While combing my ever-growing collection of “alternative” hymns for possible songs to include as part of our upcoming “Homecoming Sunday” worship service this week at East Church, I came across these lyrics, composed a number of years ago by Jay Beech:The church is not a building where people go to pray; It’s not made out of sticks and stones, it’s not made out of clay. You can go to worship but you cannot go to church; You can’t find a building that’s alive no matter how you search. The church is not a business, a committee or a board; it’s not a corporation for the business of the Lord. The church, it is the people living out their lives, Called, enlightened, sanctified for the work of Jesus Christ. – from “The Church Song,” by Jay Beech
This song well expresses a truth that most of us who are “church folk” understand at some level, and yet often tend to forget in the midst of the day-to-day doings of congregational life: that four walls and a steeple do not a church make, but you and I together in the presence of our Lord. Truly, after all our programs and events are done and over with, when all the meetings are finished and the sanctuary doors are closed, we who congregate in this place remain who we are: God’s people, the Body of Christ, the church in the world.
It has always sort of fascinated me, for instance, that for all the planning and preparation that goes into a worship service each Sunday, it ends up being the small and “unscripted” moments that resonate with the most meaning in our time together: the innocent yet utterly insightful comment made by one of the children as they sit shoulder to shoulder in the front pew in the sanctuary; a particularly inspired rendering of a song or hymn that truly lifts it to the level of a “ministry of music;” the ways that a verse of scripture, a word of prayer or a comment in a sermon will somehow touch us just exactly in the places where we dwell (and, as I mentioned in an earlier blog post, sometimes in ways previously unimagined by the preacher!). Even in each week’s usual verbal housekeeping, there often ends up being something that goes joyfully beyond the realm of a common announcement!
All this is indicative of the fact that ultimately, our worship is about community: people of faith gathering in fellowship with one another and above all, in communion with Jesus Christ, praising God and seeking out the movement of God’s own Spirit in and through our lives as persons and as a people. What was it that Jesus said about true worship being “worship in spirit and truth?” (John 4:24) Simply put, neither the physical space that surrounds us nor the trappings and logistics of the service itself are as important as what we gather to do together before God, which is to sing, to pray, to learn together of God’s Word, and to rededicate one another to the living out of that Word in our lives “out there” in the world. It’s that kind of worship that not only affirms our true identity as the church, but also sends us forth into the future with a clear sense of direction.
Friends, it’s true what the words of that song suggests: rather than a random gathering of individuals devoted to the operation of “the business of the Lord,” here at East Congregational United Church of Christ, we remain what we’ve always been: a group of pretty good people who with all their myriad strengths and weaknesses (and despite them as well!), are seeking to live out their lives with a dignity and purpose borne in a faith in God; a congregation of believers who by grace are called, enlightened, and sanctified for the work of Jesus Christ.
To quote another “alternative hymn” I remember singing in worship when I was young, “I am the Church! You are the Church! We are the church together!” (Thank you, Avery and Marsh!) Truly, whether we’re inside or outside of that sacred space we share on Mountain Road, whenever we are gathered together for worship, work and fellowship, we are the Church, which is no less than the Body of Christ…
…and which transforms every Sabbath we share into a “Homecoming Sunday.”
c. 2013 Rev. Michael W. Lowry