A good friend and I had one of those conversations a few weeks ago. It wasn’t one of the quick ones where you catch up on where the family is headed on summer vacation. No, this was one of the real ones, you know the type, where you dive into the stuff that really matters; your hopes and dreams and the questions and ideas that you really want to shape your life. And it was in this conversation we voiced something we’ve both known for some time – we are weird.
It’s true. It might not be obvious at first glance. We’re both in our 30’s, we’re both overeducated, and on our better days we both are professionals. But where it gets weird is this – we are both still in the church. As if that wasn’t enough, we both spend most of our waking hours not just attending worship but serving in church leadership.
This isn’t anything really new, of course. We heard it again with the latest Pew U.S. Religious Landscape Study which was released a couple of weeks ago. You probably saw it online or on your morning news as pretty much anyone with any perspective on church had their say on it. The truth is that the numbers revealed what a lot of us already know by observation or experience – that more people are struggling to stay connected with the Church and the people struggling the most are those are around my age and younger.
Both my chat with my friend and the Pew Report brought to mind the Ascension. It comes in Acts 1, when Jesus leaves the Apostles and tells them to wait. They are left alone, staring at the sky, awestruck at what has just happened and what it will mean for their lives. While they are looking skyward two messengers appear with an obvious question, “Why do you stand looking towards heaven?” Put another way it goes something like this, “What are you still doing here?”
That’s a question people like me and my friend get a lot. When it comes to church, a lot of our friends want to know what keeps us here and why we invest so much time and energy and passion in something plenty of folks claim to be doing just fine without.
I’ve given a lot of answers over the years, some I thought were helpful and faithful and some that weren’t. But while reading Rachel Held Evans’ new book I came across some words that answer that question better than I ever have: “We do church this way, because people are looking for Jesus.”
A lot of days that feels like a crazy thing to say. Like anyone who has ever been a part of church, there are things about it that drive me crazy and leave me disillusioned. In spite of all that, however, the reason I am here and the reason I keep coming back every Sunday is that some how and some way it is in the church where I have met and continue to meet Jesus.
It has been in the church where my imagination has been sparked about how to live a faithful life in this world. It has been in the church where almost all of the most important relationships in my life have been formed. It has been in the church where I have been able to most fully use my mind to engage important real world issues. It has been in the church where I have done the hard work of facing my own sin and brokenness and also received the beautiful gifts of forgiveness and grace. It has been in the church where I have come to believe and experience firsthand the Kingdom truth Becca Stevens teaches us – that love is the most powerful force in the world for social change.
Believe it or not, I am here because this is where I meet Jesus.
I meet Jesus as a saint in my church pours over his Bible Study Lesson in the hopes that his brothers will experience the same grace he did in a video he is presenting. I meet him as young adults give their lives to serve the poorest of the poor – not because it is the cool thing to do but because Jesus meant what he said when he said when you do it for the least of these you do it for me.
I meet Jesus when busy people give time to share the Gospel as they understand it in hopes that someone else might experience the new life that they have. I meet him when people sacrifice not to earn a tax credit but to help someone who is hungry be fed.
I meet Jesus by being part of a group that doesn’t allow me to share life only with people who think like me. I meet him when I have to listen and learn and grow together with people who often see the important issues of the day in ways that I find mind-boggling. And I meet him at the table, where hungry and hurting and broken and divided people are made one and made whole by the selfless love of God and the gift of life we receive in bread and cup made holy.
I am here because this is where I meet Jesus.
The church has plenty of problems. There are days when the beautiful bride of Christ looks bullied and battered and seems like the last place you would meet the lamb of God. And yet, there is something special here.
Despite everything else, when I come to church I still meet Jesus.That’s what I am looking for. And that’s enough to keep me here.