A week ago today, I celebrated Easter Sunday in San Francisco with my sister, brother-in-law and their sweet babies at the church they have been serving at while in seminary. This experience, tied in with a book I've been reading, and a lot that God has been teaching me, has taken me all week to process. There is just so much there, I need to get it out in writing, share it, and pray that it encourages you and spurs you on to follow His calling more closely.
We walked into the sanctuary of a beautiful, old building (actually, the oldest Baptist church in California)...it was bright, and warm and filled with many faces, vibrant. Worship music was playing through the sanctuary and you could tell there was a celebration that was about to get underway! We found our seats and a few minutes later, after the service started and we were worshiping I smelled something...something that I am not accustomed to smelling at church...it was the strong, very strong, stench of alcohol and cigarette smoke, and body odor. I immediately wrinkled my nose, and undoubtedly look down it at the same time. As I stood there celebrating my risen Lord, He spoke to my heart... "This is how I want my church to smell..." for, while it smelled of sin and a rough life lived on the streets of the man sitting behind me, the Lord reminded me that His house, and most importantly His Son whose redemption we were celebrating was for this man too. Tears began to flow down my face as this soaked into my soul. God has called us, the Church, to be His hands and feet to these people. People who we often don't understand, look down upon, and definitely don't accept. His blood was shed for them too. It broke my heart that my initial reaction was disgust and condemnation. Throughout this past week I've thought a lot about what this means for me, where I am...and honestly, I don't exactly know the specific answer to that, other than change...change in how I look at His people, created in His image, change in how I treat others that are different than me, change in the way that I serve others, change in how I "do" church...
It so encouraged my heart to see such a diverse body of believers celebrating our risen Lord. The presentation that was given of the Gospel was in the context of what the people of this culture could relate to and understand (this involved very different "verb-age" than what you would hear in a church in the south). It so challenged me to question whether I meet people where they are, or just with what I am familiar with. I was blown away, and convicted, as people clapped and cheered, not for a home run or a touch down (although it was a similar response), but as new brothers and sisters (some of whom were homeless members of the community) were baptized. This so humbled me to think about the stale and jaded "golf clap" that baptisms often receive from me. Someone's life being transformed and redeemed is worth cheering for! This reaction posed such a unified front of His Church to anyone, from any walk of life that would have come into this house of worship. All of these different pieces of the puzzle of this experience, however, were all brought together with what I knew to be the "glue" behind this church. I knew that in months previous this church has not been such an exciting place. I knew of the sacrifice that was involved. The sacrifices were given by several young families, with young children (one of them being a family that is very special, and dear to my heart) that answered a calling. A call to leave their family. Leave the comforts of home and friends and grandparents and church in the "Bible Belt"... to come to San Francisco where God had great and mighty plans to use them for His glory. He needed them to begin restoring and rebuilding His Church. They came to a city so dark and far from knowing their great need...to show them the love of a Savior. A Savior who lived and walked and ministered among those who seemed unlovable and unlikely and, to many, unworthy.
This beautiful Easter morning God revealed to me that He would want His Church to be "smelly"...for this is evidence that we are truly His hands and feet...showing His pure and selfless love, and extending His precious grace to those who need Him most.
Thank you First Baptist San Francisco for showing me a fresh and new glimpse of Christ’s love for His people.