Being Comfortable in God’s House
by Pastor George Van Alstine

With construction for the Lift Project going on, we’ve often left the front doors open for carrying out demolition waste and carrying in supplies. Recently a bird wandered in, flew up to the high ceiling in the entryway and had trouble finding its way out. I first thought it was a common house finch, but then I noticed a flash of yellow. I went to my office, grabbed my bird book and field glasses, and like a jungle explorer, I quietly stalked my quarry. It turned out to be a Western Yellow-Throated Warbler. I was excited.

The bird was excited too, but not in the same way. He flitted about frantically from one light fixture to another, then to the front window and back. As people came in and out of the offices, the bird’s anxiety level increased, and he flew even faster. It wasn’t until everybody left the area that he got his wits about him and found a way to escape.

In Psalm 84 we read about some birds long ago who had a much more comfortable relationship with another place of worship, the Temple in Jerusalem: “Even the sparrow finds a home and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise.” (Psalm 84:3-4)

Sparrows and swallows felt right at home in the magnificent Temple, the awe-inspiring center of all Jewish worship, but my little Yellow-Throated Warbler wanted to get out of our much humbler place of worship as fast as possible.

I grew up in a blue collar church, and I remember how uncomfortable some of the men were in their Sunday-go-to-meeting starched white collars. I have a particular mental image of one hard working carpenter who usually sat in the pew ahead of me. Throughout the service he would repeatedly pull on his collar to loosen it up, moving his neck around to find a more natural position. I knew the man loved the Lord, but he didn’t look comfortable in the Lord’s house. There have been a lot of changes in our worship patterns since then. Everything has become less formal and rigid. When it comes to proper church attire, just about anything goes. I know some old timers are really bothered by this, seeing it as disrespectful. I myself continue to wear a suit and tie at a time when most mega-church and TV pastors wear either pullover sweaters or Hawaiian shirts with big flowers. It just seems right for me personally.

But I really believe in making our place of worship warm and welcoming, even embracing, to all kinds of people. A person whose heart is reaching out for God’s love and reassurance should never be afraid to come into the place we speak of as God’s house. In fact, she or he should have the feeling of coming home. Rules, regulations and dress codes should not stand in the way of a person wanting to come closer to God. We should have the feeling of “Y’all come!” when we’re around the church.

As the psalmist wrote: “Happy are those who live in your house. . . For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than to live in the tents of wickedness.” (Psalm 84:4, 10)

I want two of my friends to feel at home at ABC – the carpenter from my youth and my Yellow-Throated Warbler.