THE CHURCH: A PLACE FOR HOPE, LOVE
By MATTHEW BROYLES
In February I had the opportunity to travel to Bucharest, Romania, for a mission trip. One afternoon we took to see some sites and experience the culture we walked in an area of the city called Old Town. While walking in Old Town, we stopped in the oldest Romanian Orthodox church in Bucharest. During our time in the church there was a woman crying, standing and facing the saints on the wall. Clearly, she was praying and searching and asking for something. She kissed the saint’s picture and moved to the next one where she said a prayer and kissed it again. As she left, she said one more brief prayer, wiped her tears and kissed the podium and walked out.
I didn’t know what was going on in her life, and I didn’t know how regularly religious she was. But what I do know is that she was a woman in need, and in her need she came to church to seek God, to experience a transcending love, hope, and grace in a sacred space. It reminded me people how desperately people need the love of God, and also, the ability of the church and church people to help people know that love. What I do as a minister, what we do as people of faith, what we do as a church matters – not only in our churches, but in our communities and in our world.
Many people have nowhere to turn when life gets tough, so they call a pastor or walk into a church because “why not? Isn’t this supposed to be a place of love and hope.” My prayer is that the church will respond with mercy and grace. I pray we learn from people in our lives, like this women I observed, and remember being right is less important than being love. The Gospel is good news, which can look differently in every person’s life. It’s what Jesus did, it’s who Jesus was. He WAS and IS the good news. He sought out the poor and needy, the widow and orphan, the outcast and the marginalized and became their good news by meeting their needs and leading them to transformation.
Yes, Jesus is the good news, but not only the idea or belief in Jesus. We only experience the true goodness of Jesus when we give our whole lives – heart, soul, mind, strength, money and time – following Jesus as one of his disciples. When we share the gospel, we share Jesus, which oftentimes means we share a meal, share medical supplies, share a phone for a phone call or maybe even share eye contact and a smile as we meet troubled people on the street who are so often invisible. For too long the church has been followers of the idea of Jesus. It’s time to do better. We can do better as we seek to follow Jesus with every fiber of our being.
The love of God transcends all: all belief, all borders, all races, all religions, all societal classes, all hurt, all pain, all joy. Too often we try to add to the love of God rather than simply letting people experience it first hand through those who have first experienced it. We love God because he first loved us, but we are also to love others because we have first been loved by God. We know what it’s like to need to feel God’s love. When we have experienced God’s love, it becomes our job to help others we encounter to know that same love.
Seeing this woman in the Orthodox Church was a small event with a big impact on me. The church matters. What we do matters. The love of God permeates all situations and lives and moves people in a way in which nothing else can. Some have said, “The local church is the hope of the world.” If the church embodies and expresses God’s kind of transcending love then there’s no doubt in my mind that through Jesus, the local church will be the primary beacon of hope in the world.”
Matthew Broyles is Pastor to Emerging Adults at First Baptist Church