Church At It's Best
Why bother with church? Why take the time to get involved in something that seems to have little practical value, takes up time, requests your contributions, and asks you to offer worship and praise and adoration to a Supreme Being whom you cannot see or touch and who often seems confusing and invisible?
Well, I can think of dozens of reasons for all people to engage in the discipline of good faith development, but there is one that has particularly struck me this summer. As I wrote several weeks earlier, it has been a summer of sorrow for me as I’ve both presided over and attended many funerals, as well as hearing about severe illnesses of good friends. After I wrote that column, another beloved member of our congregation died. I found myself unable to stop my own tears of grief for days and days afterward. It just seemed too much loss.
In the middle of that sadness, I also saw the church at its best. The loving community moved forward to show the hope of the kingdom of heaven in support, action, prayer, worship and comfort. As we mourned our loss together, that outpouring of love and service also pulled back the curtain just a bit so that we could see more clearly what it really is like to live in the unfathomable loving presence of our God.
There are three major transition times in people’s lives when the tendency is strongest to turn to a place of worship: birth, marriage and death. Shortly after a child is born, many parents, whether regular church-goers or not, will seek either to have the child baptized or dedicated, depending upon the church tradition. At the time of marriage, many people, whether regular church-goers or not, will seek out a church and pastor for the ceremony, recognizing that marriage vows really are sacred and need to be celebrated in a place of worship. At the time of death, many families, whether regular church-goers or not, will turn to a pastor or request the funeral home to provide one in order to have a place to make sense of their loss and find hope for the life to come.
But church at its best happens when, at the time of life’s transitions, the church community is already in place. The word “family” takes on a whole new meaning. People you have served with and worshipped with and eaten with and sometimes even argued with then come forth to stand with you, offer hugs and meals, extra care and multitudes of prayers on your behalf. Church at its best means that many arms are extended to hold you up when you lose the strength to do that for yourself. Church at its best means that a call to begin a prayer chain will within hours create large circles of comfort and help, even from those whom you barely know, simply because you do worship together. Church at its best means you will later give that same gift to others when the transition moments of their lives take their breaths away as well.
Church at its best is better than anyplace else because it is the doorway to the place of true grace. Church at its best happens when people bring both their own best and their own worst into the community and experience together the transformation of grace offered through Jesus Christ. Church at its best happens when we bother with church.