I was getting ready to board a plane from Seattle to Austin. The plane was scheduled to leave at 7:00 PM. As we all waited for our turn to board, I noticed that a lot of people standing at the gate looked tired. It was obvious that most had put in a full day's work and were now getting ready for a long flight. One guy in particular stood out. He was talking a lot those around him. He was dressed in a very nice and what appeared to be an expensive suit. He was in his 50's and struck me as a guy who seemed very confident. I also perceived that he was doing well financially. I watched him for awhile as he talked and decided that he seemed full of himself. I also decided that I didn't like him...at all.
My group was called (This is Southwest Airline, mind you. We were boarding in groups of three, A, B, and C). Now this flight was full and I was glad to not be stuck with a middle seat. I was in an aisle seat and another guy was in the window seat on my row. Maybe, just maybe, that middle seat would remain empty. Then the next group came down the aisle and sure enough here comes the confident guy in the nice suit. He smiles at me and asks if he can sit in the middle seat. ("Oh brother, now this will be fun!").
The plane took off and he turned to me and asks me what I did for a living. ("This will be interesting"). I told him I was a minister. His reaction was not what I expected. He told me he was a recovering alcoholic and had recently started attending a great church in Austin. He talked about his life and how he had made so many mistakes but was learning what it meant to be a Christian.
Finally, as the plane began to approach Austin, he said to me, "You know, what you do really matters. In fact, you are in a very important work."
Oh my! How wrong I had been about the guy. I had prejudged him to be a jerk. I had decided in advance that he was an affluent business man full of self-importance. I was so wrong.
I kept thinking about those words. "What you do really matters." Sometimes, I get very tired and fed up with the silliness in church life. Someone can make the biggest deal out of nothing. A very few troubled and easily offended people can use up so much time and energy. In a church whose founder spoke of "dying to self", we can spend a lot of time dealing with bruised or over-inflated egos.
Yet, I still believe this matters. I believe it matters because I believe Jesus always intended for his people to learn what it means to follow Christ with a community of people. This is not a faith for each of us to figure out on our own. We do this together, as a church.
As a minister, I am in the middle of life with a lot of people. Birth. Death. Marriage. Work. Sometimes there are crises. At other times, these are just the normal seasons of life. Nevertheless, this work involves being with people as they deal with "street-level faith." That is, life as it really is for them.
That is life in the real world.