During Paul’s lifetime, the Christian church was not yet an institution or a centrally organized set of common practices and beliefs. It was a living organism that communicated the Gospel primarily through relationships. This fits with Paul’s understanding of Christ as what we might call an energy field, a set of relationships.
I asked them to do something yesterday morning that we have never done in our church, in my time there anyway.
I had greeted folks when they arrived and was delighted though not surprised to see that some people from different parts of my world already knew each other. I loved watching them squeal with delight upon encounter and then work to sort it out ... why are you here? How do you know Melissa?
It was so much FUN!
I am not tooting my horn, I can't. It's not about me, it's not. You read that first paragraph, it's about relationships, friendships. It's about walking together on the lonely trek called Life. But three years ago I spoke from the pulpit to a handful of people, maybe 15? Yesterday, on the anniversary of my arrival at the Pawlet Community Church the pews were full. There were some empty spaces where some of my favorite people might have been, but I understood. I understood why they couldn't be there. Mostly what I saw was a church full of people.
I looked out and saw a man whose dad we buried that morning, a man I had baptised when he recovered from his medical crisis. I saw a woman who recently had become a proud great grandma. I saw a woman whose husband we buried not along ago who had not come to church since her two daughters had died. I invited her with a phone call; she came.
I saw the man whose brother is dying. I saw the couple I married on Easter Sunday. I saw the man who is nervously awaiting cancer-removal surgery, the woman who is worried about the prognosis. I saw the man who survived the horrible tractor accident sitting beside the man whose wife died recently. I saw the cancer survivor whose sister will be buried next week.
I saw the folks, husband and wife, who just started coming to church a few weeks ago. I saw my old friends, the men and women who have walked with me through some of my darkest hours and back into the light. I saw my new friends, my parents, my daughter.
So I did this thing that I have never done in my time with our church. And I wasn't sure how it would go because, you know ... rural New England Congregational ... and also because I remembered how it used to make me cringe a little when we had to do it in the churches I have attended.
I asked everyone to greet someone near them. Everyone was seated when I asked them to do this, so I thought it would be quick, a handshake to the neighbor then back to business.
I stood up front and watched.
At first it was quiet, people turned to the ones close to them and said hello. Then people started getting up and walking to other pews. I saw Peter walking around barefoot saying hello to folks, and I thought ... cool ... like the apostles. People were laughing and hugging and it got louder and louder in there. It became like a party, a good one. I wished I had a GoPro on my head to record the whole thing so that everyone could see how amazing it was. I had to reel them back in! That's how out of hand their love for each other got.
I thought it would never end. I hope that it doesn't.
Our church. Alive, vibrant, humming, with love and kindness and hospitality. I wish you could have seen it. I really do. It would make you feel better about volcanos and government officials and cancer and acid rain and death. What happened during those few minutes of handshakes and hugs is very much the counter-balance to life's sorrow and grief. I need it, you need it, we all need it. Church, at it's very best, is what it was in those moments: a set of relationships, all of us interwoven; an energy field of love. Amen.