If you are anything like me, you are foggy from the Thanksgiving Feast a couple of days ago and all the unbelievable food and family that goes along with it. Our scripture passages for today foretold the events that went before us on Thursday, before we were all overfed like these verses 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. So often I find that the scripture of the week parallels our lives.
Bible scripture is in a word, brilliant, written by prescient creative people who understood the human soul. According to Martin Luther, one of the founders of the Reformation whose 500th Anniversary we just celebrated, scripture was the thing we should focus on for understanding our faith. “Sola Scriptura!” he claimed, meaning that our understanding of God comes through the scripture. Luther preached the elimination of a middle man, historically the Priest since he was Catholic, as an interpreter between us and God. I can buy into that for the most part. Thus, he is one of the religious leaders who encouraged a whole sect of believers called Protestants to which we are a part. Fast forward 500 years and here we are, among the many Protestant Christians of many different denominations and non-denominations.
However, in some ways we find we have lost our way. We seem to wonder where we went wrong as in these verses, 37 ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’” Arguably, we have evidence to our losing our way by observing the vastly declining numbers of people who are actually attending worship. You may think I talk about this a lot, but as a minister it drives me bonkers that people are finding less and less value in the act of participating in worship. What’s the problem?
If you have done any reading on the subject of church decline and if you came to our Annual GPC conference with Michael Droege as the speaker, you know that what I am saying is true. It is not just our church, it is the worldwide communion of the church which is experiencing decline except for international pockets like in S. America and in Asia where there is actually an increase in Christian participation. In European and North American Circles, however, Church attendance is on the critical care ward and that’s a fact. So! Instead of belaboring that fact this grateful Thanksgiving weekend, I am going to get radical and jump sideways to why you should continue to go to church and invite your friends to come to church. These thoughts stem from an awesome and amusing article I read by a wonderful minister named Rev. Anne Russ who is the Pastor of Argenta Presbyterian Church in North Little Rock Arkansas. I had a conversation with this lovely pastor woman and she gave me full permission to borrow her fabulous words so here I go:
"Ten Reasons Why You Should Be Going to Church" 10. Coming to church doesn’t mean you have no doubts about God or faith or religion. It means you have a place you can share with people who have their own doubts. Let’s be honest here. God is a mystery and mysteries by definition engender doubt. The Bible is riddled with people who discuss their doubt. Frankly, God is not testing us to see if we will believe no matter what. God already loves and accepts you as you are, doubts and all. That’s just the way it is. That, Martin Luther would call “Sola Gratia” or solely by Grace we are loved and saved.
9. Bad stuff is going to happen in your life. It just is. A church community cannot be everything to everyone in time of crisis, but when the bottom falls out of your world, it’s great to have a community to lift you back up. One of the best parts of being a Pastor is being there for people during their time of need. People are very real at those moments and there is very little small talk going on. Tough times have a way of bringing out what is truly sacred and heroic in people even if they are complaining or in pain. As people, we are built to withstand adversity and to look to a better day with God as our guide. It’s clear, God works through other humans and being a part of a community that goes out of its way to help others is a gift.
8. Bad stuff is going to happen in your life, part two. The time to build a relationship with God is not when life turns ugly and you’ve run out of all other options. Attending worship regularly helps build a relationship with God and others that will give you a solid foundation when the winds blow and the storms come. It is said there are no atheists in foxholes and I find it true. Of course, there are always diehards who will work hard to convince you of the non-existence of a Higher Power but for the most part, people turn to God when the going gets rough. If you have a practice of prayer and feel comfortable in conversation with God, you will weather the storms of your life better.
7. Not all churches are anti-something. Most of us are for people, for acceptance, for hospitality. Really, we’re out there. We just don’t get the good press. Some think the root of all evil isn’t money, it is religion. They observe all the terrible things some people do in the name of God or their own religion and think that we’re all the same. That is not true. It’s not religion that is the problem - it is how some have twisted and distorted the basic tenets of faith that has caused the pain and conflict.
6. Any church worth its salt has really good food on a regular basis. Well that goes without saying around here at Greendale. People really show their love and care through their preparation and serving of food. Bring it on.
5. Churches offer paint-by-number opportunities to serve. Many people would like to help the poor, the hungry and the homeless, but they don’t know how to get involved, how to make the time to be involved, or what they can do to really make a difference. Churches offer you ways to plug in to help those who need it most. I remember before I rediscovered faith I looked around for ways to help others because it felt good and seemed like the right thing to do. I’d do a little here for this organization and a little there for another and it was fine. But when I really started getting into it through church groups, it meant more because it was a joint cause done together. The camaraderie of being with people I knew and cared about and who knew me and my daughter made a difference in the experience.
4. You’ve got a gift. Probably two or ten of them. Becoming involved in the ministry of a church will help you discover and use gifts you never even knew you had. That sort of goes with #5. There is something about being in a group who gets to know you that can prompt and inspire in ways you may never have considered before. Like the shawl ministry for instance. You cannot imagine how much those knit and crocheted shawls mean to people who are sick, being Baptized or in some way not in good spirits.
3. Not all churches are after your money. Good churches want you to have a healthy relationship with money. Sure, churches need to pay the electric bill and the pastor and the youth director, but money and church is more about you than it is about the church. It’s about our own relationship with money. World events have proven that it’s much better to put faith in God than in a bank account. Church can help you with that. I know it can be a pain when those collection plates and baskets go around but isn’t it true that even a small amount of giving makes you feel different about yourself and your relationship with money? Doesn’t it take some of that hold-on-tight-to-your-money feeling away? We are bombarded with messages about holding fast to money, investing money and coveting the money others have. The act of giving in church can actually help you to take a look at that part of your life in a more positive, more relaxed way.
2. Taking a break from our hectic lives to come to church is accepting the gift of Sabbath. Wayne Mueller says “[Sabbath] dissolves the artificial urgency of our days, because it liberates us from the need to be finished.” We don’t take Sabbath and come to worship because we have time and have finished up everything that needs to be done. We take Sabbath because it is time to stop, and we are designed to stop, rest and reflect. Those who don’t are destined to crash and bum. And then there’s the #1reason
1. Jesus is really cool. Even if you don’t know if you can believe in the whole Son-of-God thing, even if you refer to the resurrection as the Zombie Jesus event and even though those of us already in church often do a lousy job of following him, come to church to get to know Jesus. The more you get to know him, the more you’ll understand why people call his way The Way.
If you’d like a copy of the author’s “10 Reasons” let me know and I can get it for you so you can give it to others.
May God bless you this Thanksgiving Sunday.