Don’t Mind Me, I’m Just Here to Meet Jesus

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.

IMG_0037To be located between the ages of 18 and 35 and also committed to living your life in the church of Jesus Christ in 2015 is by definition to be weird.

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.”

IMG_0318A 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.

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The People of Enough

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Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

It’s the question, you know it, the one that just sits there and feels like it will never leave. It usually comes when we are around that person who seems so perfect and so put together, the one who never seems rattled by the things that send us spiraling out of control.  Sometimes it is someone on a magazine or starring in a music video, but usually it is just a friend or family member or someone we know in our real lives who has it all figured out.  And so it comes:

Am I enough?

Have I done enough to live up to the expectations that I have for myself?  Will I ever be pretty enough or smart enough or funny enough to make people like me?  Will I ever be enough to really chase my dreams? Will I ever be enough to live the life I want for me and for my family?  Can I ever be enough?

These aren’t isolated questions that we ask and answer and then move on.  They stick around and they keep our attention. We chew them over at dinner and they stare back at us in the mirror. They are at the heart of our evening prayers and in our minds as we sit in the pew next to our family on Sunday mornings.

For those of us trying to love and serve God, our story is shaped by the familiar story we encounter in Scripture. And it is there that we discover the truth that answers these awful questions.  What we find there is this – no matter what, you are enough. You are enough. Not because of the number in your bank account or your family’s last name or even the degrees on your wall. You are enough,quite simply, because God says that you are.

This isn’t just church talk.  This is truth that you can hold on to when life hits you with everything it has.  This is truth that you can cling to when you aren’t sure where to turn.  This is truth that anchors you when everything in your life seems to be slipping away. This is truth you crave when you are frantically searching for solid ground. You are enough – this is the truth you need and that will keep you standing when the ground underneath you is shifting.

I think this is one reason the Apostles left the church specific things to do in order to sustain them. The practices we find in Acts 2 and 4 aren’t just a list to be checked off in order to be a good Christian. No, they are a gift the Apostles received from Jesus and then gave to us. They left them for us because they knew that in the midst of life and stress and anxiety that would come with world-shaking it would be all too easy to forget the truth they had experienced in Jesus.

So they joined together with their friends to hear stories and to be reminded of all the ways Jesus showed up so they could keep going.

These stories are holy. This is enough.

They prayed together, because sometimes life beats you up and makes you feel that you will never be enough. They knew what we know when we can remember –  that when you pray with your friends and with the God who has done everything to call you friend, you remember what you need.

These relationships are holy. This is enough.

They ate together, because despite all the divisions and all the ways we become isolated from the people we share life with, there is something that happens when you sit down with someone at table. When you eat together, you are reminded not so much about what separates you but about what you have in common.

These meals are holy. This is enough.

They shared together because life at its most fulfilling isn’t about keeping it to yourself. We want to be self-reliant, but self-reliance is an illusion. We inevitably run up against something we can’t handle – whether it is a confluence of bills we can’t pay, problems we can’t solve or relationships that are so far broken that we can’t unbreak them. And so we need help and we need people to share our burdens and help us hold our lives together.

This sharing is holy.  This is enough.

We are the people of enough.  We are the people who are enough and have enough despite what all our fears yell at us. We are the people who belong to a beautiful and whole family whether our house is full of children or just children at heart. We are the people who are loved and embraced and welcomed whether we were the first to get asked to the dance or are the one standing against the wall desperately hoping to be asked. We are the people who are filled with hope and a future whether we have years ahead of us or we are reminiscing about a life that once was while waiting on the new life to come.

That’s why in my church it is important to us to receive Communion.  So, regularly as part of our life together, we receive something that on its face seems insignificant – a few crumbs of bread and a small bit of Welch’s. It’s crazy, but we believe that some how and some way that in this tiny meal Jesus is with us – present at our table and more importantly in our lives.

And it is enough, every single time.  It is enough to bring forgiveness. It is enough to change us with grace.  It is enough to sustain us, to heal us, and to give us what we need. It is everything we believe in one moment.

No matter what, it is enough. No matter what you need, there is enough. No matter what you are facing today, you are enough.

Hear that again – there is no more condemnation. You are enough.

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