidates me. If left to my own devices, the room would end up looking like the Partridge Family’s psychedelic van. Thus, the call to my friend. I need someone to reign me in and give me a sanity check.
We need people like that in our ‘church’ lives too. People who will allow us to question long-held beliefs. People who will help us figure out what’s working and what’s not in our lives. People who know us and know God deeply. People who can help us strip away the old, tired, dated thinking that no longer serves our lives well. Then, when all is stripped away, help us figure out what to do with the blank walls of our hearts. The foundational structure of our spirits, hopefully, remains solid; but often we hold onto old ways of thinking like avocado green appliances and burnt-umber shag carpeting because they remind us of our heritage–not because they bring us closer to God. ‘Church’ friends can help us through the messy, exhausting remodeling stages of our spiritual lives.
What do I mean by ‘church’ friends? A friend asked the question this week, ‘How do we celebrate church in our lives?’ He feels discouraged that so many articles and blog posts express negative things about Christ’s Bride. I believe we have to distinguish between church-the-building and Church-The-Bride-of-Christ. I hope people continue to write about the ways that the structure of church-the-building needs to morph so that people experience less abuse there–so that more and more can see Church-The-Bride-of-Christ.
Church happens when two men meet for breakfast or yard work and weep for one another because they have found a place to share vulnerably the tough circumstances of life. They feel no shame in their tears because here, in this sacred friendship, Christ is present.
Church occurs when brothers come together to help children and their families find hope. Researching and developing, not fearing backlash, medical hemp strains that diminish seizures in children–hoping to find other hemp treatments for more diseases and disorders. When we feel no shame in finding creative solutions that better our world, heaven comes to earth … and Christ is present.
Church shines when groups of people come together and pray for their community. When out of that prayer, God gives glimpses of action that can change homelessness, sex-trafficking, addictions, child neglect/abuse … and we act on those God-given ideas … our world becomes kinder, more compassionate and hopeful. When we feel no shame in our humility of needing others, we have a chance to experience the kingdom of God on earth … and Christ is present.
Church awakens when people can disagree on how to live out Christ’s life, but still remain friends. When a friend can say, ‘I have a new perspective on this because it’s no longer an issue, it’s flesh and blood.’ When people grow into a new perspective on the heart of God, but have no idea how to live out all the implications. In voicing without shame those conversations and not-having-all-the-answers, Christ is present.
The presence of Christ is not found in shared theology, but in shared lives … shared brokenness … shared joy … shared love. May we all enjoy ‘church’ this week.
I’d love to hear from you! How do you experience Christ’s presence? How do you define ‘church’?