On Sunday evening Orlando and I attended the memorial service for our dear friend Julie. It was lovely and touching and profound and anointed just like I knew it would be. She was so well loved, and is already so incredibly missed. Even so, her service was joyous and full of the hope that comes when one moves past the veil and into glory.
And still, with so much to see and hear about the hope to come, I was struck by something completely different yet equally meaningful in the room. For the first time in years, I was in the presence of many, many old friends all at the same time. Friends who knew Julie and Gary well. Friends that had been part of my church family for years and years. Since Orlando and I joined Petra over five years ago, I had seen most of them but never all together in the same place as I did on Sunday. Lititz Christian Church, the church we attended together, had undergone some changes and many of those faithful saints had moved on to other church bodies as we had. But it wasn’t without a significant tearing for those of us who had called each other family for so long. In some ways, it was like leaving a piece of ourselves behind.
Our church move to Petra had been a healthy one, but when I encountered many of my friends from LCC in the grocery store or in the park, it always seemed to me that I was randomly running into a soul mate. Someone with whom I had shared many years of deep fellowship and communion. It didn’t really matter which person I ran into, because after so many years I had come to know almost everybody on a close and meaningful level. But somehow despite the closeness I felt with these dear saints, I could always sense the brokenness that the church “scattering” had caused. Almost as if a mirror had been shattered and we were the shards. Worrying that perhaps we would not reflect as much of Jesus separately as we did together. That we were not smooth pieces that fit in perfectly, but a sharp edges of a break that remained jagged.
I quickly learned at Petra that a lover of Jesus always has a place amongst His people. I learned that there is deep fellowship, anointed teaching, devoted friends in the house of God, wherever it may be. Even so, I missed my old LCC friends. And like I said, I had never seen them all together in the same place again until this past Sunday. And for the brief time we were together I could sense the presence of God with them as I have done many times before. The pastor who was leading the service told us that we were a “New Testament” crowd, and I knew exactly what he meant when he said that, but his words also triggered a hint of some understanding in my head. There were several instances when those from the “New Testament” or “early” church were scattered (often as a result of persecution.) Some went this way and some went that way. Some north and some south. Some to Rome, some to Greece, some to Jerusalem. And wherever they went, the gospel went with them and the church as a whole was strengthened and grew.
After the service as I chatted with the LCC crowd, I realized that so many of them had gone out from that place and had much to give. They’d grown and changed. They are living and thriving. They’d taken the gospel with them, into every church and town they went, and the Kingdom is richer for their efforts. And it occurred to me that when the members of the early church ran into each other years later, in whatever country they were in, they must have felt like they were running into soul mates, too. They had so much background together. So many stories to share. So many lessons they learned in the presence of each other. Trees of righteousness with common roots, but now spread out and growing just about everywhere. And it wouldn’t have happened if they had never scattered.
So we’re not really shards at all; we’re just seeds. His seeds. Scattered, planted, growing, bearing fruit.
Atop the Nebraska State Capitol building is a beautiful statue called “The Sower.” I have always found its presence there incredibly comforting, although up to this point I would not have been able to tell you why. But as our family takes on the wind and travels to a new land, I am not afraid, but know I will forever miss all my old and new friends. But I also know that the hand that is planting us in Nebraska is the same hand that is planting each of them. Making homes for the homeless. Giving hope to the hopeless. Breathing life to the lifeless. He is the greatest Giver. He is the greatest Healer. He is the greatest Sower.
And that’s a reality I know I can live with. For myself. For all of us.