Monday, July 09, 2012

The Pulse of a Church: Faithfulness

 Yesterday was one of those days for me.
One of those puzzle-clicking days,
when the pieces come together
and lock into place,
creating a picture that is both
recognizable and beautiful.
 It's taken about 24 hours for me to begin to see
how that happened in my heart, in my spirit.
And I'm not sure that I can find the words to tell you about it.
This much I know.
It wasn't about the building,
although I love that place
and am grateful for every inch of it.
 It wasn't even about the worship service,
although some pieces of that service helped
the picture to come together with focus and intention.
Mostly, it was about the people.
ALL the people of the long, interesting,
sometimes exhausting day that was yesterday. 

Our pastor is back from vacation and that's a good thing.
And he brought a word that he'd been pondering 
for many weeks.
And that's a good thing, too.
And part of that word was definitely a piece
of the lovely jigsaw that has been coming to life in my heart.
Reflecting on a brief sojourn in Egypt,
he said this about the Christians he met there:

"The future depends on their faithfulness."

And I thought - YES!
This is the age-old story of our faith,
this is what Jesus kept saying to us,
in parable and story and miracle. 
This is what God modeled for the people of Israel,
this is what the epistles urge the burgeoning
movement of Christ-lights to remember:
Be faithful, even as God is faithful. 
Learn to listen well, and to do good.
Learn to lean into love.
Learn to care for one another.
Live as though every single thing you do matters
in the Big Picture of life. 
And teach your children all of this.

As I listened to that word, I took a look around me. 

About 275 people were gathered in the same space,
people of all ages, from newborns to folks in their 90's.
A group of six led us in worship -
a father and his 16-year-old daughter on guitar and vocals,
a pastor's 16-year-old daughter on vocals,
a professor father and young-adult son on piano and guitar,
a former staff member on bass.
The last number of the opening set was an a capella 
version of, "Down to the River to Pray,"
and when those two young women
and two middle-aged men joined their voices
in gorgeous 4-part harmony - 
a small window to heaven opened before me.
And a piece of the puzzle clicked.

Then our Moment for Mission was an interview 
with a son of this church and his gracious, articulate wife.
They gave up lucrative jobs in Orange County to
use their gifts in computer science and music,
working with Wycliffe in Texas.
Their report was wonderful, encouraging, humbling.
And another piece fell into its slot.

I listened to one of the most beautiful prayers 
I've heard in months, 
offered by a man who moved here 
about a dozen years ago to retire. 
He has jumped into ministry with both feet - 
music and tutoring and working with our littlest children.

Then I watched this happen.  
 Every week, the kids are invited to come and sit on the steps,
where the pastor has a special word or project just for them.
Yesterday, this beautiful 'welcome wagon' 
was wheeled down the center aisle.
 It was built by hand as an Eagle Scout project - 
and an act of gratitude to the church - 
by a recent high-school graduate, 
a kid I've watched grow up since he was three years old.
And then builder and pastor and seven little kids
laid hands on that cart, and dedicated it to the
service of the Kingdom of God. 
By now, I'm just beginning to catch a glimpse of the
design taking shape inside my heart.
We rushed home from church to welcome our small group,
this month including kids, lunch and swim time.
My husband is 70, Iris is 2, the rest of us fall
somewhere on the spectrum between those two extremes.
We had a grand time together -
sitting in the shade, enjoying one another's company. 
Two of the women in our group have endured
brain anomalies; two of the families have
weathered tough problems with their kids;
all of us believe that the single greatest task
to which we are called is the care and tending
of faith and faithfulness in ourselves and in our children,
followed closely by serving others in the name of Jesus.

I had to leave our gathering a little early,
and I had to leave for a hard, sad reason.
Another son of our church had recently died,
tragically and too soon.
His mother and dad are among my favorite 
people on this earth - gentle servants who set out
communion month after month,
who greet folks when they arrive on Sundays,
who share themselves quietly and humbly.
I wanted to be there to remember their boy,
to offer words of prayer and committal,
to acknowledge that sometimes,
the circle is broken too early, too early.  
This, too, was a piece of the puzzle -
a darker piece, but an important one.

Last night, and again this morning,
I thought through that entire Sabbath day.
I reflected on the many facets of the picture
taking shape inside my heart,
and I began to see it for the soft yet strong,
slow-growing but sturdy,
sometimes weary but always winsome
picture that it truly is,
and it looks a whole lot like Jesus.
Sometimes it is easy to be critical of the church -
I will readily admit to frustration, impatience
and disappointment 
with how slowly things change, 
with how stuck we can sometimes get.

Yesterday was a quietly unfolding gift to me,
all of it
the lovely stuff and the terribly painful stuff.
It became a deep and personal portrait reminding me that
 faithfulness sometimes looks like this:
the generations standing together,
singing together,
working together,
giving together,
mourning together. 

In fact, I guess I'd say that's exactly what
faithfulness looks like. 
And it is beautiful.

Joining this tonight with Michelle and Laura,
tomorrow with Jen and Jennifer and Wednesday with Duane: