“Much that we call evil is really good in disguises; and we should not quarrel rashly with adversities not yet understood, nor overlook the mercies often bound up in them." - Horace Mann
It was Sunday morning. The clouds in the sky gathered with the coming violence predicted by so many meteorologists. The local guru dus wetters was in suspenders, showing the oncoming and impending doom one viewing area to the south, that, within a scant few hours, would crash its way through the Birmingham, Alabama area. The skies themselves acted as if they would spill their contents at any moment, pregnant with the rain so disparately needed in the area.
Inside the 10:45am worship service was beginning on time, in spite of, or perhaps in defiance of the dire predictions and prognostications of the weather. The weather, together with the fact of it being President's Day weekend, gave all the signs that the only people in attendance would be the "hell or high water" gang. Those, who like the prophetess Anna, are in the sanctuary day and night. The dependable faces who sit in the same places week after week. But given the weather and the holiday, even some of the high water gang would be missing, and no one would blame them.
There was nothing out of the ordinary about worship time that day. No children's presentations, no ordinations, no combined worship service, no special concerts or guest speakers. No drama presentations, or fancy dancing. Nothing to bring in doting grandparents, proud families, or hoodwinked worshipers. Except for the pending violence outside, it was just an average Sunday at Community Presbyterian Church. And despite the bad weather, and threat of it being even worse, the Sanctuary was full. And it was pretty full. Even regular attenders of the late service would have a hard time sorting the regulars from the visitors. And this day the deacons had to put out extra sets of chairs.
It was a scant short 6 weeks ago that the elders made the disturbing announcement to the congregation that one of our own had abused the trust placed in her and taken sums of money from the church's accounts. A hurt and stunned congregation watched as the elders gathered around the sinner, and prayed - offering the forgiveness that Christ has given them, and extending the love of the gospel to all in attendance. Publicly airing the ragged clothes of sin not for the benefit of those who were hurt, though they had the right to know, but for the benefit of the sinner whose sin had affected the relationships with the whole church. And to publicly say, so the world can hear, and see, that more grace abounds greater than any sin.
To say that the event was earth shaking is quite an overstatement. For a church that preaches both the total inability of man to please God, and the unconditional love of God in Christ toward His people, it should be no surprise that when real sin happens in their midst that those who believe the Gospel will respond with the same grace that God has given them in Christ.
But deep in the heart of hearts, and if you are true to the suspicions and doubts of your heart, you *are surprised* when the Gospel claimed to be believed is actually lived out in your midst toward people whose sin is real, and whose relationships are tattered.
Perhaps you are even surprised by your own reaction to it.
When sinners publicly can find acceptance, love and hope, it is antithetical to everything known to fallen humans - to love those who hurt you, to love them even through the hurt and despite the sin. You expect disillusionment. You expect disappointment. You expect shouts of hypocrisy. You expect anger. You expect striking back and striking out. Real sin demands real punishment. And, even if not from you, you expect a rejection of the sinner. That is the lesson the world beats into all of us - you deserve what you get, and get what you deserve.
But this Sunday morning, six weeks later, with so much against it, saw the worship service full. Far from the disillusionment so many churches have experienced in similar situations, this church has seen no falling away, and indeed have seen more people come to the congregation looking for and knowing that they too can find the love of Christ.
That day six weeks ago taught this church something about itself. That hope abounds there, even while the storm outside rages. That love abounds there, even in a world of selfish self-promotion at the expense of other. That where one sins so personally against so many can find hope, love and forgiveness, so can those whose sin maybe impacted fewer people and less deeply, or more people and more deeply.
To paraphrase the church's pastor, like moths to flame, the Gospel preached and lived out draws His people to it. Christ draws his people.
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Col. 3:12-14)
The raging storms gathering outside are not the lightning and thunder and winds of a Spring time weather shift. They are not the floods of torrential rains. That day was but a microcosm of the truth we find in Christ. The real storm from which we seek shelter is the rejection and hopelessness of this world, and a sense that everywhere else we turn we will get what we deserve. The storm of unrealistic expectation, that, for those in the church, sin is no more.
And the real shelter is that found in Christ, demonstrated through His people, where we can be accepted and loved despite our sin, and despite our damnable good works. If not in His church, where can any find His shelter?
In those clouds, we find the lines of silver. We find safety in Him.