You can just barely see me in the second row of this picture, taken at church yesterday. We celebrated the 60th anniversary of when believers first gathered on this corner of Minnesota in the midst of a farmland.
Outside the sanctuary more people – families with littles gathered around tables to participate with wiggle room. And outside the building, Minnesota couldn’t decide whether to be all blustery clouds, or sun-shiny. The weather reflected the many seasons we’ve experienced here.
As we worshipped, I cried because the picture above may look like a crowd to you, but we’ve been here 27 years, so it’s not a crowd. It’s a family of people with amazing stories of God’s love and redemption.
I turned and looked up to see my long-haired friend in the front row of the balcony who first rode up to church on his Harley, found love and acceptance and never looked back.
I was hugged by a teary woman I had prayed for a few months ago with alcohol on her breath at 9 a.m. She said “I’m making it.” referring to her recovery.
I laughed with the people who had been our first neighbors, whose kids created forts with ours, and came to Jesus through a backyard Bible study I hosted.
I met the new wife of a widower my age, and I watched a young widow pitch in as a volunteer for the bbq after worship.
As I stood talking, a 7 year old friend came and silently leaned up against me for a brief hug.
I cuddled babies belonging to young couples who were just engaged or newly married when I gathered them together as a small community 5 years ago.
Looking across the sanctuary I saw people we’ve done life with – 4th of July gatherings, weddings, births, New Year’s welcoming, and funerals. Together.
Among the folks gathered yesterday were also those who have hurt my feelings. Those who I’ve had to ask forgiveness. Some who have been critical. Others who have gossiped, including me.
This is the church.
I love Jesus. And I love the Church. But the Church isn’t Jesus.
We’re all a mess and we’ll let each other down from time to time.
We are both humble and proud.
Generous and selfish.
Open-handed and controlling.
Inclusive and exclusive.
Gracious and legalistic.
Brave and fearful.
But we keep showing up, because the grace of Jesus is why we’re here in the first place.
We’re works in progress all.
In addition to the people I’ve named, I know there are some who are just watchers. Maybe wounded. Maybe shamed. Maybe feeling they don’t fit in. They stand on the edges. They slip out early. I try to look for them and take them by the hand and gently pull them in, but they’re slippery and they may not be ready.
If you’re a watcher, I understand. There was a season when I was a watcher too and the church just felt too dangerous. But I’d encourage you with this. It isn’t the church we trust in. It’s Jesus.
Yesterday I cried as I always do when we sang “Great is Thy Faithfulness”
We as a church are going to blow it, but it’s His faithfulness that carries us, that picks us up, that mends our broken hearts, that redeems our relationships and knits us together in love and forgiveness. And so we keep showing up together at 70th street and 100 with “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.”