by David Phelps
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
Several years ago, we went to Winnipeg, in Manitoba, Canada, for our family vacation. My wife, Charlotte, has spent time in Europe as a “military brat” but I had never been out of the U.S. until that time. (In fact, I’d never been further north than Milwaukee.) I’m sure this story will be amusing for those of you who are seasoned travelers. My supervisor, Marc, told me Winnipeg would seem familiar because it has several things in common with St. Louis: Both cities are about the same size, both are located on rivers, and both have downtown areas that are dominated by one-way streets. I had no idea how right Marc was.
After we arrived in Winnipeg, we picked up our rental car and headed for the hotel where we would be staying. While we were on the way to the hotel, I noticed we were passing a shopping center; I saw a “Sears” sign on one of the buildings. I realized that, although we were in what was supposed to be a “foreign country,” we were driving past a Sears department store in a Buick sedan, both American institutions. I muttered to myself, “This is the poorest excuse for a foreign country I’ve ever seen.” Indeed, except for the metric speed limit signs, the odd-looking money, and a few other small details, Winnipeg is virtually identical to St. Louis or any other large midwestern city I’ve seen: The money is in dollars, quarters, pennies, etc. The locals speak midwestern English with no trace of an accent, they drive on the right side of the road, they shop at Sears department stores, and they wear normal-looking midwestern clothing (although they dress a bit more warmly than we do in St. Louis). It certainly doesn’t seem foreign.
What do people think when they come to church? Do they think they’re someplace different? Or do they think it’s just “more of the same?” Do they think, perhaps, that we’re “a poor excuse for a church?” How are we different from a social club, the local YMCA, an Alcoholics Anonymous chapter, or their yoga class? Peter tells us that we are called to be “. . . a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Pet. 2:9b NIV). These are almost exactly the same words that God gave Moses to say to the Hebrews (Exod. 19:3-6). The phrase, “a people belonging to God,” certainly doesn’t sound like “more of the same.” Instead, we are called to be and act differently from the rest of the world. We need to show others we are different.
If someone is sick or hurt, he or she doesn’t go to the supermarket but to the hospital. People know there’s a difference between the supermarket and the hospital. They know that the two serve very different needs; they can buy bandages, iodine, and aspirin at the supermarket but for real hurts and illnesses they need to go to a hospital. People who come to church are seeking God; they don’t need more of what the world can give. What do they find in our church? Do they find God? Or do they find “more of the same?” Do they find a supermarket for worldly needs or a hospital for sick and wounded souls? A priest is a representative for God. If we are to be “a royal priesthood,” we must first know God. If we are to “declare the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness,” we must first have seen God’s “wonderful light.” Those who come to us cannot find God in us unless we have found God first.
Once we have seen God’s light, we can share our experience with others, and “. . . declare the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light.” And our church can be a hospital for injured lives, broken spirits, and wounded souls, offering them comfort, healing, and strength.
“Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, ‘This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.’” (Exod. 19:3-6 NIV.)