Last week I was reading as Laura and I headed down to Macon to help Laura’s Mom plan for Laura’s Dad’s memorial service and go through his personal effects. As she drove, I read something from Rachel Held Evans that stuck with me. In fact, even now, over a week later, my mind keeps coming back to it.
Funny thing is it is a book I had read before; however, it was what was open on my Kindle, so I began to read. The book is entitled Searching for Sunday. If you go to Amazon, you will find this description of it:
Like millions of her millennial peers, Rachel Held Evans didn't want to go to church anymore. The hypocrisy, the politics, the gargantuan building budgets, the scandals--church culture seemed so far removed from Jesus. Yet, despite her cynicism and misgivings, something kept drawing her back to Church. And so, she set out on a journey to understand Church and to find her place in it.
Centered around seven sacraments, Evans' quest takes readers through a liturgical year with stories about baptism, communion, confirmation, confession, marriage, vocation, and death that are funny, heartbreaking, and sharply honest.
A memoir about making do and taking risks, about the messiness of community and the power of grace, Searching for Sunday is about overcoming cynicism to find hope and, somewhere in between, Church.
The particular section the book was opened to was the section on Confession. Confession is really hard for most of us. It means admitting we are less than perfect and may have at times been wrong. It involves us being really honest with ourselves, our God, and often others. We don’t really like that, and I totally get it because I am uncomfortable with it too. We know it’s important because we have confession as a part of our worship, and we confess aloud in unison, but we remain silent for our personal declarations. I once wondered about changing this so that we thought of societal wrongdoings in silence and then confessed aloud our personal admissions of sin.
However, when I remembered that I too would have to participate—maybe even go first—I decided that we would stick to the status quo.
Yet the truth is the Church of Jesus Christ is a place to bring our brokenness. But our sinful pride and egocentric arrogance often make us leave those things in the church parking lot. We enter with a façade that says we have it all together in spite of the fact that this is not true for any of us. That truth is what led Evans to write these words that have stuck with me.
IN MANY CHURCHES, THE HOLIEST HOUR OF THE WEEK occurs not in the sanctuary on Sunday morning but in the basement on Tuesday night, when a mismatched group of CEOs and single moms, suburbanites and homeless veterans share in the communion of strong coffee and dry pastries and engage in the sacred act of telling one another the truth. They admit their powerlessness and dependency. They conduct “searching and fearless inventories” of themselves. They confess to God, to themselves, and to one another the exact nature of their wrongs. They ask for help. And beneath the flickering of fluorescent lights, amidst tears and nervous coughs and the faint scent of cigarette smoke, they summon the courage to expose their darkness to the light: “My name is Jeremy, and I’m an alcoholic.” I’ve heard many recovering alcoholics say they’ve never found a church quite like Alcoholics Anonymous. They’ve never found a community of people so honest with one another about their pain, so united in their shared brokenness. “The particular brand of love and loyalty that seemed to flow so easily [in recovery meetings] wasn’t like anything I’d ever experienced, inside or outside of church,” Heather Kopp says in her memoir about getting sober. “But how could this be? How could a bunch of addicts and alcoholics manage to succeed at creating the kind of intimate fellowship so many of my Christian groups had tried to achieve and failed? Many months would pass before I understood that people bond more deeply over shared brokenness than they do over shared beliefs.”
I think this is part of the reason church attendance is rapidly declining and why church hopping is so popular. Its easy to leave somewhere when all that connects you is a belief. Those bonds are weak and are subject to change based on a shift in one’s taste or thought. But a connection where a bond is made based on the sharing of personal concerns and pains and struggles—those bonds have a deep and lasting impact. It is tough to walk away from you when I know the road you have walked, and you know mine.
And while sharing this is uncomfortable it is only when we do this before God and one another that we can truly see the power of God’s grace.
I think this is in part what Paul was talking about in chapter 12 of 2nd Corinthians. Here Paul writes these words.
Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (6-10)
Paul confesses what he calls his “thorn in the flesh,” admitting he is not perfect and in fact far is from it. But Paul confesses his shortcomings and notes that in still choosing to be a follower of Christ he allows God’s power and God’s perfect nature to be made manifest even through his brokenness.
In the coming days we will be studying the Sarasota Statement. It is a confessional statement that was initiated by NEXT Church and the Presbyterian Foundation in 2017. It is a document encompassing lament, hope and conviction—an attempt to speak theologically both to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and to the world beyond. It touches on tough subjects, and I hope and believe our study of this will help move us forward in honest conversations about the church and its ministry in this time and place.
As the document’s preamble states, “We are people of hope who confess Jesus Christ is Lord over a Kingdom in which no one is hungry, violence is no more, and all suffering is gone. All sit together around a shared table, wolves and lambs enjoy each other’s company, and every tear is wiped away from every eye.”
To experience this, we will have to be honest and boldly confess who we are.
Let me begin…
My name is Clay and I am a sinner. I have messed up a lot. And if you let me, I would like to share some of my story, and I would like to hear yours as well.