Tuesday, 18 March 2014

There She Is Again Part II

“Any visitors here today?”
 I put my hand up. 
“Where are you from?” 
Toronto! I’m just getting over my frost-bitten lungs after visiting your city a couple of weeks ago.”

I was in a Spanish-style building in southern California, a continent away from my hometown where I’ve given up on attending church. I was at the worship service partly for my husband’s sake and partly because I had noticed La Jolla Lutheran’s lawn sign that read simply, “We follow Jesus”.
Now that’s the kind of church I dream of – one where following Jesus took precedence over ego, where apologies and forgiveness would be the norm, where humility and the desire to improve ruled. That kind of church could make a difference in the local community.

Imagine my surprise when the minister proceeded to spend half of his sermon recounting a story set in Toronto. With wit and self-deprecation he told how years ago he had encountered the supernatural presence of God at what is now called "Catch the Fire", a church near Toronto's Pearson airport. He attended meetings during a “revival”, a phenomenon that sometimes springs up when people become deeply hungry for the new way of life that Jesus offered the world. At these meetings many people experienced strange sensations and inexplicable physical healings that convinced them of God’s reality and Jesus’ divinity. 
The minister’s stories were the kind that cause the same two reactions that people in bible times had to Jesus. Either this is really God or that guy’s totally lost his rational mind.

The preacher admitted that he himself had remained sceptical until he collected more evidence, but that he eventually became convinced that God does things that don't necessarily make sense to us. His thesis was that we should avoid scornfully dismissing what others do or say before we consider whether it could be of God. We can't confine the Eternal One to our comfy Sunday rituals or familiar traditions. 

I had a hard time sitting quietly in my pew as I thought, “There She is again!”
I sensed the One who is greater than the internet, the One capable of attending to every human being simultaneously, not to offer clear answers like a search engine, but to interact with each one of us intentionally, like the wisest of coaches. If we're willing, it seems that God shows us how to change for the better, enlivening us to add love and justice to our corner of the planet, just as the members of this local church were doing.
Instead of scolding me for not hanging in there at any church right now, apparently God looked with love on my hopeless disillusionment and surprised me with this visit to one church that seemed to be serious about following Jesus. These Christians didn’t only put up a lawn sign that stated their commitment, they also hosted a free art show for local artists, staffed an overnight shelter and diningroom for homeless folks and provided sermons that warned pew-sitters not to be judgemental. 

Is my thinking so simplistic and self-focussed that I imagine the Source of Life arranged a special church service in California for this Torontonian on the one Sunday in February, 2014 when I'd be at La Jolla Lutheran? Haven't I noticed that  there are important global issues that need divine intervention?
There you have the paradoxical mystery of Christian belief. God, who is beyond human understanding, uses every way, in every place and time, to whisper to every person,
"Here I am. My love for you is endless. If you look for me, you will find me. I intend to heal creation and I hope you will join me. Follow Jesus." 

Maybe, on that morning in delightful San Diego, my eyes and ears were wider open than usual. The Pacific's gorgeous surf roared nearby and days earlier I’d been stunned by the miracle of tiny streams trickling through the vast stony desert at Borrego Springs. It was easy for my vacationing heart to well with gratitude and delight. There She was again, God's invisible self, in a church building, of all places.

It’s harder to feel the same joy and confidence when I'm writing today in my Toronto basement during freezing winter weather (yes, still). And, yes, I still don't know a local church where I would fit in. But as I endure the annual wait for Spring's green uprising, I’m remembering the hard truth described in Hebrews 11:1,
"Faith is the assurance 
that what we hope for will come about, 
and the certainty that what we cannot see exists."