Last Sunday, I grabbed my bag and slammed the car door, heading for the front door of the church. It was 10:05 and I was late. Worship flowed out of the windows as a hundred and fifty hearts sang together. “I love to tell the story, twill be my theme in glory…To tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love.” I stopped and listened and joined my heart to theirs, right in the parking lot. As I took my seat in the midst of this lively congregation, I marveled at the love and joy I have for these people.
My relationship with Christ’s church is complicated, not in my attendance, but in my heart. There are moments, like these, when there is no where on earth I would rather be than tucked into a pew. But if I’m honest, there are also times when individuals and the way we church as a whole, rub me wrong. It isn’t this church, it is THE church. It is what happens in the space between people, when we gather and when we live together.
Just to be clear, I have probably hurt and offended far more people than I have been hurt and offended by. I bear the marks on my soul for the lashes of anger and betrayal, but there is also blood on my hands from the times my words have cut off or cut out another, when gossip and dissension bolstered my frail soul at the expense of another. I am aware of no small amount of damage my tongue and my heart have inflicted on others, and I am certain there is more that I do not know.
Today, I look around at these folks, and see folks. People just trying to walk it out. Folks with baggage, and wounds, limping along, doing the best they can. I fit right into this group of travelers. These are folks with complicated lives and real challenges. We face health concerns that press against the soul and sap our strength. Family issues push us and press us into shapes unimaginable. Financial challenges, pull us so thin we fear we will snap. We are aging, we are lonely, we are pulled in a thousand directions. In the privacy of our own lives we wonder if this is it, if we are enough, if our lives matter. We long to find refuge and rest, hope and healing in the midst of the storms of life.
We agree and disagree, and we choose not to tell. I imagine that everyone in this space believes just as I do. The reality is we all come at this from different spaces, and though we gather around the scriptures, and we share a statement of faith, we are actually quite diverse. Some of us shout boldly the truths of our faith, and others whisper them quietly. We shake our fists in anger and fear and we also bow our heads in humility and compassion.
We walk out our faith, growing and changing along the path. And so we come each Sunday, to this gathering and we offer our hearts, our lives, in worship. We come back again and again, because it fills us. Not every week, sometimes we come filled with anger, fear, resentment, and anxiety… and we leave the same. But we come. Together we walk down the road of life, one Sunday at a time. We share burdens, whisper prayers for comfort, we hug the children, and we laugh and cry. But we gather not just for the warmth of the gathering. We gather in His Name, believing that He is enough to calm our fears, to bolster our failing hearts, to strengthen us for the journey ahead. Here we share in fellowship and His love… and are reminded again of the old old story, of Jesus and His love.
I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.
I love to tell the story, because I know ’tis true;
It satisfies my longings as nothing else can do.
I love to tell the story, ’twill be my theme in glory,
To tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love.
I love to tell the story; more wonderful it seems
Than all the golden fancies of all our golden dreams.
I love to tell the story, it did so much for me;
And that is just the reason I tell it now to thee.
I love to tell the story; ’tis pleasant to repeat What seems,
each time I tell it, more wonderfully sweet.
I love to tell the story, for some have never heard
The message of salvation from God’s own holy Word.
I love to tell the story, for those who know it best
Seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.
And when, in scenes of glory, I sing the new, new song,
’Twill be the old, old story that I have loved so long.