I was saved one summer night, the year I turned 15. I attended a youth emphasis night featuring a concert with George King and the Fellowship. The only thing I really remember about that night is that they did "Carry On Wayward Son" by Kansas. Something about that song in that particular setting spoke to me. It was the first time since going to church that I was told that the Father loves me. It didn't matter that I had squandered all He had given me. He was waiting with open arms. Waiting to welcome me home.
After that night my eyes were opened. The God I met on Sunday mornings was not the same God I met that night. Sunday morning God was harsh and judgmental. Ready at a moments notice to punish me for my sin. I literally had the hell scared out of me every time the doors were opened. I found myself crying at the altar, begging forgiveness for all of the things I was doing wrong. I was going to hell. A hell full of fire and brimstone where I was destined to spend eternity.
Through the years I saw hurting people cast aside because they would tarnish the reputation of the church while other things were hushed up and covered up to protect family. The prodigal's Father was only a distant memory. I wasn't even sure He really existed.
Fast forward 10 years. I'm a young mother with a 3 year old and a newborn. My life was crashing and burning all around me. Apparently, all those good things were not enough - were never enough. I had already walked away from church because I was weary of doing. I was told that this was the reason my life was falling apart. I was tired of the demands and tired of the works that were never enough anyway. I guess all those years I was told I was going to hell it was true, I just didn't realize it would be hell on earth. And I didn't give a damn any longer...
There have been many more things over the years that have contributed to the reasons I'm not in church this morning. The above was only the beginning. Where judgment and legalism took root in my soul and haunt me to this very day. The place where the trappings of religion wrapped themselves around my heart and have slowly been strangling the life right out of me.
And I know I'm not the only one. I see stories every day of those who have suffered abuse at the hands of the church. In the name of a denomination. In the name of reputation. In the name of legalism. In the name of judgment. In the name of religion. All under the guise of being in the name of Christ.
We are victims of the church. Victims who have fallen prey to the emptiness of religion. And sadly, there are too many of us to count.
And on this morning, more than any other, we find ourselves longing.
Longing for open arms. Longing for a safe place. Longing for community. Longing for peace. Longing for Love. Longing for Grace.
And Grace is waiting for us.
Grace that understands every fear and every anxiety. Grace that understands every hurt and every betrayal. Grace that sits with us exactly where we are. In the messy and the broken. Grace that waits with open arms and a love that's beyond anything we could comprehend.
The Lord's unfailing love and mercy still continue,
fresh as the morning, as sure as the sunrise.