Unchurch. How God Uses Us Outside of Buildings.

It's Sunday evening. Winter Storm Jonas just blew through. To amuse myself today I kept up with some of the stories and such on FaceBook. My interest was particularly piqued by exhortations of church people, for whom services were canceled today, to go out and “be the church”. I’ll reserve my theological thoughts about that for now. I want to elaborate on my “unchurch” day.

I don’t have a good back. Sometime in my younger, tougher more athletic days, I did some significant damage to both my neck and my lumbar. So, I have serious pain doing manual labor - especially fun stuff like shoveling snow. So, with my back in mind and some money in hand, I decided to hire my neighbor and good friend, Fred, to snow blow the 20-some inches of crystalized hell from my driveway.

I took this during Winter Storm Jonas. It's the last remaining Christmas decoration in our home. It's usually turned towards the outside so that it can be seen from the street.

Fred’s a good guy. A servant. He spent most of the day clearing neighbor’s driveways. He and I finished up mine and he was off to clear his own. The rumble of the engine fading as he inched up the hill towards his home. Those machines don’t move quickly.

Inside, I dried off and took my rightful place in front of the TV to watch the game. Women’s soccer was on, U.S. verses Ireland. Less than a half of a half went by when I saw Fred walking down the street. I met him at my door as he held up a worn and useless drive belt from his snow blower. Since his driveway was still blocked, he asked for a ride to Home Depot. Two stores later (thanks Tractor Supply) we were on our way back with the new belt. Within minutes I heard the rumble of the engine and saw a whirl of snow.

As the game wound to and end, I saw him traipsing down the street again. Meeting him at the door he calmly exclaimed, “I need to go to the ER, I cut my finger off.” “Completely off?” I said. “Yes”, he responded. We picked up his wife and off we went to the emergency room. Fred explained that in a momentary brain fart, he’d stuck his left hand down the shoot of the blower. Apparently, with the new belt, there was a bit more torque.

Dropping them off, I returned home and suited up to man his snow blower to clear his driveway. It rumbled to life. I made my way down the 80 foot drive feeling confident that I could knock this bad boy out before the sun fully sunk below the horizon; the glow now turning pinkish-red beyond the trees and snow dunes.

I was just about to head back up the drive, another 4 passes would do it, when amidst the rumble there was an odd “ping”. In proper fashion the snow stopped flying from the shoot. Thinking of Fred and his bloody finger, I shut the engine off and took a look. The new belt was shredded. I stared up the drive and at a path that was only 4-foot wide. Racing through my thoughts were the FaceBook posts, my well-laid and financed plans not to shovel and the pain on Fred's face as I delivered him to the ER.

Parking the blower, I picked up a shovel. I thought back to my days growing up on the farm where I learned to shovel cow manure. Some skills are transferable. My back straining and my body sweating, I tried to pace myself as the darkness crept in. Flake by flake, shovel by shovel I kept working. Everyone once in a while I’d stop to rest, sweating, laughing and repeating a Scripture verse to myself.

About halfway through the job, the sweat now steamy off my neck, I texted my wife to turn on the last remaining Christmas decoration in our window. I needed some inspiration. Not long after, I returned her wave as she flipped the switch on the rather cheap, flimsy “Joy” sign we’d picked up at a Michael’s Crafts before the holidays. And I thought of the Scripture verse again as I neared the end of the driveway.

The snow by the road was hard and heavy having been compressed and packed by the plows. This was the roughest part of the work and I was now tired, soaking wet and my back was screaming for me to stop. And the Scripture verse came to mind.

Back inside, I shed my clothes, my wife meeting me with a cup of hot chocolate. A few sips in and my phone buzzed. It was Fred. He would need surgery and was being transported to another hospital and his wife needed to get her own car. So, off I went again. I delivered her safely home, my truck just barely fitting through the trough I’d cleared less than thirty minutes earlier. Back inside, I began to piece together the lessons I’d learned from today’s “sermon”.

First, the best laid plans often fail, learn to be flexible.
Second, when you need to do something, God will provide the strength and means to get it done, don’t panic.
Third, the church is far bigger than some building people attend on Sunday morning, don’t let the institution limit or dictate who you are or how you serve those around you. Perhaps we should cancel church altogether on Sundays so the “church” could be what it was always intended to be?

Oh, and the Scripture that I kept thinking about?

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame…
— Hebrews 12:2

The snow was my cross, the joy was in serving my friend. I hope it snows next weekend, too