I recently got to see one of the most wondrous sights (at least for a Kansas girl)—a field of a million sunflowers. If you haven’t visited or seen pictures of Ted Grinter’s sunflower farm,check out this news report. Better yet, the flowers may still be in bloom if you rush over this afternoon. My husband, mother, sisters-in-law and nieces and nephews enjoyed our Monday there. We all have a lot on our hearts and minds, but the flower field was so magnificent that for a moment we—along with hundreds of others—ooo-ed and ahhh-ed, played and felt at peace. We all left the fields feeling so refreshed.
The experience was striking to me especially after a week of listening to congregants’ stories. This week, like most weeks, I had the chance to hear stories that broke my heart and others that gave me hope. Some stories made me question God’s presence, and some assured me the Holy Spirit is at work. I had the honor of several folks with alcoholism sharing about the constant challenges they face—the darkness, loneliness, exhaustion, guilt, and temptation. I turned to the Alcoholics Anonymous Book to try to better understand their experience. The Holy Spirit drew my attention to the words of AA’s founder Bill Wilson. He wrote this about alcoholics (and, I believe, about all who struggle with hurts, habits and hang-ups): “I suppose some would be shocked at our seeming worldliness and levity. But just underneath there is deadly earnestness. Faith has to work twenty-four hours a day in and through us, or we perish.” For those of us walking through seasons of great pain, this statement rings so true. The amount of faith it takes us to get through each moment is astounding. And yet we too often judge or discard those we know who are at the end of their rope, believing they have little to offer.
At the sunflower field, folks from all over gathered, with different life stories and challenges, but for a moment, the glory of the sunflowers brought them together. People, in some small way, found common ground. All was well. I believe this is how the church is supposed to be. As we come together, in the glory of the Lord, we are free to come as we are, and find common ground. God’s glory fills our hearts with grace, and everyone’s “okayness” in God’s glory is apparent. As we read in 2 Corinthians 5:16-17, “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” This is our calling as we seek to be the church.
One thing this means to me is that the church should never be a place where people feel they have to be perfect. It’s a place where we come just as we are to experience God. I read this from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together: “He or she who loves his or her dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.” If (like me) you often wish the church was something different or more, I challenge you to focus your energy on recognizing the God of Glory’s work in the church just as it is. Focus on the faithfulness all people are seeking to live into, regardless of their challenges. Celebrate evidence of God’s good work, even in an imperfect church and all of us, the imperfect people who make it up.
This week, every time you see a Kansas Sunflower (along the highway, in your back yard, etc.), pray for someone you know who is facing darkness. Pray that they would know they are loved. Pray that they would know they belong. Pray that they would know that they are okay—both in your eyes and God’s. Welcome them (literally, if possible, or figuratively) into the Church.
– Rev. Katherine Ebling-Frazier