Monday, August 15, 2016

Falling in love...again

It seems that I’m falling in love with the people of Ascension Lutheran Church. Now, mind you, I loved them before I ever really knew them, back when I was interviewing with them. That’s when I became acquainted with an extraordinary group of people who were forthright with me about the joys and challenges of being Ascension. They helped me to imagine myself as their pastor, using my unique gifts and a lifetime of experiences, and yet still being challenged and stretched in new ways. I came to believe that they needed me. I considered the opportunity with my head, but it was my gut that convinced me I would be their next pastor.

Love always leads me to a new call, even while love makes it so difficult for me to leave the church I'm serving at the time. Whenever I change calls (and it’s happened for me five times now!), before I’m formally called by a congregation, I’ve already started to love them as their pastor. 

If I can’t love the people in my congregation, I have no business being their pastor. And I have loved every congregation I’ve ever served. Sometimes I wonder if I serve them because I love them or I love them because I serve them. Certainly, I feel committed to love my congregation through thick and thin whenever I accept a call to serve them. That kind of love is something akin to loyalty and faithfulness. It’s just what I do as a pastor. It's a commitment and doesn’t have anything to do with my feelings. But then, in time, something grabs me in the gut as I live among God’s people in community. 

A lot like falling in love, it’s a visceral feeling I can’t explain. A week ago, while we were singing “Blessed Assurance” at 10:00 worship, I looked out into the congregation and saw faces that were becoming familiar. I was learning their names and their stories, and I knew how much Ascension meant to them. That’s when I teared up as I felt it in my gut for the first time, I really do love these people.

Last Sunday I preached a hard sermon where I told my congregation that the way to freedom and redemption is preceded by confrontation and conflict. I absolutely hated telling them that and inside I kept wanting to say, “No, I didn’t mean it. Please disregard what I just said; it’s not true.” Of course, I couldn’t say that because it was true. It was love that led me to feel uncomfortable in the role of a prophet within my new faith community, and it was love that compelled me to speak through my discomfort because that’s what it means to love God by loving God’s people. But I knew I was falling in love with them because I didn’t want to be the one to share that hard truth with them.

And so it’s happening. Our journey together has begun, and I’m already falling in love with the people of Ascension Lutheran Church. Experience has taught me I can expect that to grow exponentially.