Pentecost falls on May 15 this year. The Holy Spirit falls upon the disciples and gives them the strength and courage to tell how the Gospel of Jesus Christ changed their lives. In that Spirit, I begin my testimony to the Good News in my life.
In 2007, Lynne graduated from UIC with a masters in nursing. She then attained an administrative job in Sterling. I was the pastor at Messiah, Aledo, at that time. We had some decisions to make. We decided to purchase a home in Sterling. We also decided that I would keep my call at Messiah through Kristen’s senior year. After Kristen graduated, I would resign my position, move to Sterling with Jacob, and pursue a degree that would enable me to do counseling and mediation for families affected by autism and for pastoral families and congregations.
June 29, 2008, was my last Sunday at Messiah, Aledo. A week later, on July 6, I did not attend church. Nor did I go the next week or the next. I’ll be honest. The first Sunday was on purpose; I wanted a Sunday off. But over time, it became easier; I found other things to do – sleep in, do landscaping or home projects, make a trip to my parents’ place, just relax. Once, in August, Lynne got me to go to St. John’s, Sterling. But other than that Sunday, for five months I did not attend church. It was actually easier than I thought. I think God allowed me to have those few months “off” for a reason. The experience allowed me to understand why so many people choose not to “do church” on Sunday morning or view church as an option rather than an integral part of their lives.
But that all changed in December. That Christmas Eve Lynne persuaded me to go to the Christmas Eve service at St. Paul’s, Sterling. During the sermon and service as a whole, the Spirit took hold of me with these words from Scripture: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:5).”
Darkness. You know, that’s where I was at the moment. Didn’t realize it until then, but there it was. I was in the dark. Oh, I had read through my New Testament over the past six months. And, yes, I did pray on my own on more than one occasion. But to be Christian, to be a follower of Jesus, one must be in fellowship with other believers. “But aren’t they all just a bunch of hypocrites?” I’ve heard many ask. Yes, we are. But “God so loved the world… that he gave his only begotten Son.” The world - flaws and all. And that includes the church – flaws and all. Filled with sinners who would be saints and self-acclaimed saints who unknowingly are sinners. And that included me.
There’s more to the story, of course. But that night God used the words of Scripture and the words of Pastor Judy to reach me… and redirect me. There were some hurts and pains, worries and doubts, fears and sins that needed to be addressed. That night I began to give them over to him, place them at the foot of his cradle… which became the foot of his cross.
That evening I received Holy Communion for the first time since June 29. In that gift from God, Jesus’ light shined into my darkness. And, as the congregation sang Silent Night by candlelight, God began the healing of my soul. I started going to church again… but not just to go to church… but to be the Church, be an active participant in God’s work on earth. Little did I realize what he had in store….
In the above story, I tell you of the time when I had stopped attending church. Why do you suppose I gave church another chance? Have you ever stopped going to church? What happened? What were your reasons? Have you ever had a moment when you knew God’s Spirit was working behind the scenes? What was that like? What is the Church supposed to be? Do you have a role in the Church? If so, what is it? If you think not, think again, because you do. This is the moment God is inviting you to come back and find out what that role is.
Next month: Dealing with Fall Out from the 2009 ELCA Decision