What is Church?- A place to make meaning

November 4th, 2010 – by Patrick Nafziger, Issues, November 2010

I have a shoebox in a closet.

It’s full of cards and notes I’ve received since leaving home.

I don’t keep everything–just the ones that really mean something. But by now that box is getting full. When I go to add a new card to the box, I notice it won’t close right anymore.

Those cards are kind of like snapshots of my life. One of the first cards I saved was from two high school friends. They gave it to me at my high school graduation party. I’ve saved cards my grandma sent me while I was in college. I have other cards from my home church as I went into a short term missions program. I have cards from when I was in seminary, when I was struggling with vocation, when we finally found a job, and now I’m starting a whole other drawer in my desk at work, filling up with cards pertaining to my job (I’m a pastor).

These are also more than cards. They’re memories. But I either need to make room in that shoebox or find another system for storing those memories.

I put off going through that box, because it will take time and effort to organize and choose which cards can finally be thrown away and which ones I’ll stick back in to bring out another day.

That’s kind of like the world we live in. Our lives are the shoebox. Every day, countless fragments of meaning are thrown our way. We strive to keep up with information overload in our Facebook world.

On one hand, we are connecting with people like never before–it’s never been easier to get more and more snapshots into others’ lives. But on the other hand, that means more and more people are demanding our attention–demanding that we help them build meaning out of scenes that just don’t make sense. Jane enjoyed her day. Bob just got home from work. Julie likes “click here if Jesus has ever answered a prayer for you”. Sam just built a barn.

Technology doesn’t help us make sense or meaning. Technology just increases the size of our shoebox. But this is a post about church, right? Not technology or cards or boxes. What if we think of church as the place you go for help sorting through your box?

I just recently preached a sermon about the road ‘from’ Emmaus. Two guys were walking to Emmaus when a stranger came up beside them. They walked and talked all the way to Emmaus. When they got there, the two guys invited the stranger to stay with them, and it turned out to be the resurrected Christ. “That same hour”, it says, they got back on the road and hoofed it back to Jerusalem–back to the fellowship, the only place they could go that would help them make sense of this Jesus thing that had happened to them.

They were driven (not in a car) back to Jerusalem. They couldn’t stay away. What might change if we started thinking of church like that? Not an obligation to be endured, but rather a gathering we are driven to with our box full of cards.

When the resurrected Christ shows up, we have a choice to make. We can either turn our back on the familiarity and comfort of home and make haste to join the fellowship…or we stay behind and watch Jesus fade into the distance.

I think that’s a definition of ‘church’ I can find myself in. Ω

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