It’s 9:40 AM on a Sunday morning, and my patient wife and I are looking for a street, 37th street, to be precise. We woke up early and braved the Seattle traffic (baby town frolics when compared to the insanity that is driving in Mexico City) to drive 73.9 miles to Tacoma. We are meeting a friend.
Alright, so he’s not really a friend in the strictest sense. Well, not even in the Facebook sense, but, he’s invited us to the Soma Gathering, and, more amazingly, he’s asked if we’d like to stay in his apartment while he visits his family. I’ll say that again so that can sink in. We’ve never met him before. He heard through another friend (whom we’ve also never met) that we needed a place to stay. He texted us and now we are looking for the gathering so we can introduce ourselves.
When Christ prayed in John 17 that his followers would be one just as He and the Father were one, it is an amazing prayer. [This is an extremely encouraging passage of scripture. Actually, I won’t be offended if you skip the rest of this post and just read John 17. On second thought, I want to encourage you to read John 17 instead of this. Do it.] Anyway, think about it. Jesus wanted his followers, his disciples, the little Christs (Christians), his bride, his church to be one just as He and the Father were one. Now, walk into any given church on any given Sunday and you will find a lot of “Oh, there is Suzy, why does she come to this service? She knows I can’t stand to look at her face! Someone just shoot me.” So, what happened?
Did God not answer Jesus’ prayer? If he didn’t, then there is a whole lot of theological yoga that you are going to have to do when you read the gospels.
Or, you can believe that God answers all of Jesus’ prayers because they are in perfect unity with each other and that Suzy’s church “friend” is either A. in sin, or B. not saved. It’s that simple.
Stefanie and I eventually find 37th street and our GPS assures us that the tall ancient brick building to our left is indeed Lincoln High School. The flag hanging on the light pole informs us that the school is celebrating its’ centennial.
We park the 4Runner, fill the backpack and we are ready to go. We make it halfway up the first flight of stairs before a man in jeans a black jacket spots us. A smile spreads across his bearded face as he walks towards us.
“Ben and Stefanie,” he says, it’s not a question.
“Jaben?” I say, shaking my head in disbelief, “How did you know it was us?”
“Well, I was looking for a couple I didn’t recognize,” he says, half laughing.
We finish walking up the stairs and Jaben quickly throws out a disclaimer that Soma isn’t what he was expecting the first time he came. He isn’t kidding, no one was waving cars into open parking spots, no one with a lanyard and a smile welcomed us, they don’t have a newcomers table, and I’m fairly certain that this will be a coffee-shop-free experience. In the face of all of those facts, I’m not even sure that someone could call Soma a church.
We walk into the ancient auditorium where the worship service has already begun. The smooth high ceiling of the auditorium contrasts the ornate wood and metal work. It reminds me of a theater where Little Women should be acted out. The wooden stage rises four and a half feet above the carpet and on the stage there are two people. A middle-aged man with a grey-streaked beard is earnestly strumming a guitar and singing. To his right, in the middle of the stage, a small girl (probably five or six) is in a doing her best to impersonate a ballerina.
She is wearing pink tights and oversized white ankle warmers. Her dance is earnest. Her movements are choppy and uncoordinated, but her little feet keep moving. She is twirling and stamping her feet to the music that her dad is playing. She is worshiping with all her might. I’m reminded of the scripture where David dances with all his might before God and isn’t at all concerned that he’s making a fool out of himself.
They play and dance through two songs and then he nods to her and smiles. The thirty or so of us in the audience clap for them and then we all sit-down. The pastor stands up in plain jeans and a comfortable-looking shirt. He starts by asking the congregation about things that prevent us from standing confidently in the grace that we have in Christ.
“Does anyone have any thoughts as to why this is so hard for us to do?” he says, surveying the crowd. Someone’s hand pops up near the back of the auditorium. “Yes, David Rodgers,” he says. Note: I totally made that name up. I’m not even close to being good at remembering names.
I’m not impressed. The speaker obviously knew that his friend would answer a question. Heck, they probably rehearsed it before the service started. David says, that as humans, all we know is conditional grace and that it is hard to accept anything so pure and free as not having to do anything to be accepted.
Four or five more people raise their hands and chime in and every time the speaker addresses them by their first and last name. Something amazing is going on here, but what is it? What is the word for this? Unity? Family? Community? And then it hits me: oneness.
This is the bride of Christ. Obviously, not the whole bride, but a part of the body. Stef and I have been driving thousands of miles and visiting our share of churches as we’ve been on our journey, but we won’t be walking back to the car shaking our heads and praying earnestly for God to purify the American church, this time. This time, I find myself more and more overwhelmed with joy as the speaker continues to talk about just standing in the grace that God has given us through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I start to cry. My cheeks are hot and my tears are rolling down them. Stef turns and asks me what is wrong.
“I’m just so happy,” I whisper, “Isn’t God’s bride beautiful?”
I am overjoyed to report that after six months of searching, Stef and I have finally found a home.
Until next time,
Lose your life!
Hoping that you all take time to rest in God’s grace today.
“But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus. God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:4-10