It's a struggle to get everyone sufficiently clothed on Sunday morning. And matching is definitely optional these days. Cleanliness is relative. And it doesn't really matter if the shoes are on the right feet or the pants are facing in the right direction. Just so long as the important parts are covered and the outfit is somewhat seasonably effective. I have to choose my battles here, and clothing is just not one of them. A healthy breakfast? I guess cookies are close enough to donuts which are a decent substitute for cereal, right? Well, it's ok for one day. Of course, by the time we get everyone loaded up and into church, we're all exhausted from fighting the battles that really are critical. Clothing is pretty much required in all 50 states, at least the last time I checked.
And then there is the dread of Sunday school - my dread, not my children's. Will the regular teacher be there? Will they actually keep my child from wandering out of the classroom? It's happened before. Will they treat those over-stimulated meltdowns gently, with respect? Will they understand the verbal stimming or the food hoarding at snack time? Do they understand the foster care rules about facebook pictures and privacy matters? By the time I get to the sanctuary for the service, I am pretty well spent. I'm trying to get my heart and mind prepared to listen to the sermon, but people are asking me inappropriate questions about some of my adopted children. "I'm not at liberty to say," I respond as gently as I can muster. The questions don't stop. And neither do the curious stares. Some days, even worship is exhausting and I am relieved when a friend knowingly diverts the conversation to my pet chickens. Chickens are such a great escape when the conversation gets a little too personal. It's easier to let them think I'm a crazy chicken lady than to argue about not wanting to disclose information that really isn't theirs to know. Chickens don't judge, I think. It probably would have been easier to just stay home.
But church isn't supposed to feel like this. King David wrote in the psalms about worship. He said,
“How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of Heaven’s Armies. I long, yes, I faint with longing to enter the courts of the LORD. With my whole being, body, and soul, I will shout joyfully to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow builds her nest and raises her young at a place near your altar, O LORD of Heaven’s Armies, my King and my God! What joy for those who can live in your house, always singing your praises.” (Psalms 84:1-4 NLT). In the Old Testament, God would come and rest on the tabernacle, the place of worship, in the form of a pillar of fire or a cloud of smoke. His presence so real, so tangible, I think the worshippers could smell the smoke heavy in the air, feel the warmth of His presence. A presence so real that even the sparrows longed to be there. The psalmist writes that just one day in God's presence at the tabernacle is better than a thousand days anywhere else. The love, the hope, the healing presence of God was unmistakable because God, in His glory, showed up.
What if the presence of God was just as real today? What if we could physically feel God in our midst, smell the aroma of His closeness like the heavy floral perfume of the lady in the next pew? If we could sense God so strongly, wouldn't the struggle and hard work of getting to church pale in comparison to being with Him? Wouldn't we be less focused on all of life's challenges and more focused on getting to know God Himself if we could just know for sure that He was there?
Jesus tells us that wherever two or three are gathered in His name, He is there. The loving, healing, hope-instilling presence of God is just as real, just as close, just as powerful today as it was in the manifestation of God hovering over the tabernacle in the wilderness. This is why we come to church. Not because Sunday School is the perfect haven for our kids with extra needs, not because it's free of challenges, or even free of nosy folks. We come because God is there and it is so good to be in His presence. Neither God's availability nor His presence is in question. We don't have to wish or hope or wonder if He's there. We don't have to be perfect or even worshipful to get God to come near. No matter what we've faced, what challenges we had to overcome to get there, no matter if our children are clean, or well-fed, or even wearing mismatched socks, no matter what other people do or say when we arrive. When we come to worship, God shows up.
Coming to You is a hard journey, each and every time. Help me to remember that church is a time when Your people come to be together with You. Please make me keenly aware of Your Presence as I come to worship You. Pour out Your Spirit on me and work in me so that I am forever changed by being in Your Holy Presence on this day and every day.