As someone who has been a faithful "church-goer" for all of her life, I realize that sometimes when I show up at a gathering of those who love and worship God, I have lost sight of why I am there. It has simply become habit and I feel guilt if I don't include it. I hesitate to even use the phrase "going to church" because it diminishes a vibrant, organic community into attendance at a meeting. We no more "go to church" than we "go to family." It is not a location nor an event - not even a classroom where attendance is taken, though I certainly hope we learn something when we come together. I am a part of Church if I am a part of Christ. It is that simple. How I live that out is a whole other matter, however. Here are a few thoughts on why we gather in regular meetings. These ideas were first presented at a talk in a church in Manitoba this past Sunday.
1. To remember whom we belong to. In a previous post about my reluctance to visit a church gathering while on vacation (see my blog here), I recounted how my desire to skip a weekly meeting of people who love God because I would rather go to the beach reflected my ingratitude. I had lost sight of the fact that my entire life, including the pleasant vacation I was on, was all because of God's goodness. My reluctance to set aside my own wishes for a few hours in order to honour this generous God reflected my forgetfulness in this area. I need to remind myself regularly that this is not my life to do with as I please. It is not my own efforts or goodness that keep the universe going or good things happening in my life. This is God's world. This is God's time. This is God's life. His goodness makes all of this possible (whatever my "this" is at the moment). Coming to a faith gathering (church) is a place to get a holy perspective and remind ourselves that it all begins and ends with God. My story becomes swallowed up in his story. I remember that he is the initiator of this love story and I am the responder. And I want to be a great responder to the love and grace of God in my life. So I start by making space to remember whom I belong to.
2. To build community. Community simply means that we do this together with others and we hold certain things in common. The interesting and challenging thing about families is that we don't get to choose them. They are pre-selected and very often, we find this selection not quite to our liking. Family members sometimes annoy us; we have to share and take turns; we have to learn to prefer one another; we have to manage our anger; we have to learn to be patient. When we belong to a family, we can't pick up our toys and go home when we get tired of the company - we ARE home! In the same way, we do not get to pick and choose our faith community. God picks the ones he places around us, and he almost always picks people we would not have chosen. We prefer those who look and think and act like we do - easy relationships. God picks those who poke at our irritations, who expose our weaknesses, and who need more help than we can give. A perfect community (or family) is not built by surrounding ourselves with perfect people, but by letting God perfect his love, his grace, and his kingdom in us. This is what wholeness is all about. As Church, we are united in Christ, and if this is not strong enough to keep us committed to each other, then we need to take a good look at what we have substituted as our bonding agent.
3. To be healed and made whole; spiritual maturity. I put this point last because in my opinion, it is really a by-product of the first two. Sometimes spiritual maturity or personal healing can be the main reason that we come to a faith community, and it is not a bad place to start, but it is a rather small and self-absorbed place to remain. Early on, I should recognize that Church is not a gift for me to exploit and use for my own self-improvement. We as Church are here to offer ourselves daily and weekly to God because of the goodness that is already present in our lives.
On a good day, these are the reasons why I show up at a gathering of those who love God. On a bad day, I show up because I need to be reminded of them.
The photo: The Winkler airport on a summer evening in September. One of those evenings you just can't take your eyes off the changing sky.