I've heard a lot of sermons in my life. Quite frankly, few of them have really stuck in my memory. When I was in high school one of our pastors gave a message that has remained in my mind throughout the years. Well, to be more accurate, I should say that the main point of his message has stuck with me, although I cannot remember all of his subpoints. This message had to do with the nature of the church, something that has been on my mind lately.
The pastor introduced his topic in a rather unusual way (at least for the time.) He played us the themesong from a popular television show called “Cheers.” This song repeats the refrain:
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they're always glad you came
You want to be where you can see
People are all the same
You want to go where everybody knows your name.
The pastor pointed out that the reason the bar featured in the show was so popular, and a large part of why the show itself was so popular, is that it presented a place that filled the longing expressed in the title song. Cheers was a place where people knew your name and were glad you came. That, he stated, is exactly what the church should be. The church should be a community where a person feels welcomed as he or she is; where people are glad to see you and miss you when you are absent. It should be a place where you are known and where you know others. This, said our pastor was the nature of grace, which is the core message of the church. In fact, he suggested we should rename our church to something more fitting, such as “Grace's Place.” I've always liked that idea and should I ever have the opportunity to pastor a church, I may very well borrow his idea.
Unfortunately this doesn't describe the reality of much of the church. Church often becomes a place for putting on masks, pretending that we are spiritual and sometimes—too often—trying to outdo one another with our pious displays of spirituality. Can people really be themselves in your church? Can we accept one another in our broken humanness? Or does that make us uncomfortable? If someone stands up front to tell a story about what God is doing, are we able to hear stories of unhealed brokenness, or are we only comfortable hearing stories of victory? It's a messy world and believers are not exempt from this messiness. Too often we try to pretend we are and we project the sense, intentionally or unintentionally, that we must leave our messiness at the church door if we want to participate in the community. But that's not what the church is about. The church should be a place where we demonstrate practically the grace of God towards one another, accepting one another in all our fragile brokenness and allow God's healing to flow through to to each other. In my experience such communities of faith are rare, but when you find one it's like an oasis in a desert, or perhaps like a neighborhood bar name Grace's Place.