Sitting in our usual pew, everything felt out of whack.
Our pastor was out-of-town, the guy who leads our music had also gone missing. We were scattered around the sanctuary like a fistful of hay seed on a gusty day, sprouting up in patches with too much earth in between.
I've written many times about the way God surprised us by this small, aging body of believers who gather at the end of our street. They've taught me much about what matters across the wide arc of faith, particularly what matters in the ways we express it on Sunday mornings.
When I showed up nearly three years ago with my old ideas and untested hunches about church shoved deep inside my pockets, my soul was overdue for a little basic care.
God uses His people to show us the value in trading hard opinions for complicated community, where we're free to ask questions and tell the truth. I have been welcomed as the sojourner. I have felt the embrace of a frail body defying its own death - You came to us. Please, don't leave.
Week after week, God has used the willing hearts of His imperfect body to turn my face back to Him. This is what matters - the only thing, in fact.
But a church filled with humans is bound to careen off-track now and then, in desperate need of being yanked back from the destruction of our own selfish wills stacked stone-on-stone until all we see are the ways we have become the disappointed. We sweep over our eagerness to cast blame, our visceral need to be right, our bone-deep yearning to be the served rather than the laborer. I am never the problem.
The church is built through the communion of sinners seeking grace, fused by the Spirit we're desperate to touch.
It is broken when we refuse to confront ourselves as exactly who we are.
God saws a nick on our hearts and the needle skips back, "Endurance produces character."
I'm not sure what endurance looks like now, or how character will ever manifest itself in this dry land.
We've watched friends walk out the doors without looking back. We love them. We trust they are hearing from God. Why can't we be among them? Why can't we go?
I sat wondering what it might look like to leave, feeling for the first time that maybe it's inevitable. Of course God's presence was among us. Why did it feel so faint?
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Holy God, forgive me first. It is only by this miracle of being made new that I will ever look at my neighbor in the pew and see myself.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
We are here, one broken body. You deliver our weary collective, often through each other. Convict us. Unite us. Strengthen us.
For thine is the kingdom.
I cannot fathom why You love us the way You do, why you sacrificed everything to redeem us, why you let us to show up with balled fists and pockets full of bad news. You endure the slow work of turning us Your way, shaping misfit renegades into a body of believers who dares to trust your presence.
Move. Yank. Shove.
Allow us to endure when it feels uncomfortable or hopeless.
Do whatever it takes to shape our character.
Have Your way.