5.12.2004

It has happened again. I’m standing there, talking with people from the church and someone brings up a complaint that I honestly cannot believe is important enough to even mention. It is so trivial that it makes me want to vomit when I hear it. So what if the church sign didn’t get changed for a couple of weeks after Easter.

This was at a funeral home, just moments before the service. After the service, as we are filing out in our cars to the cemetery, I’m thinking to myself about this brief exchange. And I begin to wonder if a people (admittedly, only a few of them) sees such things as that important, can they ever become a true, loving community of faith? Is what I hope God does here just a dream, a fantasy? I start to feel that my time in a traditional church is limited; that there is no way God will be able to take the hearts of these people and make them new; that the wineskins are about to burst and both the wine and the skins will be lost.

This is a very frustrating feeling, really. And before we’re half way to the cemetery, I’m ready to conduct an entirely different graveside service. I’m ready to bury the whole congregation, at least emotionally. “Ashes to ashes; dust to dust; crap to crap. Just forget it and let’s get on with something new. Amen.”

But then another event comes to mind: our last Ash Wednesday service, nearly three months ago. I stand at the front of the church holding a bowl of ashes in my hand. One by one people file down the center isle. One by one they stop just in front of me; one by one I tell them, “From dust you have come; to dust you shall return. Repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

One by one they file forward and as the number of foreheads upon which I sign the cross grows, I become overwhelmed. Why are these people here for such an archaic expression of faith? Why do they bother coming forward for this? It doesn’t make sense. But it did make sense. It made perfect sense. They came because they understood, on some very basic and vital level, their need for a Savior. They grasped their need to repent and they came forward.

And, along about a third of the way through that line of penitent people, I remember that I love these people. I love them. I love them enough, by the grace of God, to want them to find the grace they were apparently crying out for that night. I love them and it dawns on me that I am thankful for them and for the fact that I have been called to be their pastor.

By the time I get to the cemetery, I’m ready to hang on for a little while longer before chucking it all. I’m ready to believe again that real transformation can actually happen, even here, even among these people, even in me. Amen.


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