Like most Central Ohioans, this time of year on Saturdays I can usually be found in front of a television screen sporting a scarlet and gray T-Shirt, chewed down fingernails, and the blood pressure of someone thrice my age. I'm one of those fans. The can't-miss-a-game, jump up and down, yell at the TV, high five strangers, sing the fight song kind of fans. By all accounts, I'm a crazy Buckeye.
And you know what? I think being a crazy Buckeye is a great thing. How many other things bring people together in a way that a good sporting event can? In that giant, beautiful stadium they call The Shoe anyone with a block O on their shirt is a friend. People come from all different backgrounds, ages, races, religions, and political views, to watch a game together. And for those four hours, that crowd is one. Unified in purpose. In vision. In hope. They have one shared goal: to see the Buckeyes win.
They share in each other's joys, exchanging chest bumps and high fives with an exuberance that in other places may seem extreme. They console each other in their sorrows, sharing the pain of an interception, the sinking feeling as the other team returns a punt for a touchdown. Together they get through those four hours, and, win or lose, at the end of the game, if you're a Buckeye, you're a friend.
That kind of community, that feeling of togetherness, of openness, of shared struggle and victory is powerful. There's nothing wrong with the excitement and camaraderie we feel when we're surrounded by others with the same goal. In fact, it's one of the biggest reasons I'm a sports fan.
My concern is that most of the time we don't feel that same excitement and camaraderie when we go to church. For some reason it's fine to be a little crazy in a football stadium. In the football stadium we're all friends. You can let loose. Yell, scream, jump up and down, sing too loudly!
But in the church things get a little more restrained. We keep our hands neatly by our sides. There's not a lot of high fiving. Our singing voices are subdued at best. We don't often shed a tear. And God forbid anyone shout an Amen during the sermon.
And how often do we feel the sense of excitement walking through the doors of the church that we do walking into our favorite football stadium? Do we get amped to see our fellow believers? Maybe get a chill as we pass through the door? Or do we come halfheartedly, with hearts and minds set on other things, in other places?
I fear our hearts...my heart...is often far more excited for that Saturday game than that Sunday worship service. And that...is a problem.
Because Sunday I'm not just going to watch some fallible dudes toss a football around. I'm going to worship the Creator of the Universe. I'm going to see the Spirit move and change hearts. I'm going to share laughter and tears and struggles and hopes with fellow believers. I'm going to be with a people knotted together by blood that flowed red and hot down a ragged cross.
So why can't we find the same unity, the same comm-unity, the same hospitality, the same sense of shared purpose and vision within the walls of our churches?
I think we've failed. I know I've failed. I've failed to create the same kind of community in our church circles as I experience with fellow Buckeyes. I've failed to pursue relationships with people different than me. I've failed to create a space where all can be welcomed--no matter your occupation or orientation or affiliation. I've failed to let myself be vulnerable. To share my struggles with others. To cry and laugh and scream and yell when the circumstances are right. I've failed at sharing my successes. At laughing uncontrollably. At jumping for joy. At singing praises as loud as I can.
If the world of fanatical fandom has anything to teach us, it's that people long for community. We long to share these moments of unity and shared purpose. We long for friendships that transcend culture or income or status. Humanity's longing for that sense of community is something to rejoice in. The fact that people are getting it in stadiums instead of in churches is something that should trouble every believer's heart.
And so I come to church unsure. Half in and half out. Are these people brothers and sisters? Can I share my deepest hurts and hopes with them? Is this a place I can be off key, raise my hands, weep too loudly, ask that burning question?
It's my hope as a follower of Jesus, and I believe it's our desire at The Village Church, that our answer to all those questions would be a resounding yes. Come and be welcome. Come and join us in the crazy, joy-filled, difficult fight of building community.
I know it won't always be warm and fuzzy. There will be interceptions, blocked punts, blows that cut us to the very core. It'll be loud and messy and broken and hard work. But in the end, whether we're winning or losing, we'll be on the same team. We'll be cheering for each other, fighting for each other, hoisting each other up on shoulders, or helping each other limp off the field. It'll be ugly, brutal at times, but that's us. That's who we are. Sinful, ugly people.
But you know what? We go to church and gather in each other's homes each week, and we love each other anyway.
This is radical community. The community that we long for, that we're made for. We invite you to come and be welcomed into this broken, dysfunctional family. Expect tears. Expect even more laughter. Expect a people united in mission, tied together with hope, and bound by love.