A Little Bit Of Nothing – A Whole Lot Of Grace

Fourth_Presbyterian_ChicagoA few nights ago, my husband and I sat down and listened to the sermon, An Abundance of Shared Poverty. Maybe you have all listened to it already… I’m usually late to the party, assuming I show up at all. But on the off chance that any of you aren’t familiar with it, change your plans for tonight. Sit down and give it a listen.

 

So, spoiler alert: I’m going to tell you the punchline. (But please believe me when I tell you the sermon is so much better than anything I’m about to say, so you should definitely still listen to it!) The heart of the message is this: none of us brings anything good to the foot of the cross. We don’t contribute anything except our own fallenness and lostness to the salvation equation. It’s 100% God and 0% us. We all know that. Kind of. But the weird and mysterious and impossible thing is that God takes all that nothing and creates something beautiful and whole.

I hope that’s really true, because even though it’s my turn to blog this week, I have nothing.  Seriously. I don’t have a single thing to say that seems positive and good and helpful. I just have my nothing. But there is an abundance of it, so I’ll share some of that nothing in the hope that Jesus will use it to make something.

Here it is: I never liked church. Most of my growing up years, I just hated it. When we lived in Chicago we only occasionally went – and then we attended Fourth Presbyterian at Chestnut and Michigan Avenue. That was good… I remember throwing pennies into the big fountain in the courtyard. I was young and I really just have sense memories of the soaring ceiling, stained glass windows, and majestic pipe organ. But then we moved back to Oklahoma. Maybe it was culture shock from which I simply never recovered. But that sense of looking up to Someone so much beyond me contracted into something measly and manageable.

As I grew into those fabulously graceful teen years (can someone please invent a sarcasm font?) I started asking questions. This was okay at home, because my parents encouraged me to read and think and ask. But there was a disconnect between my home and the wider church community. Questions were not okay. Especially coming from a girl. Add to that my braces, thick glasses, and perpetual social awkwardness – well, the youth group felt a lot like a lions’ den.

Many things changed over the years – I made friends with some of those former youth group kids and discovered they had struggles and questions, too. But some things remained the same. I still respond on some primal level to architecture that aspires to beauty – if I don’t have to, I’d rather not worship in a bunker. I still have questions. I still have flashes of panic when I wonder if it’s all just an elaborate hoax.

Something critical that shifted, however, was joining City Pres. I’m allowed to ask questions. To doubt. To bring my need for the gospel. I don’t have to pretend that I’m a Stepford wife. I don’t have to pretend that I’d rather be in church than sipping mimosas in my pjs.

And that’s why our City Vision time is one of my favorite things about worship at City Pres. Even when I hear from people whom I don’t really know, their stories resonate with me. Brokenness. Fear. Pain. We all have those things, whether we admit it publicly or not.

When I hear people share their nothing, I realize I have nothing, too. We’re all in this crazy boat together. And God has orchestrated this to His glory. Like the loaves and the fish, our nothing becomes something.

And oddly, I find that in sharing all this nothing, church has become for me that deeply substantive something for which I’ve longed all this time.

alison