AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.
A 3-Minute Read
“You are loved. You are welcome. Just as you are.”
These were the first words I heard at Sunday’s gathering, as part of a welcoming prayer. And they were words I needed to hear.
One of the enduring struggles of faith, at least for me, is experiencing our own worthiness.
After all, we can, as an intellectual matter, accept that God loves us in a profound way. Indeed, this understanding is foundational to our faith.
And yet we may find our hearts trickier than our heads—fitful and restless and eager for reassurance.
“Come as you are.” I believe this even as I struggle to live this. And I appreciated the reminders Sunday morning.
When I was a little kid, we dressed up for church. Those were more formal times, and we worshipped at a large, traditional church.
In this, we were part of a long tradition of cleaning up and donning our Sunday best. I think this was mostly a way to show respect for God, our fellow parishioners and ourselves.
Of course, times have changed. But I wonder if Sunday best, then and now, might sometimes serve as a kind of armor. An outward sign of inward orderliness. Of having everything figured out.
As a church community, we can be sure of certain things about Christ and the Gospel, some of which we recite together every week.
But I like that our church never feels like a gathering of people who have it all figured out. We need not pretend we don’t have struggles and doubts—and therapists. We can come as we are, in vintage rock T-shirts and baseball caps. And, yes, even sport coats and loafers. (Old habits die hard.)
In recent years, The Parish has overcome a lot, in ways familiar to other churches and institutions and in ways more distinctive to our little group.
It is, as Jordan said, “a miracle that we are here.” But here we are nonetheless. And we can see that “God has been in on this.”
Jordan also talked about his yearning—our yearning—to build something more than a Sunday morning community. A community where we can all belong and participate, as one body with unique roles to play, just as Paul describes in I Corinthians 12.
Even more importantly, Jordan and others among us, leaders and laypeople alike, have been working on this. Actively. Thoughtfully. With care and persistence.
It won’t be easy. There are sure to be fits and starts, bumps and missteps along the way. And that’s ok. Because nothing this side of heaven is ever going to be perfect. Or even close. But it can be beautiful.
This journey will take some maturity, some understanding that, in a fallen world, people and institutions are going to let us down and, in fact, are wired to let us down.
In this, we cannot mistake the messenger for the Messiah, as some did of John the Baptist. Our church and other churches are messengers, human and flawed, just as John was.
Building a more meaningful church community will take our participation, one defined not so much by showing up on Sunday but showing up in the lives of others.
I couldn’t help but think Sunday about how my dad modeled what it means to show up for others. As a father, husband and son. As a mentor, coach and friend. As an employee, colleague and work leader. As a neighbor.
Dad didn’t talk about showing up for others. He just did it, with humility, kindness and grace. More than anything, he showed up and listened, often over lunch. He also made phone calls and wrote letters.
I remember a time one of his nieces was facing some key life decisions. (Unhappy, she was rushing toward marriage after a brief engagement.) Dad was busy, a young father with pressing obligations at home and at work. But he took a Saturday and tried to help. Driving two-plus hours. Sitting and talking with his niece for several more. Driving home.
In short, he showed up. I wish I could say my cousin went on to make an unbroken series of good choices, but she didn’t. She chose her own way, as we all too often do. But she could not have missed the message. That she mattered, that she was loved. And not just by the messenger but by the Messiah.
The end of our gathering was punctuated by the perfect chorus. Another reassurance of our blessedness and acceptance, in a clear echo of where we started. “His love is for us all.”
This coda reminded me of another, from U2’s “City of Blinding Lights.” In the last line of the song, one of hope and transcendence in the face of lost innocence, Bono sings, “Blessings not just for the ones who kneel, luckily.”
I think that’s both a prayer and a statement. A declaration that the bright light of Epiphany, the enduring hope of God come to Earth, shines on us all.
The bruised and the broken. The stumbling and the lost. The not-so-pious and not-so-churchy. Those not clad in Sunday best. Those who don’t have it all together.
Even so, we are his people. We are redeemed.