This past weekend that was nothing short of amazing. I wrapped up my vacation by attending a conference for Christians, most of whom happened to be women. The promotion said that it was not to be a women’s conference, but rather a gathering of storytellers – a community of sinners and saints drawn together by the stubborn hope that God is in the business of making all things new. I signed up for the conference the instant I heard about it, knowing deep in my heart that I had to be there. I couldn’t tell you what I was expecting as I secured my online reservation. I knew that the speakers were women that I wanted to hear, but if someone had pressed me to say why, I couldn’t have answered beyond saying that I was sure it would be fun, informative and spiritually fulfilling. I had no idea that I had just secured my place at an event that would be a mystical and transforming experience, and I sure as heck did not know that my cheeks would remain wet the entire weekend.
I believe with all my heart that God is in the business of making all things new. I have witnessed it over and over again – the strange miracle of redemption and mercy, of healing and wholeness. I have experienced it in my own life, and when I felt myself being called by God to serve, I enthusiastically answered yes because more than anything in the world I wanted to share that healing and wholeness with others. But before long, I began to hear things like “the church is dying,” or “no one finds the church to be relevant anymore.” More than once I wondered why God had called me to serve in a dying church, and many times I have wondered if I am certifiable for agreeing to do so.
I have discovered some things this weekend that I hope I never forget. First and foremost I have discovered that the church is most emphatically not dying. I am the church, and I am not dying – at least not today anyway. The thousand or so people who surrounded me over the weekend are the church, and they are not dying. The church is the body of Christ, and the body of Christ is not dying. Buildings might close, but God will be worshipped and God will be praised. People will still gather together in the name of God; and as long as at least two of us show up, the church is wonderfully alive because Christianity is not about buildings, it is about proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is about gathering around a table to tell the story of his last meal with his friends, and then re-living that meal as his friends. It is about breaking bread together and feeding each other while recognizing our full humanity; it is about claiming God’s mercy and forgiveness for our flaws and imperfections. People still desperately need this reassurance, and the desire to participate in spiritual practices is stronger than ever.
I also discovered that our tent is expanding, stretching, growing wider and even ripping apart in some places. God is doing a new thing right before our very eyes, even as God opens our eyes and pushes us to expand and grow and maybe even rip apart in a few places of our own. I believe we are being challenged in new ways to answer the age-old question who is my brother/sister, and that people today are having trouble reconciling the institutional church with the renegade and subversive Jesus who said things like “the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” We are at once sinners and saints, living our lives entwined and grafted together. It is messy, broken and sometimes very irritating, but our connection is what makes us whole as we are forgiven and redeemed by a glorious mystery known only as “I AM WHO I AM.”
I need God. I am a flawed human being, and no matter how hard I try I cannot seem to get things right. Most days my knees are scrapped, I’m tired to the bone, and my makeup is smeared and running. But the lie that we tell ourselves, is that we must always present a perfect smiling Christian countenance to show we are doing things right regardless of what’s really going on. Well that’s not very helpful – for anyone. What is helpful is a church made up of real live sinners ready to embrace other real live sinners who manage to stumble in. What is helpful is a church full of sinners and saints who are willing to confess their humanity to God and be transformed by God’s grace and mercy together so that they can then spread that grace and mercy to others who are in need. That is who we are called to be. That is what it means to be the church, and when we become willing to confess our flawed, broken and beautiful humanity to God the tent opens even wider. May it be so…