Sunday, March 2, 2014

Go to church!

A very long time ago while I was serving between Albany and NYC, the funeral home a town away sent us calendars to distribute to our members.  They were small calendars on a piece of cardboard designed to sit on your desk or counter or table.  There was a picture of Jesus (the generic Sunday school style art), the name of the funeral home in small letters and, in large gold letters under this, GO TO CHURCH.  That is it.  Just GO TO CHURCH.

At the time I found it kind of unnerving.  It was, it seemed, the purest form of law and not, what I considered, the best motivation for what was itself a good goal.  Over the years I admit to having become rather soft on such things and wish today there was a funeral home calendar to distribute that had such a simple and strong message.  The funeral home calendars we get today are photo calendars that motivate by sentiment and hardly even mention the church (even though they insist that you can get a very nice celebration of life at so and so funeral home, inc.).

Go to church.  Not a bad message.  We live at a time when it seems so self-serving to tell folks just to go to church.  It seems so insensitive when folks have so many Sunday options and other activities that conflict with worship.  It seems so strident and hard to say that everyone should just go to church.  Today we would say "Try Church -- you'll like it, enjoy it, and have a good time."  It would be a lie but a less "offensive" lie than the blunt truth of "Go to Church."

When I entered the ministry, it was the tail end of the era when folks said "a home going pastor makes for church going people."  What a sea change has taken place there.  Our people do not use their homes as places for meeting or entertainment like they once did.  Homes have become private refuges.  Few folks under the age of 70 want me to visit or stop by or come for coffee.  They will meet me for breakfast or come to the church to see me but the day when clergy we welcome anytime have come and gone.  In place of home visits, some have suggested that clergy ought to be on Facebook or other social media -- essentially doing electronically what they once did in person.

Lutherans historically never bought into the idea of home going Pastors.  Sure, we bellied up to the general Protestant idea for a while but our Germanic roots focused upon church going.  Look at any schedule of services from the era of J. S. Bach and you see that worship was never a 59 1/2 minute proposition then.  Worship services went on for a couple of hours (longer if there were many communicants).  Consider the amount of music alone (in a typical Bach era Divine Service) and you see that the church was the center of the Christian life of the people.  With the remnants of the liturgy of the hours and catechetical services and sermons (in place of classes), Lutheran Pastors and and Lutheran people had lives centered in the church.  period.

Go to Church.  Now there is a Lutheran aphorism worth repeating.  We need to talk about this more.  Worship is not meant to be an occasional activity.  The Christian life is not shaped by the paternal visits of the clergy checking up on folks or bringing the church to the home; it is the other way around.  Sure the sick and shut-ins need this visitation but the rest of the people receive their primary pastoral care at the church and in the Divine Service.  Unless we get back to this, we will be left to figure out what gimmicks will work this week to get people to deign us with their presence -- only to figure the whole equation out anew when this wears off.  Our people should not be argued or cajoled or bribed into church attendance.  If it is not enough that we meet Christ where He has promised to be (in His House around His Word and Table), then maybe we need to re-catechize the folks because it did not take the first time.

BTW those cutsie expressions that say Don't go to church, BE the church are only distractions. Being the church and going to church are not in opposition.  You cannot be the church and not go to church.  In vain do you look for such distinctions in Scripture.  The Word of the Lord is blunt.  Do not neglect the meeting together [around Word and Sacrament] as some do... 

Go to Church.  Yes, it sounds legalistic but we go not to satisfy some requirement or to impress God, the Pastor, or the rest of God's people.  We go because Christ is there, serving us with His gifts, allowing us the privilege of returning to Him the sacrifice of praise, thanksgiving, self, service, and offering.  We go because that is the nature of Christian faith and life -- it is centered in our life together around the means of grace.  Anything less and there is something wrong which needs to be addressed.  But we have too often failed to speak and act with such clarity about the Divine Service and the Spirit's calling, gathering, sanctifying, and edifying work in that Divine Service.  We should not be hesitant to say it.  Go to Church!


Janis Williams said...

It is legalistic if the sermons are Law - Gospel - Law or even just Law Lite. If I had been forced to listen to those types of sermons the rest of my life in Evangelicalism, I would have ended up an agnostic.

What propensity we have for boredom with Truth.

Janis Williams said...

Do we really realize that at the invocation we are in the presence of the Holy God? I don't agree much with Annie Dillard, but when she said we should all be wearing hard hats in church, I think it was good advice. If we really thought about what happens in the Divine Service we'd all don fireproof suits before the Confession, then drop them with a big sigh at the Absolution.