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is this church?

A friend of mine told me a story last week that has stuck with me. It went something like this: a man met with a few people in a coffee shop and they started talking about God and life. Over the course of several weeks and months, more people started to join in and it evolved into a regular gathering of people who talked about matters of faith. Soon, someone asked the man the question, "Is this church?" He pondered the question for a bit and then responded, "No, this isn't church. If this was church, you would care as much about what happens here as I do."

I have been living with this question, "What is church?" for a long time and in the past few days, come to the realisation that I have shrunk the concept of church to fit the casual, culturally dialed-down, transient nature of what we are involved in. I have reduced church to a shadow of the magnificent, unstoppable beauty that Jesus proclaims it to be.
Church is not a building, it is not a weekly meeting, it is not a group of people whose names you find on some membership list, it is not something that you DO or GO TO. It is not a place to get a spiritual boost or an avenue through which to practice your good deeds. It is not something you sit and watch. It is not something you can judge on how good the music is or how much the speaker inspires you. It is not a spiritual smorgasbord where you come to pick and choose what you like, whenever you like. It is not an organisation or a club you get involved in. It is much more than that.

Church is a body, a living being made up of the most complex and intricate parts, all so different yet all joined and woven together in such a wondrous way that every cell is active and functional. The breathing never stops, the blood is always carrying life and swishing away death, and every single part, whether it is the solid structural bones or the miles of supple skin, is intricately connected and responsive to the head. All the members work together, sometimes in a flash to protect some vulnerable part or respond to an emergency, sometimes in slow and deliberate movements that require balance and strength and skill. Church is an orchestra where every instrument plays isolated notes on a page, notes written with detailed instructions for timing, pitch, volume, and periods of silence. When the artists assemble together under the hand of the master conductor, they become more than the sum of their individual parts, and an astounding sweetness and majesty permeates the air as a grand symphony of love comes to life.

Church is what Jesus loves. Church is what Jesus is building. Church is strong and scary and cannot be stopped. Church is beautiful and worth giving one's life to. Church is celebratory and suffering. Church lifts up the poor and cares for the hungry. Church never gets tired of talking to, singing to, dancing with, laughing with, weeping in repentance before, jumping for joy in response to, lying prostrate in humility before, obeying, serving, shouting to, professing, telling the world about, coming to, and standing in amazed silence in the presence of: the majestic and loving God.

Church is being with Jesus and with each other. Church is God's idea and his creative venture. Church becomes more beautiful and irresistible as we learn to love him and love each other the way he invites us to. Church is us. What an incredible privilege to be part of Church.

Let me love Church as much as Jesus does. Let me be Church that Jesus never wants to leave.

This is a picture of Westminster Abbey in London.

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