Conversations with family and friends are a reminder that our society has taken the self-obsessed narrative and applied it to church. They just don’t offer anything I want anymore. The church has an unrelated, outdated heart. People there are jerks who hate XYZ. I’m too tired and this coffee and CBS Sunday Morning episode are everything (raising my hand here). In open-fisted honesty, my husband and I have given in to excuses for not attending church services many, many times. We have valued family time above gathering together with others to praise Christ for His love and mercy. We have chosen media in place of emotional, spiritual and psychological healing. We have obeyed the slight physical fatigue instead of the supernatural energy that flows from meeting with God’s chosen vessel. I’ve summoned strength to do lesser things for longer periods of time. If I’m shaken out of my selfish reverie and made to really look at Jesus, He meets me with multiplied gifts.
There are times to not attend church, and not feel guilty for it: your health, your family’s health, work, new children, emergencies, etc. But how would I maintain a friendship if I make it a practice to not meet for trivial reasons? Consistent avoidance tells me that we’re not as close as I think we are.
Recently, we’ve made the switch from the Presbyterian Church of America to the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. I appreciate so many things about both denominations, so this isn’t a style of worship contest. We do love our new church, and last weekend illustrated why.
For years church has been my performance. Beginning with baptism at age eight, when I received the message of the Gospel but also felt good about being “good.” We’re really good at falling in love with ourselves. In the chlorine-drenched white robe, I felt loved and safe and wanted. I also became addicted to those feelings. When Christ was at peace working on me, I was frantic to have everyone adore me– crushes, aunts, neighbors, people at the grocery store– this was the most important truth of my life. Be loved at all costs! And what costs they were. Failure to be loyal, general awkwardness, fear to truly be known and know people, and a short inward temper developed over years. They didn’t seem too terrible, because, hey, I was a virgin until marriage and didn’t get drunk too much! Check that off the list. Compound those vices with my dogma that being popular enough in the right church would keep me happy, and we’ve reached last month on the timeline.
Yesterday, we knew that something wasn’t working. If we didn’t get back to worshipping Christ with a body of other believers for just a few hours on a day where we leisurely pass twenty-two of them, the rift between us and the Lord would sway. This never means He doesn’t love, care for and wait for us. It means we would be choosing something else. So we were motivated from the early morning to pack Bear’s diaper bag, give him a bath, let chores wait, and attend the service. Lutherans believe that worship should be very active, so a service includes lots of hymns, public readings, and the most special thing of all: the Communion meal. We confess our sins together and let the ancient words of God’s goodness pour over our hearts. I was refreshed focusing so much on this time with the Lord, not thinking about how my voice sounded or whether the old man behind me was hateful or just needed to go the bathroom. It was a deep, long-awaited release. We sang loudly and sunk knees into a cushion to apologize for the things we’ve done against our Friend, the Lord. We shook hands and offered smiles to those around us. We broke bread and drank wine together. As icing on the cake, multiple discussions with new members and founding members greased our social wheels again. We met people who have intense struggles, and I talked to someone about getting children’s television songs stuck in our heads. Dates were made to get together again, outside of Sunday. It was the power of the Gospel moving to bring people from all walks of life close and humbled.
We’re not perfect. We slip up and desert God. But we have to admit that we desert Him, and not hide behind our self-sufficiency. I tried that, and it only led to a broken heart. Can we let the Repairer of all hearts do His work through the people around us? He loves us too much to let us keep going on our own.
“And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spake by the Prophets. And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”- Nicene Creed