Sunday, May 13, 2012

On the Last Old Churchin' Sunday (or On Mother's Day)

I've not mentioned much about what's going on with my church here in the blogosphere. It's a hard topic to talk about in a constructive way in this forum and I've not wanted to get too emo or soap boxy. I'm going to try to go into this with as much grace and truth as I can muster, but I ask for your grace in return.

Today is our last day on the property that our congregation has been worshipping on since the early 1700s. It's also the point from which we have to turn over the majority of our cash to be held in reserve until the appeals have been sorted out. My emotions about the court case are mixed, to be sure - mostly sad, a little angry, and generally just scared - scared, because I think some of the precedents the decision sets for religious freedom in this country are scary for my generation and the ones to come. If I'm being honest, as a parishioner, Christian, and American, I think this situation and decision is fundamentally unjust. We have some support - the VA Attorney General spoke in court on our behalf on the donations issue - but in general, we know that the court system has not been sympathetic to our position. That being said, it means that our vestry has some tough decisions to make about if and to what extent we are going to pursue appeals.

When I talk about the situation we find ourselves in, it's easy for it to sound very dour. It sounds like we're some entrenched little huddle in sad times corner. The reality is basically the exact opposite - I have rarely been in a church that felt more alive and filled with the Spirit. Yes, there is anger in some folks, and yes, there has been mourning. But amidst that, I am learning more and more what it means to be a family.

I am seeing in the macro what I've had to learn again and again in the micro; one simple hymn continues to run through my head:

"Trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey."

This seems like such a facile thing to say to someone. "Oh, just close your eyes and hope it will all turn out alright." If that's all you mean when you sing that song, then it is a facile thing to say. It's a stupid thing to say. Is it your experience in life that you can just block out the bad, put your head in the sand, and assume things will be fine? It's not mine and it's not what this lyric means.

It means engaging with God to the point that you have a relationship where you can trust and obey. It doesn't happen overnight- not with God, and not with any relationship. On Mother's Day, it serves us well to remember that our trust in our mothers is something that is both natural and earned. A baby naturally trusts her mother for food and protection - if that mother consistently violates that trust, though, the child will eventually learn to withdraw from the mother, to fear her, to distrust her, to resent her. The whole point of dating is to build trust to a point where you are ready to commit to the next stage of a relationship - eventually, that next stage will be married. You don't (or at least shouldn't-) keep dating someone who has demonstrated themselves to be untrustworthy.

In my walk with God, He has shown Himself to be faithful to me over and over again. I've done ugly things - I've had ugly things done to me at times when I should have been protected and innocent. That is the story of humanity. But I also have the security that comes with knowing that God has done everything to be in a relationship with me; that He is for me, not against me. That over the course of years, I have built enough experience and history with Him to find Him trustworthy and good.

On Mother's Day, we often think about the defining characteristic of motherhood: unconditional love. God is the fount of unconditional love. We think about the sacrifice and pain our mothers endured to carry us as we grew. God knit us together in the womb and knew from the beginning of time He would need us in His story. We praise the mothers who are faithful to advocate for their children and their welfare, who are a soft place for their children to rest, even in adulthood. God is our ultimate place of rest and assurance- we can rest in full assurance that He is for us. (Romans 8 - we've been sitting in this chapter for 12 weeks as a church and it has been of great comfort)

I turn to my mother for comfort and advice to this day because she has spent her life demonstrating to me that she is for me and that her love is unwavering. Not everyone can say that about their mothers, and that is tragic. Likewise for their fathers. But we have seen God demonstrate His unwavering love in the cross; we have seen Him repeat it that love a thousand million times in a thousand million ways in a thousand million lives. It is a love that goes beyond the selfish interest that even the best of mothers have and transcends our understanding about how to love another person.

It is as uncertain but cherished children that we move forward - not uncertain about God's goodness or will, but as to how the path will unfold before us. We can move forward and not be paralyzed by over thinking or worrying. We can know that we will land where we are supposed to be, not because of our own righteousness, but because that's just how our Father operates. It will be good - it may not be easy, comfortable, or what we would have chosen, but it will be good. A mother who potty trains her child is thinking of their good, not their short term preferences or comfort. A mother who disciplines her child is thinking of their good, not what's the easiest thing for her to do at the time.

One thing our head pastor mentioned was that he knew that we were outgrowing the property and wondered if this was God's way of moving us to the new place we need to be to do what He has for us. That's an exciting thought. It may or may not be true. But what it reveals is the most important heart that we can have in these situations. It places God's glory above our rights. If we are only concerned about our rights, then of course we should fight this decision to the end, because I think we all believe our rights have been genuinely infringed upon. That's not what is important to us. What has been (and thank the Lord continues to be) the biggest point of concern is, "Is this how God wants us to bring Him glory? Does continuing to fight this particular injustice accomplish the work that He has for us at this time?" I thank God that our leadership has modeled this attitude to us all. This has been a significant time for me, if for no other reason than to see Godly leadership work itself out.

That's another point of "trust and obey" - if I am surrounding myself by others who are seeking to trust and obey God, it is easy to trust and obey my brothers and sisters when the time comes. At every level of our church family, we are learning how to trust and obey each other as we all seek to trust and obey God. (We are also learning that division among denomination is a widely overstated problem, at least where we sit. It has been overwhelming to see the support our brothers and sisters from every denomination have poured out in their resources, facilities, and prayers for us. They are trusting and obeying the Lord as they help us and we are just amazed at their generosity and support.)

We've learned a lot in the last months- there have been many difficult decisions that have had to be made. Plans have had to be hatched. Communications have had to be drafted and dispersed. When you have thousands of people to deal with, of course there are going to be missteps. Yet I am excited and heartened to see where this road leads. It doesn't feel like an ending - it feels like a glorious graduation to new things. We keep talking about how we are going from being in a temple to being in a tabernacle on the move. Well, shoot - the last time there was a tabernacle, there were children of God moving into the Promised Land. I will take that!

In this morning's worship service, I found myself in tears more than once- tears of joy. It felt so good to be with my church family worshipping in what has been our home for a long time. It felt good to see what the Spirit is doing and continues to do. More than anything else, though, it felt wonderful to be in a place where I know that I am trusting and obeying God, and that I am among a diverse group of believers who are trusting and obeying God as a single unit. What a crazy and glorious experiment - I am humbled to be a part of it.

I'll leave you with a selection from Romans 8:

"There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus... for God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit... But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in You, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you... For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
For all who are led by Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the Spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!"
... And not only creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience....
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose... What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.... Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?... For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

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