my people

My friend and preacher, Mark Christian, made a refreshing confession yesterday. In the midst of a sermon on hope and trust, he admitted that his emotions, particularly anger, are living just beneath the surface lately. He said he just feels angry and frustrated all of the time. It made me so happy. Not because my preacher was struggling, but because in that moment I realized I wasn’t the only one. I’m a person who somewhat notoriously keeps his emotions under wraps. Dig too deeply into an INTJ and you are likely to find circuitry. I tend to use sarcasm as an emotional shield. But dang. Lately. Let’s just say that I resonate deeply with what Mark has been experiencing. I assume we aren’t the only ones.

I don’t think it is wrong to be emotional. It’s been an emotional year. I don’t think it’s wrong to feel anger, disappointment, frustration. It would be weird if you didn’t feel those things. But our emotional state does testify that we are missing something. Just like a physical ailment might be evidence that we are deficient in key vitamins and nutrients, our emotional state is often evidence that we’re deficient in something essential to our health. Maybe we’re missing peace and stability. Maybe we’re missing normal. Maybe we’re missing all of those things and those moments that have been taken from us. As Mark pointed out, we may also have a deficiency of hope and trust.

We might be missing all of those things. We might also be missing each other.

After Mark’s sermon in the morning, my family attended Advent services in the evening. The first Sunday of Advent is dedicated to hope. Advent at our church has become one of my favorite traditions. It’s a respite of quiet reflection in a chaotic season. We didn’t know how Advent was going to look this year. Would we even have Advent services this year?

We walked in to a darkened, packed sanctuary and grabbed our socially distanced row of chairs. Normally our family would be together. On this night we spread out. In the tradition of teenagers, both of mine sat in a row with their friends. My wife sat with a group of teenage girls that she mentors. I sat in a row with three middle schoolers including my youngest daughter. This probably wasn’t the intent of the socially distanced chairs, but one of the marks of being at home in a place is your willingness and ability to spread out. And this is our home. These are our people.

We began the service with a song. Kingdom Come.

God let your kingdom come
Hope is stirring, joy arising
As we look to the day
When all injustice will bow
and every voice will cry out:
Holy is Your name.

Two young couples came forward to read scripture and to light the candle. One couple, newly engaged. She is my daughter’s small group leader. He grew up in the church and is now working in ministry. My people. We read from Psalm 130.

I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the LORD more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.

We stand and sing I Will Wait for You as a response. My daughter reaches to hold my hand. I cry. Stinking emotions.

Out of the depths I cry to You
In darkest places I will call
Incline Your ear to me anew
And hear my cry for mercy Lord

So put Your hope in God alone
Take courage in His power to save
Completely and forever won
By Christ emerging from the grave

Next comes the testimony. It’s the story of one of our own. It is a story of addiction, brokenness, and wandering. It is a story of reconciliation, forgiveness, and ultimately, hope. It is also a story of community. Neighbors who become friends. Friends who become brothers and sisters. These are my people.

We stand again. The band leads us in our next song. I realize that the stage is full of my people. Dear friends, colleagues, former and current students. Madison, the best singer you’ve never heard of, starts belting out This We Know.

You are who say You are
You’ll do what You say You’ll do
You’ll be who You’ve always been to us Jesus
Our hope is in You alone
Our strength in Your mighty name
Our peace in the darkest day remains Jesus

This we know
We will see the enemy run
This we know
We will see the victory come
We hold on to every promise You ever made
Jesus, You are unfailing

I stop singing. I start listening. I hear my daughter singing in my ear. I hear voices coming from all around me. I see some hands raised. I see some heads bowed. I see a lot of swaying. I see the principal from the elementary school with her family. I see a woman who lost her husband not too long ago, one of the toughest women I know. I see our dear friends sitting in the row in front of us. More friends sitting in the row beside us. People we’ve known and loved for years. People who have helped us raise our kids. I see the faces of many other people – some I kind of know, others I don’t know at all. But I do know these are my people.

Worship is always important. Too often we fail to recognize its importance. That night, last night, it was impossible for me to miss the fact that something of great importance was happening. We weren’t just worshipping the same Lord. We were worshipping the same Lord together. It’s strange to say, but there was something almost defiant in our worship. Our worship was a protest. A protest against a world falling apart and going crazy. A protest against pain, death, and fear. These are my people. I’ve missed them. I need them.

The verse I hear quoted the most from people eager to defend the importance of “coming to church” is Hebrews 10:25. Don’t give up the habit of meeting together. It’s not a bad verse. I think it obviously applies. But I like another verse. It’s not often mentioned because the verse begins with an admonition to avoid getting drunk on wine. Ephesians 5:18-19.

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We normally think of worship in a purely vertical way. Our worship is directed to God. This is true, but it also doesn’t tell the whole story. Paul reminds us that worship is also for each other. We need to hear each other in worship. We sing to each other. This is something that Zoom church can never offer us; the ability to be with our people and encourage each other with songs of worship. I’m so thankful for my church. I’m so thankful for my people, my community, my family. I respect those who remain hesitant to meet together. Their concerns are legitimate. This isn’t a post to make anyone feel bad or shamed. All I know is that last night I felt some of my anger start to melt away hearing a message of hope and hearing my people singing in my ears on a cold, dark night.

O come, O come, Immanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.

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