"Church isn't for me anymore."
I know those words so well, because I hear them every single day in some form or another; in emails, late night Skype sessions, and midday conversations across a coffee table. They're a convenient one-size-fits-all phrase that covers a multitude of meanings for those of you who've joined the growing ranks of the weekend defectors, deciding to opt-out of organized religion.
That seemingly simple phrase speaks to so many unique stories; stories of grief, and abuse and exclusion; stories of mistreatment, and isolation and indifference -- all experienced in the name of God, all at the hands of God's people.
They're words sometimes spoken in angry defiance, sometimes in anguished grief, and sometimes in quiet resignation, but regardless of those distinctions, they've all led to the same unfortunate place; separation.
So many of you have shared with me the suffering you've gone through as part of local faith communities. It's damaged or frustrated or wounded you so greatly that you've chosen to walk away.
You've finally reached the saturation point of what you can endure, and after years of attempted reconciliation, and after one too many false starts or disappointments, you've decided that enough is enough, and now you stay home on Sundays.
Or maybe you don't just stay home, but you definitely do stay away.
You might lazily knock around the house during these mornings now, or grab breakfast at your favorite local spot, or walk your dog through the woods, or make your bed home base for a few cozy hours, filled with some combination of kids and pets and silence.
Perhaps you steal a few quiet moments with coffee and a book, or calmly wrap your mind around the many needs of the busy week ahead, or you fill that Sunday space listening to music, or working on your car, or golfing with friends, or writing the latest chapter of the book you've been dreaming about for years.
Some of you do this with great joy, some with tremendous sadness, and many with a good deal of residual guilt.
And you may have done all of it, thinking that you've left the Church, but the encouraging thing you need to hear today, is that you haven't left God.
In fact, not only haven't you moved too far from the faith as you've made your weekend exodus from the church building, you're as close to being the Church as you ever were.
The Church after all was never a place anyway, it was always a people. It was a people communing with one another and with God, living life with reverence and gratitude and joy.
And the great, beautiful, catalytic truth, is that you can do that right where you are, right now, this very Sunday.
Those bed-top moments of belly laughter with your kids are as sacred as they come, the secluded wooded paths as holy a ground as you'll ever walk upon, those meandering, intimate conversations over coffee as real a prayer as there is in the world, the table you share a meal with friends upon, as real a fellowship space as any packed worship service.
So while you have intentionally stepped away from what you believed was religion, in reality you've simply stepped fully into a place where you can experience faith in all of its variety and beauty. In the process, you uncovered something that far too many people never discover in a building on Sunday:
You don't need a band or an organist to worship. Your every waking moment can be an act of praise, your original daily song of adoration.
You don't need a pastor or other professional Christian to tell you what God is saying to you. You only need to quiet yourself and listen.
You don't need to recite a communal creed to pray. Each breath can be a prayer, as you live and move with attention to the sacredness of it all.
You don't need anyone else, to learn, study, to find community, to serve, and most of all, to reflect the character of Christ in the world -- period.
This may be only a temporary secession from the Church building for you. You may one day find yourself drawn back to a local faith community, and Sundays may again look more like you remember church being, before you stepped away. You may once more, find acceptance and connection and meaning in the church of your past, and that will wonderful.
But even if that never happens, please know that you haven't lost.
Don't let anyone tell you that you've abandoned faith or that you aren't walking closely with God.
Anyone who tells you that, simply hasn't seen what you've now seen; that the true spiritual life, is a life lived completely open to the wonder and the work of God, one that far exceeds any building, or worship service, or ministry program.
God is certainly present in the crowds and the noise, and in the large and special weekend gatherings you've come to experience as the Church, but God is also as surely present in the quiet, simple, unvarnished places of your ordinary.
You are a breathing sanctuary, my friend, and your faith is living as you live. It goes where you go.
To those of you who stay home or stay away this Sunday, be encouraged: God is right where you are. He left the building long ago.