“For God alone my soul waits in silence; from Him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken.” (Ps. 62:1ff)
Recently I was in a Bible Study where the leader read the above verses. He closed his Bible and he repeated the last phrase: “I shall never be shaken.” Then he said, “Let’s be honest. The truth is, many of us are shaken. Jesus tells us not to worry, but many of us lose sleep worrying. The Apostle Paul tells us to ‘be anxious for nothing,’ but the fact is many of us live lives plagued by anxiety.” The leader went on to ask these questions: “What shakes you? What keeps you awake at night? What raises your anxiety levels?”
How would you answer those questions? Take a moment and think about that. For me, the response that came to my mind was that I worry about the spiritual health of our society and the place of the church in our current culture. I love the Church that Jesus established and to which I was called to serve.
But I see more and more people giving up on the Church. It’s not like they’re worshipping false idols of wood, stone, or metal. It’s not like they’re shaking their fists at God, and saying “I’m done with You!” It’s just that they’ve gotten busy. They have other things going on. They have other concerns and responsibilities tugging at their time and at their hearts. When Sunday morning rolls around, many people just want to relax and catch their breath. Church doesn’t feel like a blessing any more, it feels more like a chore.
There’s a phrase that’s become very popular nowadays: “Sunday Fun Day!” People are setting Sundays aside to have fun. That could be going to brunch. That could be going to the beach. That could be going to an Angels game (although, with the way they’ve been playing lately, I’m not sure how fun that would be). That could be staying home and watching T.V.
What happened to the Sabbath? What happened to remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy? What happened to regularly attending church? Jesus went to the synagogue every week (Luke 4:16). The generation of Christians before mine went to church every week. But that is not the case anymore.
That’s why we’re promoting “Back2Church Sunday!” We used to call it “Kick-Off Sunday.” But that’s when church going was a part of culture, a part of the regular weekly routine. People went to church because that’s just what they did. And Kick-Off Sunday represented the kick-off of the new season.
But it seems we need to make an intentional day to return to church, to make church a part of the regular routine once again. Just as health enthusiasts make the gym a regular part of their life, so too spiritual enthusiasts should make church a regular part of their life. Or just as students have a Back2School night early in the fall, so we are having a Back2Church Sunday.
But coming up with a new name for the same old Sunday is not enough. We need a reason why people should come back to church. We need to answer the question: Why is church important? We all long for the divine. Now, let’s be honest. We can experience the divine in nature – hiking in the mountains or playing in the surf at the beach. We can experience the divine in solitude – reading scripture and meditating on it. But the fact is, there is nothing quite like experiencing the divine in community. When we are surrounded by other believers worshiping the same God, we can be caught up in a corporate experience that cannot happen when we are alone. When we worship God in solitude, our experience is limited. But when we worship with other believers our experience expands to include the experience of others. We see God in new ways. We understand God with new perspectives. We experience the divine in community.
We all long for community. Now, I want to be careful. Too many of us seem to think if a bunch of people are in the same room, then there’s community. If we all sing the same song, especially if we sing about love, then we’re experiencing community. But that’s not always the case. I believe true community is much deeper, much rawer than hanging out together.
Recently I spoke with someone who had attended our church for several months and then they stopped coming. When I asked what happened, they said, “Ya know, no one ever invited me over to their house. No one ever asked me to join them for brunch after worship. Everyone was very friendly in the gallery, but that’s where it ended.”
I tell that story not to make anyone feel bad or guilty, but to illustrate the fact that everyone longs to belong, to be known and to know. They long to share their journey, their joys and concerns and then have others share the same with them. Saying hi after the service is not enough. It takes time and a concerted effort to build true community. And the church should be one of the best places people can experience the kind of community we all long for.
We all long for purpose. We want to know that we’re making a difference in this world. We want to know that what we do is valuable and valued. We want to pass something on. The church isn’t here to entertain, but to help people discover their gifts and God-given talents, and to use them for God’s purposes in the community and beyond.
We all long for laughter. I suppose I should be more churchy and say we long for “divine joy,” but let’s face it, laughter is good medicine. Churches have a reputation for being stuffy and boring. And Presbyterian churches more than most. Now I’m going to say something that may sound a little weird, but I think laughter is a dying art. I think in our current culture, we keep ourselves from laughing because we’re afraid to embarrass ourselves or we’re too cool to laugh or we’re somehow above the joke.
Why can’t we laugh more? Why can’t we “enjoy” church more? If we look at the etymology of the word “enjoy,” we find it comes from the Old French – “enjoir” – “to give joy, rejoice, take delight in” which is made up from two words: “en” which means “make” and “joir” which means “joy.” Let’s make joy in church!
Now, if you can’t see the humor in the fact that your pastor just “parced” the importance of having fun in church, then we all need to lighten up. Laughter is an outward sign of inner joy. And isn’t joy included in the list of Spiritual Fruit in Galatians 5:22f? Last month I went on vacation to the Pacific Northwest to see the sights and visit family. My two sisters live up there. One reason I love spending time with my closest sister and her family is that we laugh so much when we’re together. My sides and cheeks ache from laughing, but I feel so great when our time together is done. Laughter is good medicine!
I think these four longings – for the divine, for community, for purpose, and for laughter – are basic longings to all humankind. And I hope we at First Presbyterian Church Santa Ana can provide an environment where people can experience all four of them. Let’s work intentionally toward that end.
With that in mind, let’s intentionally invite people to join us on Back2Church Sunday. We are going to do everything we can to provide an environment to experience the divine, to connect with community, to find a sense of purpose, and to laugh. There may be some new things happening in the worship service. Please don’t let those new things trouble you. We are simply trying to reach out to new people.
Let us pray for our church family. And let’s do all we can to extend a warm invitation to neighbors and strangers. If you want me to walk through your neighborhood and distribute door-hangers, please don’t hesitate to give me a call. I’d be happy to spend time with you, and to do all I can to invite our community to come Back2Church.
In Christ’s Love & Service,