I feel closest to God in the mountains; the trees, the fresh air, the adventure all make me want to sing praises to God for the beauty, awe and wonder of this world. I’d love to worship God in nature, celebrating all that is right and good.
But, I’ve been called into a faith that does not focus on the beauty, awe and wonder of God. These are all amazing aspects of God that are wonderful to praise and celebrate, but the focus of faith for those who follow Jesus the Christ through Good Friday and Easter is not beauty and wonder. Creation is not the grounding for our faith, but the eternal power of love is.
That sounds so sweet that it could be Hallmark card, but it is anything but sweet. Love is work. And it is why I may feel closest to God in the trees, but I worship and know the heart of God when I am gathered with people. We know the eternal power of love not when we look at the amazing view, but when we look deeply into the hurt and sorrow of what it means to be human and figure out how to love and forgive.
I want God to be about sunsets and fuzzy bunnies, but I follow one who was tortured and executed by the state with words of forgiveness on his lips. I want God to be about happy endings and hammocks on a warm beach, but the new life that is raised from the tomb immediately starts the hard work of reconciling frightened disciples. I want God to be about me but, alas, love can never be just about me.
So, I have gone to church pretty much every Sunday since I was born. I did take a couple weeks off in college after I fell asleep during the sermon and bashed my head on the pew in front of me. Slightly embarassing.
I’ve been in church long enough to know that they are filled with hypocrites, sinners and strugglers. Churches are not in the entertainment business; they cannot rival reaching the top of Mt. McGinnis on a clear day. But, they are still one of the few places where people gather and try to figure out how to love and forgive each other. We try to figure out how to sing praises to God in the mess of this world, how to be honest with each other about the part we play in the mess, and how to hope.
I love God the most when I am walking in the woods, but I know God’s love for the world most clearly when I am confessing, praying and singing with a group of fellow sinners. I know God’s love when we gather across all that divides us to experience a new life united in love.