Updated on November 9, 2017
For the love of the church and all of the people
“What if it had happened at your church? What if it were you?” a friend and I are discussing all of the recent events in Sutherland Springs, TX. Church just isn’t her thing; so she is earnest in her questioning. “What would you want everyone to be talking about?” We are lamenting the horrible evil and the broken hearts of so many people. But she looks me straight in the eye when she asks that question. “What would you want the nation’s conversation to be about if you died while standing in your church?”
I can’t answer her for the way the words stick in my throat.
Those people and that church have been in our hearts all week, haven’t they?
I have a thing about churches. My church, your church, the big church with all the programs and the quiet little church on the side of the road? I love them all. I can’t help it.
Whenever we take road trips that wind us through little towns, I love to drive by the churches just as they are dismissing. It’s the people I want to see as they file into the parking lot. God’s people filtering back out into his world with their hearts a little different. I imagine his smile as he watches them hustle children, shake hands, fold up chairs and go on back to their ordinary places. And I imagine him walking right there among them.
I guess my love affair with the church started early. Old upholstered pews, overhanging balconies, secret hallways, and old stone sanctuaries were the playgrounds of my childhood and my place of refuge as I grew.
But it wasn’t just the building. It was the people. The ordinary regular people who loved me through all of the stages of my life. It somehow made me pretty certain that Jesus, himself, actually lived in my childhood church. I just knew that one day I would come running around the corner from the Coke machine in Fellowship Hall and he would be standing right there.
So when I hear the news? A shooting in the middle of a church service? The people right in their pews, hymnals and Bibles and children all gathered and facing the altar. That’s where the evil went this time? The church? He entered the church?
I can’t quite find the words to answer her question.
“What would you want the conversation to be about if that evil had shot its way into your church?”
The country is spinning out a lot that is right and true and issues that need to be addressed as we all deal with this event. But I don’t think it was for the love of those issues that the people of Sutherland Springs Baptist Church got up on Sunday morning. It wasn’t for a love of politics or gun control or policy that propelled them to dress their children, grab up their Bibles and plant themselves in the pews of Sutherland Springs Baptist Church.
It was for the love of a Savior.
“We’ve all read the book,” a grieved parishioner is quoted as saying, “We know how the story ends. Good wins. We’re gonna be ok.”
They have to have 26 funerals. Whole families were wiped out when evil dressed all in black and shot its way into their house of worship.
But. The newspaper articles quietly quote the devested ones left behind as proclaiming the goodness of God and clinging to Jesus to get them through.
My friend cannot contain her questions.
Yeah, I whisper it quiet, it doesn’t make much sense.
But here’s the thing. It’s what can happen after you spend a few months of Sundays standing shoulder to shoulder with regular ole everyday people trying to hear the voice of a holy God. It’s what happens when you read the words of your Creator until the pages are ragged and dog-eared. When week after week you hear it, “This is my body broken for you“ spoken over bread and wine and Sunday after Sunday you simply take, eat and remember.
It gets inside of you. You start to live it. And love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself? These words become lifelines, food for your weary soul.
That’s what I would want the conversation to be about. Hearts and souls and regular people who work in ordinary ways to bring the words of Jesus to life; about how to love your neighbor. I finally pull out an answer to her question. She raises her eyebrows at me as I stumble through it.
Yes, your actual real-life neighbor, the one that maybe you don’t even like. I would want the country to talk about how to help those in need and love those who are unlovable. I would want them to hear the words of a God who loved the broken and busted world so much that he gave his only Son for it.
You see, I am pretty sure that it wasn’t for the love of an institution or some rules or a building that those people stood in that church. It was for the love of a God who came and gave his very life for them. And so, I think maybe what they would want us to do is simply this: Go love people.
“That’s the strangest thing to say to a world that is so incredibly broken,” she says.
Yeah. It is. But it just may be its only hope.
“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19).