Thursday, February 8, 2007

Meeting Together

Why do we go to church? Why do we go to the church that we have been going to lately? Why do I feel as though there is no benefit from us going, neither for us, nor for anyone else?

We prayed about this today and read from 1 Cor. and Hebrews, seeking wisdom. Our inclination is to search inside ourselves: what do we feel? What seems rational to us? And inevitably the answers we find are from complacency and fear. I believe that we have continued to attend the church we are attending, despite not believing that they are teaching what Scripture says entirely, despite the lack of physical space for or social welcome of babies and toddlers, despite not being fed in any significant way by the Sunday service due to a lack of real spiritual content.

Some insights from our prayers and readings this morning:
It is important for Christians to continue meeting together for encouraging one another to remain unwavering in the faith. We have a living God who came to earth to intercede for us. We no longer have to make regular sacrifices at the temple. Christ has made the one and only necessary sacrifice for us. It is complete. He is our mediator.
And we have access to the Father through Him now. He asks us to approach the throne to ask for things, to praise, to be near to God and walk with Him as He sanctifies us by the Holy Spirit.
None of this says anything about whether or not we should be attending weekly services at our local church or any other specific congregation. It does say that it is not beneficial for us to live as isolated Christians, nor for us to give up prayer or worship.

Then later today we were discussing how badly the typical American congregation is at lovingly welcoming people who don't fit the American ideal, who have disabilities or who are of low economic status. It's understandable for a social institution to have trouble with accepting people who have unique needs and who don't "fit in" socially. However, Christ interceded for all people. The Gospel is for all people.

We feel this exclusiveness of the congregation we are a part of because of our children. They are not accepted in the worship service. They make occasional noise. They are wiggly. Therefore they may not worship with the congregation, unless they suppress these qualities. Unlikely. I spend so much time pacing the hallways outside of the sanctuary so much that there is almost no point in my even going on Sunday morning, even if I wholeheartedly wanted to be in there.

I attended daily chapel at Bethesda Lutheran Home for people with mental retardation for a summer. What a memorable experience. It was noisy. It was full of movement. And it was real worship. People prayed, praised, gave thanks, sang hymns and spiritual songs, encouraged one another in the saving faith. There were baptisms and communion. The sermon was direct, plain, illustrated on a screen with large plain pictures, and interpreted in ASL for those who would benefit from it. There were seats with headphones for those who needed help hearing. If anyone didn't want to sit in that room with all of those noisy, moving people, they could sit in the lobby and listen.

How are our congregations actively excluding people who are ready for the Gospel? Are we living in expectation and preparation for the work God is going to be doing in the people around us? Are we going to be ready for them (even if they aren't like us)? Or are they going to make us so uncomfortable that we ignore them or purposefully exclude them? Rather than seeking to bring in more complacent middle class Americans, why not open our arms to people who long to hear of God's grace and mercy? I have had a passion for serving people with developmental disabilities for 10 years now, although I have not done any thing about it for the last five. Perhaps it is time for me to use this passion and serve. Stop waiting to be served by the perfect congregation, sitting and complaining. Move, act, respond. Perhaps in our attempt to serve and actively love, we will find the community we have been seeking.

Related Readings / Commentary

Hebrews 10:19-25
19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and having a High Priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

Commentary from Matthew Henry: "Believers are to consider how they can be of service to each other, especially stirring up each other to the more vigorous and abundant exercise of love, and the practice of good works. The communion of saints is a great help and privilege, and a means of stedfastness and perseverance. We should observe the coming of times of trial, and be thereby quickened to greater diligence."

1 John 3:22 And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.

James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.

James 4:2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.

Matthew 22 The Parable of the Wedding Feast
1 And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, 3 and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. 4 Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.”’ 5 But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. 6 And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. 7 But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. 8 Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. 9 Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ 10 So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. 12 So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and[a] cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
14 “For many are called, but few are chosen.”

1 Samuel 16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

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