I like the story about the golfer who was 20 minutes late at the first tee on Sunday morning. The other three members of the foursome were almost ready to drive off without him. He explained his lateness by saying, “I agreed with my family that this Sunday I’d toss a coin to see whether I played golf or went to church. And you know, I had to toss that coin forty three times before it came up heads.”
Church attendance continues to plummet across denominations. There was a time, when being in worship on Sunday morning was assumed. Even so, my parents both grew up without church being a regular part of their lives. Religious differences in their families did not get sorted out until after both had left home.
One would think with that background, neither my mother nor dad would have been at all interested in church, and yet when I was quite young, they searched for a place of worship. They found the something that was missing in their lives in my small childhood church.
I’ll admit, worship was not always a priority for me. Busy with a young family, Sunday morning was my time to sleep in. Sometimes I felt guilty for missing worship. There was that commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8) I had learned in Sunday School.
Worship helps set our priorities in order. We grow as Christians and as human beings. In sharing our journey with others we find strength and healing. We find our purpose, when we discover that God has work to be done that can only be done through us. We are blessed to be part of a community of people who care about and for us. We rub shoulders with the world as we interact with people across races, classes and politics. We learn to accept one another and to understand another’s world view. We experience and witness God’s grace in action. Just today, in my local church, a car that needed a new home found a person who needed a car.
I started going back to church out of a sense of obligation along with a multitude of nudges from God. What I considered a duty would become one of God’s special gifts to me. I did not know then that, through worship God intended to transform my life. On most Sundays my values and beliefs would either be challenged or clarified. I would be inspired and encouraged. I learned that God had more in mind for me than to simply sit in a pew. God could use me to help better the world. Opportunities for service and mission were lifted up. I stretched my vision and understanding of God. Week by week, I heard God’s word to me in the place where I lived. I found guidance for daily living. I was part of a community that cared about one another. We prayed for each other, shared our burdens and our joys. When trouble came, the church became my support group. I was sustained by the prayers of friends. I began to understand the riches of Christ.
I think that was part of the message the apostle Paul was sending the people of Ephesus when he wrote them saying, “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:16-19
The small church of my childhood closed many years ago, but the work of the church continues in me and all who were a part of it.
When it turns from Obligation to Joy… when it may or may not be in a literal church… it is in the presence of God and with God’s creation and amongst God’s children.
Been reading a lot of Thomas Merton lately and he saw this coming back in the late 60’s.
My denomination has strict boundaries around involvement at a church you’ve served. When I retired, I discovered how much I needed community and how much I took it for granted as a pastor. Some of my most profound experiences of God’s presence have come while sitting in a worship service, hearing a sermon or prayer that went straight to my heart.
I’ve been reading Rachel Held Evans who says, “The church is God saying: ‘I’m throwing a banquet, and all these mismatched, messed-up people are invited. Here, have some wine.”
― Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church
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I really enjoyed your sermon. Thank you.
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