Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Your Backside and the Church (Dialogue Column 6.10.08)

The Dialogue is the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Often, I'll post here on the blog my columns for the weekly newsletter. I mention it just so that folks who read the snail-mail version can skip this post if they've already read it.

In case you did not see the church ad in Saturday’s paper or the church sign, my sermon title for this past Sunday was “Get Off Your Butt and Come to Church.” I’ll admit that it does not win any awards for subtlety, and it definitely lacks a certain amount of decorum. I don’t let my five year-old say “butt” (I know it is inevitable, but I’ve got to keep the innocence going as long as I can.), so I feel a little bit embarrassed to have done so in a sermon title. My sense is that most who read it either didn’t think twice about it or kept their “tsk tsk” to themselves. Despite some misgivings however, I really don’t apologize for the sentiment, and if telling folks to get off their butts has any affect whatsoever on folks who may take Sunday worship for granted, then I won’t apologize for that either. (We did have decent attendance Sunday, for summertime at least, but I’m pretty sure my sermon title had little to do with it.)

I preached Sunday on several scenes from Matthew 9 where Jesus calls others to community. He calls Matthew, a tax collector--essentially a traitor in the eyes of his countrymen, and then sits down to eat with “tax collectors and sinners” despite the protests of the self-righteous religious types of his day. Then he heals a woman who has been bleeding for a dozen years, just before he raises a girl from death. Jesus calls those who are on the outside of community with God and with people to enter into relationship with one another and with God. Whether the person in question was “unclean” due to their profession, their misdeeds, their medical condition or even their mortality, Jesus called them to community. The job of the church is to likewise call people to be a part of a community that cares and serves.

I suspect that being a part of worship on Sunday matters more than people realize. First of all, it really is the only time we are all together as a church, but we are only “all together” to the extent of who is actually present. Second, it is the only time for most people that they will worship God in a given week. Put another way, it may be the only time that many people will acknowledge their proper place in the universe as a person created by God meant for service and love to others. Our busy schedules and self-interest rarely allow for such reflection. Third, it is an opportunity to be known and to know others. As we share joys and concerns, greet one another, and even sing and listen together, we participate in the sacred activity of reminding one another that each one of us matters and is a part of something greater than him- or herself. In a world of amazing technology that invariably pulls us farther and farther away from one another, despite our efforts to connect with one another in new ways, souls are crying out for such intimacy. Furthermore, in a society that seems to be discarding traditional forms of people gathering together in person, it is all too easy for people to fall through the cracks and to end up leading lives of quiet loneliness. A community of people that care about one another is something all too rare in our culture, and such communities can heal a hurting soul.

When your backside—or mine for that matter—is not present when we gather for worship, you (and I) miss out on helping to create a community of healing and care. I’ve known churches that asked their members to commit to being present in worship every Sunday they are in town, and although I’ve challenged something similar during Lent, I am reluctant to ask for such a commitment in any formal manner. I grew up as the son of a minister, so I know a thing or two about being present in church every time the door is open. Like anything else, attending church services can become a chore and a burden, especially when they are only understood as a requirement rather than as an opportunity to heal the world. I know that there are some Sunday mornings when people need to rest, to take care of themselves, to prepare for an important event or whatever. What I wish for the members of the church where I serve is not for people to feel guilt or shame about missing church—there are plenty of other churches that will provide such negative understandings of community—but rather a deep sense of longing to be with people who care about them and to care for others in return—a sense that an opportunity to experience God in an authentic way was missed.

In a nutshell, my hope is that people would want to come to our worship service for positive reasons rather than negative ones. My hope is that people would come expecting to encounter God and others in a way that welcomes the stranger, includes those who have been excluded and heals those who have felt wounded by people who have taken the name Christian. I hope you will hear Jesus’ call to “get off your butt and come to church.”

Grace and Peace,


1 comment:

Amy said...

I used to feel bad for the tax collectors in the Bible. Then I realized that if we rewrote the Bible, the tax collectors would be telemarketers, and I didn't feel so bad. I have thought about stoning telemarketers.