The Decision Point --
Most of the last few posts I have made here have been leading up to a church service I went to at the church I attend now, Vintage 21 in downtown Raleigh NC. I used to use the phrase "mostly attend", because my wife and I used to divide our attendance between this church and two others: our LDS ward and whatever our current Anglican/Episcopal church was. For various reasons these other churches have kind of fallen by the wayside, and when we attend church we go to Vintage 21.
We went the Sunday before Christmas. There had been a four week sermon series from Isaiah 9:6 during Advent where Christ was elaborated as "Wonderful Counselor", "Mighty God", "Everlasting Father", and in this last sermon "Prince of Peace".
Honestly so far the series was interesting, but not revelational. I've been around the block a few times, and there was not much new to me in the series. It was great to review the names and attributes of Christ, but these were familiar concepts and not earth-shaking.
The last sermon was different.
What I was expecting from "Prince of Peace" was a feel-good sermon about how Jesus will make us get along better with the people around us, love one another, and teach us all to have happier lives by being nicer to each other. We can be happy and just rest from the cares of the world by abiding in the warm glow of his love, sort of like sitting next to a warm fire with a glass or cup of your favorite beverage, with a companion of your preferred gender on one side and a Labrador Retriever on the other. There's a nice picture of Jesus over the fire, portrayed in your preferred ethnic extraction, and he's smiling down at you approvingly.
Except this was not the sermon preached.
Basically our idea of "peace" is the absence of conflict and trials, and that's not a part of the human condition we can realistically ever expect in the long term. In general, even on their best days people tend to be self-centered and difficult, and the human condition is fraught with trials. We are only ever a short time removed from the diagnosis, the suspicious wet spot that appears in the ceiling under the bathroom, the cold morning where it's suddenly 58 degrees in the house, the morning when you check the news and discover that your 401K has dropped 20% in value overnight, the funny little glass pipe you find in your teenager's drawer, the piece of e-mail left up on the screen where your son or daughter is desperately discussing the results of the pregnancy test with someone else. Any other outcome is the world's view of "peace", and it doesn't jibe with reality.
True peace is being reconciled to God, which can only be accomplished through Christ. It's a healed relationship with God, rather than healed relationships with the people around us and with our investments and the house we live in. With a healed relationship with God the other things fall into their proper secondary place. Without it, other things can never compensate, can never paper over the deep crevasse between the spiritual life we want and the one we actually have.
I realized that basically every organization or system I had been a part of before served to focus me on healing my relationship with the organization. I was to align my outward behavior to whatever the leaders dictated or to what the group as a whole expected. There was really no sense of the inner healing described by this sermon.
I don't expect this to necessarily resonate with you, but it did with me. Without getting all preachy, other religious paths were basically closed doors to me for different reasons, and this one was suddenly an open door leading down a path I was being slowly and powerfully drawn to.
The rest of the service was a wonderfully positive experience of pure worship I really can't describe if you weren't there. It just was.
I went up to one of the staff members I had met with before. For the last two years I have been told I can't join this church because of my continuing LDS connection and because my wife and I had to join together or not at all. As a result of the last meeting we had, suddenly the door to membership was being flung open, should I choose to walk through it.
So, all this was going through my mind this past Christmas week. The doors that were closed. The door that was opening to me. Should I walk through it or not?
By the time I got to Christmas Day, the choice seemed clear. I'm walking through it.