Love of Words and a Word of Love

Posted: Sunday, May 23, 2010

Church people love church words, even when we don't always understand what they mean. On my shelf there is a "worship wordbook" that is supposed to explain all things connected to the seasons and expressions of the church, but even I have no idea what this explanation from it means:

"Customarily, bishops may wear the pectoral cross over the rabat when not vested; over the alb (with stole not crossed); under a cope."

If that cleared up some deep theological question for any of you, you're welcome.

We church people think we understand words that maybe we really don't get so well. One of our favorite words is "unchurched," meaning those people who we know are just sitting in their homes, waiting for the right invitation, waiting to be brought to the Lord, to fill our pews on Sunday, and to fill our collection plates, as well. If only we could reach all those unchurched people, if only all those unchurched people would connect to our church, if only ...

We are reluctant to admit that there are lots and lots of 'unchurched' people who have been connected to a church, and have been hurt, or drifted away without anyone noticing or seeming to care. Most 'unchurched' people do believe in God and have been to church, but found no reason to stay. Sadly, that says more about church than it does about 'those' people, doesn't it?

But sometimes people stay away because they don't get all the words, either. Maybe they think church is for the "good" people, and they don't qualify. That "worship" means "judgment." That "salvation" means "guilt." That "member" means "money." That "sacrifice" means not sleeping in on Sunday morning. (Well, maybe that one is true!)

Our words, and our assumptions about those words, too often keep us apart, rather than draw us together. But God's word trumps the arrogance of the church and the doubt of the 'unchurched.' God's word is more than we can understand, so we try to get close to it through a whole collection of words like life, hope, promise, mercy, grace, forgiveness, trust, joy. We make it so complicated, when it's actually very simple: God's word is love.

Out of that love grow the true words of the church: gather, listen, eat, go, do, help. Turns out church words really aren't that hard to understand at all. They are words of sharing, of invitation, of welcome for us all: Come and see!

Rev. Sue Bahleda is pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church in Juneau.

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