The 50-something-year-old woman pumped her tattooed arm, sleeved in black fishnet, up and down in the air, leaning forward in her chair at the pastor (think overzealous kindergartener on first day of class). She had already announced her presence with her unkempt magenta-dyed hair and nonchalant late arrival mid-sermon.
Who is this woman.
Our pastor continued preaching. Undeterred by shame or propriety, she started “whispering” the pastor’s name: “Michael. Michael.” As if he didn’t notice her hand bobbing among the congregation of 60 people.
What is happening right now.
Finally, he stopped preaching and gently asked, “Yes, a question?” as if fielding questions during a sermon was standard fare. It wasn’t.
She didn’t even ask a question, making more of a comment, and I distinctly remember thinking how asinine it was. Michael, for his part, responded with gentleness and then moved on with his sermon. Outwardly, I was, of course, composed with the Christ-like hospitality and graciousness expected of a church-goer.
Who the hell does she think she is. How selfish and disrespectful can this person be.
After the service, when church-folk mill around, I found my mentor to ask him what he thought about the interruption. He responded by saying that his visceral reaction was the same as mine: annoyance, disruption, and frustration.
Phew. He feels the same way. I’m not the only one.
But when he reflected on it, he realized that he wanted her to be at our church–we wanted people who didn’t know how to “do” church. It meant the Gospel was getting out to people who hadn’t heard it before. He was glad she came and that she was herself. His anger transformed into gratitude.
So, I’m a terrible person.
I’m not suggesting that my original feeling was wrong or right; it’s what I felt and for me to allow and acknowledge them is valuable. But after the blaze of the moment and when the ash settled, reflecting helped me realize that my frustration rose from my expectation that worship was primarily for my own benefit.
Church is my time to encounter God. After a long week, I need it. I don’t like anything disrupting my worship–whether it is an annoying visitor, sub-par music, or even a bad sermon. God wouldn’t want me to have my worship be interrupted; God wants me to experience Him.
Before I spoke to my mentor, my first reaction was to think that God meant to teach me a lesson in patience and grace–a lesson I learned gritting teeth for the remainder of the sermon. But sometimes, it’s not always explicitly and directly about me. Sometimes there’s something more for my friend, my neighbor, my co-worker, my roommates, that stranger. Sometimes this thing that’s happening is for the lady in fishnet arm sleeves.
Below, are translations of Ephesians 3:14-21, the passages Perissos first reflected on, into Spanish and Chinese.
“Por esta razón me arrodillo delante del Padre, de quien recibe nombre toda familia en el cielo y en la tierra. Le pido que, por medio del Espíritu y con el poder que procede de sus gloriosas riquezas, los fortalezca a ustedes en lo íntimo de su ser, para que por fe Cristo habite en sus corazones. Y pido que, arraigados y cimentados en amor, puedan comprender, junto con todos los santos, cuán ancho y largo, alto y profundo es el amor de Cristo; en fin, que conozcan ese amor que sobrepasa nuestro conocimiento, para que sean llenos de la plenitud de Dios. Al que puede hacer muchísimo más que todo lo que podamos imaginarnos o pedir, por el poder que obra eficazmente en nosotros, ¡a él sea la gloria en la iglesia y en Cristo Jesús por todas las generaciones, por los siglos de los siglos! Amén.”
–Efesios 3:14-21 (NVI)
因 此，我 在 父 面 前 屈 膝，（ 天 上 地 上 的 各（ 或 作 ：全 ）家，都 是 从 他 得 名。）求 他 按 着 他 丰 盛 的 荣 耀，藉 着 他 的 灵，叫 你 们 心 里 的 力 量 刚 强 起 来，使 基 督 因 你 们 的 信，住 在 你 们 心 里，叫 你 们 的 爱 心 有 根 有 基，能 以 和 众 圣 徒 一 同 明 白 基 督 的 爱 是 何 等 长 阔 高 深，并 知 道 这 爱 是 过 於 人 所 能 测 度 的，便 叫 神 一 切 所 充 满 的，充 满 了 你 们。神 能 照 着 运 行 在 我 们 心 里 的 大 力 充 充 足 足 的 成 就 一 切，超 过 我 们 所 求 所 想 的。
但 愿 他 在 教 会 中，并 在 基 督 耶 稣 里，得 着 荣 耀，直 到 世 世 代 代，永 永 远 远。阿 们！
–以 弗 所 書 3:14-21 (CUV)
Whenever I see “you” in scripture, I’m inclined to interpret the address to “me.” But in the Spanish and Chinese translations, the original Greek is captured in a way that English translations do not, by using the plural forms–ustedes, and 你 们. Or, as they say in the South: “Y’all.”
All of you.
It is a subtle shift in framework when reading passages like this. The manner in which we would be filled with the fullness of God is not necessarily for me, me, me.
No, no, no!
The fullness of God arrives for the body of Christ as a whole. When my focus is not unilaterally centered on my own edification, but for the Kingdom writ large, I can see how God might be working in the lives of other people, despite the disappointment in my own circumstances that I often feel is a personal challenge by God.
But if I’m honest with myself, I kind of like self-pity. It’s like scratching an itch… so so so good.
If I am in a place where I desperately need to see God working, it might behoove me to look beyond myself and at how God might be working in the lives around me.
It is this enduring paradox that in loving the Lord and, in so doing, caring primarily for the broader things that God cares about and just a little less about my own personal well-being, that this new perspective itself is how God cares for me.
Hmmm. That’d be nice.