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To Go or Not to Go to Church

 
You can also listen to an audio file of this sermon.
 

“I believe in god but i don't really like goin to church. When i was younger i used to go b/c i really liked that church but we moved and the churches here aren't that fun... it just bores me. But i believe in god fully and have read some of the bible. Is it bad not going to church but believing in god. im just really confused.......”

Today we conclude our series on Faith and Doubt, looking at one of the biggest causes of doubt for many today: the church. Some believe church is not only unnecessary but a hindrance to their relationship with God. This sermon actually is a transition to a new sermon series on the church, the Body of Christ. 

I had planned to start a new series next week on the Holy Spirit, but after reading the answers this question provoked on a Yahoo page, and thinking about discussions I’ve had with people over the years, I believe it is important to talk about the church, because the church, the Body of Christ, is the hope of the world. Each week in this series we will look at common objections through the lens of answers on this Yahoo Answers page to equip ourselves to talk with our friends, neighbors and co-workers, who might not have a faith community, about ours and to better be the people God calls us to be, the church, the Body of the risen Christ.

First, it’s important to say that the word “church” is derived from the Greek word kurios, which means “lord.” Church actually means “the Lord’s.” It is the people and buildings that have been called for God’s service.

Jesus calls people to follow him, to become part of his body, the church. He calls the Twelve to represent the twelve tribes of Israel, the people of God. In today’s Gospel, Jesus uses the image of a flock to describe his followers. Jesus wants us to walk with his other followers on our faith journey rather than to be on the journey alone. The apostle Paul says, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor 12:27).

But why does Jesus gather a group of followers? The answer is simply that God hardwired us for connections. Despite the Enlightenment myth that each person is complete in his or herself, the reality is that we need one another. An African proverb says, “A person is a person through other human beings.” While walking with others on our faith journey means disappointments and disagreements from time to time, ultimately we can only truly know what it means to love and to be loved with others, as God intends for us.

Life in a Multimedia World

While we are hardwired for connections, today we are increasingly isolated from one another. Since television became the dominant mass medium in the fifties and sixties, fewer and fewer people participate in religious, civic, fraternal, service and professional organizations. The person who asked whether it was okay to believe in God and not attend church received a chorus of responses that said it was perfectly fine. Our multi-media world offers time-pressed and tired people the illusion of relationships in the comfort of our family rooms. WRAL constantly tells us that Bill Leslie, Renee Chou Elizabeth Gardner and their other newscasters are our friends. I saw Elizabeth Gardner one day coming the opposite direction down a narrow aisle in Whole Foods, but for some reason my friend failed to stop and talk with me, although she did smile at me.

Even though social media now connects us 24/7, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat and Vine can only supplement our personal relationships. In fact, sometimes so much connectivity hinders those relationships. How many times have you seen people at a meeting or meal who are constantly reading and sending texts and emails? How many times have you been one of those people? I know I have. A 2015 NBC poll found that 70% of Americans believe Social Media actually weakens our personal relationships. Television, the internet and social media offer us many benefits, but they are complements rather than substitutes for our real-life friendships. They are good like dessert, which is great to have with a meal, but a steady diet is not such a good thing. Our hearts, minds and soul can only find their true fulfillment in authentic connections with others.

God became human to call us into a personal relationship with God and with one another in the Body of Christ. At the center of the universe, at the center of all existence, is a community of three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in one being, God.

Our Entertainment Expectations

Television has transformed our society in another important way, too. We are now an entertainment culture. Some say we are now an entertainment economy, as a matter of fact. Each gas pump at the Shell station I go to on South Saunders St. in Raleigh has a small TV screen now that always shows me the latest clip from Jimmy Fallon or Jimmy Kimmel and a commercial while my gas is pumping.

We now expect to be entertained everywhere including church. The person who wrote that question on the Yahoo Answers page complained that church bores her. Many large churches today offer elaborate worship productions for this very reason. While some condemn them for this, I actually think they are doing the work of missionaries. They are translating the faith in ways that people in our entertainment culture can grasp. God did this very thing in becoming a human being, Jesus of Nazareth.

The First Fruits in Our Worship

I believe we need to provide the best worship of God that we can here at Grace. Since I have been here, we have worked to strengthen an already strong worship tradition. I continue to work to improve, through God’s grace, my preaching, my preparation and service leadership. Our lay readers practice their readings and prayers in advance and now stand at the lectern ready to read at their appointed time to improve the flow of our worship. Gayla works hard to choose hymns that we know, a challenging assignment, so that we can joyfully sing our praises to God. Our worship booklet, for those who wish to use it, enables us to focus on worship rather than juggling prayer book, hymnal, bulletin and multiple inserts. It is essential in our culture that we provide the best worship possible to reach people with the Good News of Christ in today’s culture, but this is only part of the reason that we must offer our best to God.

When we look at worship in the Scriptures, we see that the ancient Israelites offered their best to God. They only gave the unblemished, first fruits of their labors, because nothing less was suitable for the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Ruler of Heaven and Earth. Worship in this sense has little to do with how we feel on a given Sunday. We gather to praise our heavenly Father rather than to be entertained by God. Our worship in the Episcopal tradition is participative rather than passive, because only together can we worship God as the people of God, the broken but raised Body of Christ.

Nevertheless, there are times, I know, when you do not feel like going to church. There are times I do not feel like it. Sometimes I think to myself when I am on vacation, “I go to church all the time. I deserve a break from it.” When I am feeling like that, I pray that the Holy Spirit will open my heart in some way to God’s presence in the worship. Later, invariably, I am glad that I went to church and feel that somehow God lightened my weary soul. If you are having a time when you don’t feel like going to church, I encourage you to pray that same prayer and see how the Holy Spirit works in your soul.

I will now tell you a secret. Every week I pray that somehow the Holy Spirit will touch your soul during our worship together. I pray that through our worship God will transform our lives more into the image of Jesus Christ, because ultimately worship is about focusing our lives more on God. Church for all its imperfections is about becoming more like Jesus, the one who died and rose for us, the one who is the hope of the world.