I remember sitting down at a table with eight empty chairs around me. Everyone else was still in the buffet line trying to determine what they would fill their plates with. I, on the other hand, sat nervously poking at my food and wondering who out of the hundred plus crowd would join me. Sitting at a table in the middle of the room seemed like a good idea at the time, as I was sure that others would eventually join me. But as everyone found his or her place at other tables among already established friends and acquaintances, I soon realized that I would be sitting embarrassingly alone for the next two hours while feeling like the eyes of every single stranger were focused on me.
I felt completely alone.
Have you ever been in a situation in which you felt like an outsider or not part of the group?
Have you ever been in a situation in which it seemed as if the eyes of the world were upon you and were making judgments about how you looked and every move you made?
Have you ever felt utterly alone and wished that there was someone else who would just recognize you, say a word to you, or make you feel welcomed?
It’s true that my circumstance was only temporary but it was long enough for me to experience the ache of isolation, the pain of being an outsider, and the longing for inclusion.
I am not sure that when we are on the “inside” we consider or remember what it is like to be on the “outside,” to be the one coming into new territory, to be the one who feels awkward and alone, to be the one searching for a place to fit in, or to be the one desperately wanting someone to just give us an ear. It seems as if once we find our comfortable place, or our unique clique, it is easy to forget how others around us may be feeling or what they may be experiencing.
Even within my own church there have been many instances in which we naturally gravitate toward those with whom we already have established relationships with while neglecting those who are not familiar to us. It makes my heart ache at the number of people who may have been in our midst, or in the midst of any other church, and had this kind of experience. As we have been this way, we have been off the mark.
When a person is in the midst of the church, he or she should be completely enveloped by Christ. If a person has been alone, it is in the church where welcoming community is found and where a person will never again be alone. If a person has been cast aside by others in the world, it is in the church where loving, non-judgment is experienced and where even the toughest to love may find solace. If a person is dejected and questioning the value of his or her life, it is the church where encouragement, prayer, and the value of life is ever-present.
It is for these reasons why it is so important for each of us who are a part of the church to remember that our function and purpose in the world is not always for our own sake. Rather, our function and purpose in the world as the church (as the Body of Jesus Christ in the world) is for the breaking open and the pouring out of ourselves for the sake of others just as Christ did.
In the church, heaven and earth have collided. We are what it looks like for heaven to be manifest on earth through our lives. We are the embodiment…the visual representation of new creation. We are first fruits, the beginning part, of God making all things new. We are a living, breathing resurrection community where the old ways have been put to death and the new ways have awakened. And that is exactly what people should experience when they are in our presence.
There is not one person on this earth, when in the presence of the church, who should not say, “I have never experienced this kind of selfless love. I have never felt so embraced. I have never experienced so much concern and care. I have never experienced so much joy and affection. I have never experienced so much humility and service.”
Is that what people experience when they are in the midst of our church communities?