Why Do I Have to Go to Church?

The Third Commandment
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.
What does this mean?
We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God’s word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear and learn it.
Why do I have to go to church?

If I had a dime for every time I heard that in the eighties and nineties, I would be about $100 richer.

Fifty-two Sundays times twenty years times ten cents.

We can see just by how many people aren’t here that many people feel they don’t have to go to church.

Why do we go to church?

Why did God make a commandment about a special day of the week?

Briefly—it’s for our own good.

The Sabbath day, our Sunday, provides two benefits, equally important. Sunday provides a day to rest and Sunday provides us with a intentional time to renew our relationship with God.
Imagine a calendar that expects us to work seven days a week. Imagine a culture that expects us to work every day of the year. We know that we need a break, a retreat from the daily work that we do. A day off gives our bodies and minds time to restore and renew. We work more safely, we work more efficiently, we work smarter when we take a break. A day off gives us time to put things in perspective and we return to work with a healthier attitude toward our coworkers and toward our responsibilities. Even if you hate your job and your coworkers, a break gets you out of that toxic environment and you can go back, knowing that you’ll have another day off before long. A day off is good for our physical and mental health.

The other benefit of the Sabbath is that it helps us to focus on our relationship with God. As we enter this sanctuary, as we read the words of the liturgy and Scripture, as we sing the hymns, our thoughts are turned toward God, toward God’s love for us and our love for God.

Why should we think about God? God gave us life, God gave us food, air, beauty, all of creation. How do we repay God? What can we give God to show our gratitude? The only thing we have to give is our worship. God doesn’t need anything from our bank account, our pantry, our tool box. The best way to show our gratitude to God is to intentional time in worship. And the amazing thing is that even though we are giving back to God, we also benefit from our participation in worship. God is not going to be diminished if we ignore God, but we miss out on what we receive from worship.

I find that renewing my relationship with God on Sunday strengthens my faith for the rest of the week. People tell me often that worship on Sunday starts the week out right. Our time together prepares us for whatever happens in the next six days.

Now, let me ask you a question. Why do we gather on Sunday and not on Saturday or Tuesday or Friday? The answer goes back to God’s command that we meet every seven days—one day out of the week. The Israelites met on the seventh day, the last day of the week because that was the day that God rested. Exodus 20: 11 In six days I made the sky, the earth, the oceans, and everything in them, but on the seventh day I rested. That’s why I made the Sabbath a special day that belongs to me.

How did we end up with Sunday? Jesus rose on Sunday. The day of the week did not automatically change on the first Easter. Some early churches, especially those whose members were originally Jewish, continued to meet on Saturday. But other groups met on Sunday. This gave the new church something about which to argue, evidently, for Paul says in Colossians 2:16 16 Don’t let anyone tell you what you must eat or drink. Don’t let them say that you must celebrate the New Moon festival, the Sabbath, or any other festival. Paul cites another example in Romans 14:5-6Contemporary English Version (CEV)
Some of the Lord’s followers think one day is more important than another. Others think all days are the same. But each of you should make up your own mind. Any followers who count one day more important than another day do it to honor their Lord.

However, by the end of the first century, most congregations were meeting on Sunday.
We could meet on any day, though. But the advantage of meeting on Sunday is that you know that no matter where you are, you can find a worship service to attend on Sunday. And I like knowing that on any given Sunday, I am worshipping not just with you, but with millions of people all over the world. It gives me a sense of unity and community with other Christians.

Meeting on Sundays also benefits the rest of the world. Employers work their schedules around Saturdays and Sundays. The NFL schedules their games on Sundays. Having a specific day of the week set aside from the regular work week benefits not just Christians, but all of society. Even those who work on Sundays are given a day or two off during the week.

One more reason to go to church: this is where the strength of the Church lies.We are in community. We have each other. We support each other. We strengthen each other.

Let me quote from an article by Rev. John Warrener, a Methodists minister:
>It is the fellowship of the church where we find Jesus Christ.
>It is the fellowship of the church where we find protection from the demonic forces of evil and sin in this world.
>It is the fellowship of the church where we find encouragement in life.
>It is the fellowship of the church where we become Jesus Christ to the world.

First, worship is where we always, without fail, find Jesus. And worship is where we find each other. When else during the week do you see all these people? We are diverse and scattered, but we can always count on being together in this time and pace.

Second, we find protection. When you are tempted to speak evil, hear evil, do evil, what is the resource that keeps you on the path Jesus gave us? When your stand up against evil, where do you get the courage? Doesn’t it help to know that other people will back you and support you when you resist slander or stealing or hurting others? There is safety in numbers.

Third, when the circumstances of your life are beating you down, where can you find people who will pray for you, call you, look after you? When someone at church asks, “How are you?,” they want an honest answer and they are ready to encourage you and comfort you.
Fourth, we become Jesus Christ to the world. When we say we want to be the hands and feet of Jesus, it is a lot more effective to work as a group.

Rev. Warrener has more to say about the community of Christians.
When you become a Christian, you are called into a relationship with God (1 Corinthians 1:9). But I John 1:3 makes it clear that we enter a fellowship that goes two ways: with God and with other Christians

And for those people who say they find God on the golf course or the mountaintop or in the privacy of their homes, here are some irreplaceable pieces of the Christian life that cannot happen when you live in isolation from the church:

USE OF SPIRITUAL GIFTS—I Corinthians 12 makes it clear that God has given spiritual gifts to every Christian. And verse 7 states unmistakably that these abilities are not provided to make you feel good; they are abilities to minister that should be used for the common good! In Peter 4:10 commands us to use spiritual gifts to help each other.
MUTUAL MINISTRY—The church is pictured as a body in I Corinthians 12, and Paul explains that each part of the body exists to meet the needs of other body parts. In the same way, God intends each of us to meet the needs of other believers, using our strengths to help in their areas of weakness. I Corinthians 12:21 expresses it this way: “The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you.” Neither can a Christian claim to be self-sufficient today.
ACCOUNTABILITY—God designed the church as a place where spiritual leaders could watch out for our welfare, as a shepherd guards the sheep (I Peter 5:1-4; Hebrews 13:17). A Christian who answers only to himself can easily rationalize sinful attitudes or actions; regular contact with other Christians can keep us sharp.

Remember the Sabbath Day. Keep it Holy. It’s not just a day off work. It’s a day of renewal and revival. It’s necessary to keeping one’s faith. It’s necessary to help us carry out our promises and our intention as Christians. What a great gift this Sabbath day is. It helps us to live the life we want to live, the life of a Christian. It gives us the ability and the power and the desire to follow Jesus, to be what we claim to be: Christ’s presence in God’s creation. Amen.



Thoughts After a Funeral

In my career as “pastor du jour,” I spend some time looking at gravestones. I’m usually being chauffeured by one of the guys from Schulz Funeral home, so I have plenty of time to read the names on the stones we pass.  One does not race through a cemetery, especially during the final procession of the earthly body, so even though the tomb stones number in the hundreds, quite a few names register with me.

I have lived in this community for over forty years and I’ve had the advantage of teaching in this community for more than thirty years. It’s the next best thing to being a native, in that I am always in familiar surroundings, among familiar faces and names.

I’ve noticed lately that the name on nearly each tomb stone brings to mind a face, a family, a relationship.  I am happy to report that all these connections are not only positive, but also warm and fulfilling. They tug at my heart as well as my memory.

My first inkling that I would be a pastor came when I was about four years old.  I lost that vision as I was molded into more traditional roles.  No regrets. Being a teacher is much like being a pastor for me.  I always felt that my relationship with my students was about more than content, more than performance; I’ve always felt responsible for the well-being of my students—all four thousand of them.

Now I’m responsible for them in a new dimension. I help them to lay to rest their parents and grandparents, friends and neighbors. Perhaps God laid aside my vocation as pastor until I could first gain the trust of these students, their parents and friends.  I know that God has given me the gift of comforting, of witnessing, of giving hope in the face of death.

When I graduated from college, I had no dream; I had only a diploma. But through some steps and missteps, I’ve been led to this place and this time. Even if the dream did not surface for fifty-some years, I am living it now.  It is really a modest dream.  It will never be a plot for a reality television show. If I had to describe myself in one word, today, that word would be “content.”

I do not mean complacent.  I mean happy with what I am able to do.  I am much more than a pastor, of course.  I am a wife and mom and–God be praised–a grandmother, a community activist, a cook, and still an educator.

It is gratifying to me to be able to comfort people—to comfort the afflicted, as someone famous said (Bonhoeffer?  Tillich?), but it is also gratifying to be able to afflict the comfortable, to be angry at injustice, to wave flags and words and deeds around for the cause of justice, to march toward human dignity and against human exploitation.

It all comes down to relationships.  The names on those tombstones at Elmwood and Calvary cemeteries are people.  I am not wrestling with death, not even mourning the bodes of my two best friends.  You don’t see me shedding tears at funerals…because there is a current of joy running through me, one that is at odds with the sorrow filling the room full of mourners, the passengers in the slow procession through town.

That joy is the joy I share with the mourners…the joy of resurrection.  My faith can be labeled as “progressive;” I don’t get excited about the virgin birth or the intricacies of the Trinity. But I do stand firmly, positively on the resurrection. Part of that comes from how I was raised, part of it comes from anecdotal evidence: My grandfather’s last words were, “Oh, how beautiful heaven is!” Part of it comes from my own human wish to suspend logic. Resurrection is not logical, but who cares.  Neither is my ending up to serve as pastor to the students I first met through a career that I stumbled into by accident.

To tell you the truth, resurrection makes me insanely happy when I think of those saints who are now playing penny poker with their sisters and who are sharing a cold one with best friends.

You see, I am not the mourner.  Not today.  Someday, someone else will be trying to comfort me, trying to give me hope. Today, I am the lucky one, the blessed one. Today, in the midst of bad news, I get to deliver good news.