April 12, 2006

Safe Shelter

I peered out the window, only to see someone’s lawn chair flying horizontally through the air. That was my first clue that foul weather had suddenly set in. Our tent shuddered and bellowed in the fierce winds. I could hear the machine gun tapping of the hard rain on our thin, fabric roof. Would we make it to the morning?

My father and I were camping in the Arkansas Ozarks when I was a teenager, only to be awakened suddenly by a fierce storm blowing in across the mountains. It came, it went, and we (and my tent) survived.

But the true weight of that glory was not felt until the next morning, when we awoke to discover that we were the minority. Our neighbor’s tent was wrapped around the nearest tree, his stuff everywhere. On the other side of us, a family had abandoned their now flooded canvas home and retreated to their van—the windows all fogged up from hours of crammed breathing. I think it was their lawn chair that had flown by my window at mach 1.

We stood their that morning—dad and me agape—never more grateful for dependable shelter. I felt like writing a letter of gratitude to the people at Eureka tents.

Safe shelter from the storms. Jesus said a wise man builds his house on rock, not sand, such that neither winds nor rains bring its demise. Our Book of Order lists seven “great ends” (purposes) of the church, and number two is “the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God.” Shelter: it is what we are about. Our koinonia together is a safe house wherein the storms on the outside are counteracted by the nurture and fellowship of Christ on the inside.

My pastor’s heart always breaks just a little whenever I hear of someone who is staying away from church because of storms in his or her life. How sad it is to me when church is assumed (promoted!) to be the place you go when you have it all together—the pinnacle of social success. In truth—and we all need to admit this together, on a regular basis—it is raining in all our lives, to one degree or another. Our first commonality is our plight: We are sinners in a sinful world.

But having met Jesus, having been brought into the shelter of his gracious love, we have new commonality: We are also children of God. And our church, God willing, is a shelter for all of us in need, built on a foundation more solid and durable than anything we ourselves could fashion. We are erected on God’s concrete Word.

In the dead of winter, in the heat of the summer, what a blessing it is to have such a lovely sanctuary as we do in which to gather for worship. And yet how much more of a blessing it is to be a part of a living, breathing, body of Christ—a strong, safe shelter for the children of God.

Hey, come back in out of the rain.