I sat down for a few minutes after a long day, only to glimpse at the accusations coming from the clock. So, I got up, hugged my daughter and my wife, and then did the last thing I wanted to do – I left the house.
Before I make my way from the parking lot into the building I smell the food that has been cooking all afternoon and hear the conversations that are already in full swing.
It is Wednesday night and we are about to have Church.
I make the rounds, doing some talking but mostly listening, catching up on the news – the appointments at the doctor, the latest leak in the building that will cost us more money, the budding crisis at school. The food is ready, so I pray, because as the pastor apparently I’m the only one who knows how. The food is good and people are happy, so no one notices as I migrate to the youth room, where it doesn’t take long to get the pulse on how things are going – but only if I can manage to get them to look up from their phones.
We’re all here for different reasons. Some because it’s a meal that someone else has cooked. Others are lonely and want the company. Still more are here because this is just what we do, what we’ve always done – gather among friends who have become family, talk and share, and learn something about the Story we want to define our lives. There are some among us who are experts in the Bible, still others who are just learning their way around it. And yet when the pages are passed out, we are equals in the same silence that comes from reading and searching, hoping and believing.
We’ve been in Galatians for a few weeks now, four or five. We’ve learned a lot about conflict, and a little about circumcision and still more about some Old Testament stories we may have forgotten. But mostly we’ve been learning about identity – the new one God is making us in and wants for the world.
It’s hard not to think about the news when Paul writes about one humanity and how in Christ the old divisions don’t matter anymore. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” We add our own categories, thinking and repenting of the divisions we hold on to, asking God to help us understand who we really are and to let that truth work on us and lead us into the better future God wants to give us.
Paul is really mad with the Galatians. They’ve lost their way and so he doesn’t mince words – “I am in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.” The men look down at the tables not sure the pain he is describing. But the moms in the room, they get it.
What he really wants for them is to know God to participate in the work God wants to do in them. Allow God to form Christ in you, he says, and just watch as the old falls away and something new and so much better comes.
What I Can’t Forget
I sat in a professor’s office a few years ago. He asked me about a small, fledgling group I was a part of. What do you guys do, he wanted to know?
We cook some soup, I told him, we read a chapter of the Bible, and then we talk about it. This professor had forgotten more about the Bible than I will ever know, a product of his life’s work being studying and writing about Scripture. “Nothing like it,” he said. “Never forget that.”
This work isn’t easy. Meetings require more meetings. There are hard conversations to have, problems that don’t come with easy solutions. The church is evolving – some think we’re evolving too fast, others not fast enough. Everybody wants to know how we can reach more people, why people aren’t coming and what will happen if we don’t figure it out.
If you read about church online everyone is a consultant with a ready made answer for what to do – how to be faithful, what issues to fight for, the right new measures to embrace and the wrong ones to reject.
The confidence that comes from knowing you are doing the right thing, or at least not the wrong thing, can be pretty evasive. There are plenty of days when you get to the end and wonder if you’ve done anything to advance the Kingdom.
But not on Wednesdays.
I drive home after a long day, tired but not defeated. I reach the door and see my wife reading a story to my daughter. They both look up and smile. My daughter can’t talk yet, but one day she will. And when she can, I’ll tell her about Wednesday nights, and how her dad is tired but grateful for it all.
Because on Wednesdays we read and we eat and we talk and we listen. Because on Wednesdays we have Church.
Because on this Wednesday, in the midst of all, we have done something that matters.