"At this my heart pounds and leaps from its place. Listen! Listen to the roar of his voice, to the rumbling that comes from his mouth. He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven and sends it to the ends of the earth. After that comes the sound of his roar; he thunders with his majestic voice. When his voice resounds, he holds nothing back. God's voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding." --Job 37:1-5
A few weeks ago, just before the church service, two elderly ladies motioned me over. Sweet ladies, faithful. I was a little taken aback to learn they were unhappy with me.
You see, I had some coffee in a travel mug, and I was wearing a Hawaiian shirt. They felt it was too casual for church, the coffee and the shirt. They meant well. They feel a sacredness in coming to church. (As they should, for He is there).
They also said something about how Jesus cast the money changers out of the temple because they were being disrespectful.
I think they were just feeling a little rebellious. A week earlier our pastor had spoken about how we sometimes focus on the wrong things, such as how people are dressed, or if they bring coffee with them to church. He also said something about all the stuff we owned and that he thought it would be great if we dragged all the things we don’t need down to the church, had a big sale, and gave the money to the poor. (I think that is where the money changers allusion comes in. It didn’t fit in real well, but they needed to work it in somehow.)
These little old ladies were taking a stand against the potential corrupting slide that may come from the relaxing of an unspoken dress code. They were striking a blow for the LORD, drawing a line in the sand, placing a little chip on their thin arthritic shoulders and daring me to knock it off. Kind of cute.
There are two points to this little interaction. First, they are wrong. Secondly, they are right.
They are right because we do feel too relaxed sometimes. We are coming to church and He is there. Right there! The living God, maker of all things, my creator, my savior. It is difficult to wrap my mind around the idea, but when I really consider who He is, I tremble. Sometimes during worship I shed a tear. This sounds a little melodramatic, I know. But I’m not talking about some fairy tale here. I feel Him near and it frightens me. It frightens me and it warms me.
Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand.” -- Job 38:1-4
We often show more enthusiasm at a basketball game than when we “worship” the maker of all things. So, my mug of coffee (I mix cocoa in it!) does seem a little casual. As for the Hawaiian shirt, it is brightly colored and does not connote a very serious attitude.
So, they are right. Church is where mortality intersects with immortality. Sinful beings are confronted with holiness. It is best to set the coffee carefully down, and look inward and upward.
But they are also wrong. There is something else happening in church. It is community. It is a joyful celebration. I see my friends there, my church family. There I am loved, and wanted. This is the church that has recently set aside its own discomfort, hurts, inconveniences from a fire my son started so they could embrace me and my family. This is a place where I am loved, and I’m not a conformist either. In some ways I am a square peg in this church. Some people think outside of the box; I’ve friends there who laughingly say I have trouble finding the box. I am loved.
I was so sorry about what had happened this summer. I kept trying to find ways to make things right. To apologize, to atone for what my child had done. Finally, our pastor told me flat out to stop saying “I’m so sorry.” And I did. I kept thinking it for a while. But it finally sunk in. The damage to the church is far bigger than me. I cannot fix it. And it is wrong to try. They are my family. It hurt them to see me hurting.
And then something wonderful happened. I started to laugh. I laugh all the time now. It’s nuts, I know. But it is all too big for me. And when things get to be too much, I laugh.
Today was our first day back at work (I’m a teacher.) Golly, what a schedule! I have four different classes to prep for each day. I have two after school programs I will run each week. I have a study skills program that I will teach next week and monitor the students’ for eight more weeks. I counted up seven meetings a month that I will be attending. It’s nuts! (LOL!)
I laugh! I laughed every time today I thought about my overwhelming schedule. And the reason I laugh is. . . because it is NOT overwhelming. No matter what comes, no matter what is asked of me, He will be there with me. He will give me all I need.
My hands itch, the skin is flaking, peeling, splitting, bleeding. It’s funny! Why should I concern myself over an itch when He is near?! That back ache still nags, but it is no problem at all. Just a small discomfort. (I hurt much worse when I think about New Orleans.)
Ah. . . but I digress. My point is slightly to the left of this situation. I want to consider those little old ladies some more. They may wish for me to wear a tie, and to be a little more serious about my worship (I am a tad demonstrative). But I think our pastor was right on target about how we worry about the wrong things. Let’s look closely at those in church. Maybe we are a little bit casual in our dress, but there is a hugely conservative dress code still in full force.
I don’t see anyone with facial tattoos there. There may be, here or there, a nose with a stud in it, worn by some teen desperately trying to prove how individual she is. But I don’t see any tongue piercings, or brandings, or anything truly out of the ordinary.
I don’t see anyone who is clearly a drug addict. No one I know of is a former prostitute or drug trafficker. They are all good, clean people.
Not the sort of people Jesus went out to dinner with.
He went to and ate with all the wrong people.
My aunt came up to visit a couple of weeks ago (she lives 1,000 miles away). She and her friend brought their two dogs and were on a road trip to see the northwest. I was thinking about inviting them to church when I learned that they were heading south again on Sunday morning to meet up with folks in northern California.
The reason I was thinking about asking them instead of just asking is because they are lesbians.
I wasn’t sure how they would feel in our church. I wasn’t sure how the church would feel about them.
I’m not saying that we should water down our faith so that everyone should feel comfortable. I strongly believe that if my faith does not challenge me, if it isn’t bigger than me, then it is worthless. Fortunately my LORD is much bigger than me and I find Him quite challenging. (LOL)
What I am saying is that if I feel comfortable, loved in church, that is a good thing. But I should not let the nice clothes, the wholesome affection, the atmosphere of a close family lead me to forget something very important.
Clothes are just clothes. The important thing is hearts. I need to look at the people in my neighborhood and love them. Period. Just love them. That includes the guy who tore off his roof nine months ago and hasn’t opened up the roofing packages to fix the biggest eyesore in the neighborhood. That includes the trio of lesbians that live a block and a half from me. That includes the teen walking around town with the dramatic velvet cape and heavy mascara. That includes the odd homeless guy who mumbles to himself and smells terrible. These people are also my brothers and sisters. They need to know that they are loved, wanted, respected.
As for the Hawaiian shirt. . . well, it is a little bright, but it is clean, it is one of the nicest shirts I own, and it covers a heart that beats for our LORD. I don’t feel bad about the coffee as I chat with my spiritual siblings before service, but when it comes time to worship, I am focussed only on Him, not my homemade mocha.
The early church met in peoples’ homes. They met where they lived. Where they disciplined their children. Where they raised their children. Where they made their children. It is where their friends came to see them. It is where they wept for loved ones lost, and sang praises for loved ones gained. It is where they held each other tight, and it is where they laughed.
It’s just the kind of place Jesus liked to visit.