"God has made Christ the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all." - Ephesians 1:22-23
On a number of occasions I have hiked in the interior reaches of the Grand Canyon. To me it is a holy place, the most vaulted of natural Gothic cathedrals. It’s not hard to feel close to God there, not only because of what is present, but also due to what is largely absent—the demands of living in community. The buttes don’t quarrel with each other. The California condors make no demands of the living. The rollicking streams offer only comforting words. There is no need to raise money for a sanctuary roof because the blue sky has already supplied it. In such a place I relate easily to those who testify that their surest encounters with God are in the natural world.
Nevertheless, the affirmation that God can be found outside the church has never seemed like much of a claim. The true wonder is that God can be found inside the church, among quirky, flawed and broken people who may have little in common and yet are bound to one another. What an unlikely setting in which to encounter God. But the Christian God seems to like to surprise us by showing up in the most unpromising places, like a Jew from Nazareth and in a motley gathering of people known as church.
God throws us together in the church and says, in essence, "Here is where you get a chance to learn how to live with other people, to forgive, and even come to see God in one another. After all, if you can find God here, you can find God anywhere."
The church, like the family, is the place where we learn to live with people we are stuck with. And when we stick with those we are stuck with, it is a living reminder of the God who is stuck with us all.
God, give me eyes to see you at work, particularly in surprising places.
Martin B. Copenhaver is President of Andover Newton Theological School. His newest book is Room to Grow: Meditations on Trying to Live as a Christian. Follow Martin on Twitter @mbcopenhaver.