In a Dry and Thirsty Land
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” –Hebrews 10:23-25, ESV
Recently I preached a sermon in which I said that it is dangerous to go through life alone and that God had created us to be in communion with Him and in communion with others. One of the first things we heard God say after the creation of man was “it is not good that man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). We’re created for communion with God and to live in community with others. St. Paul teaches that we are all members of one body and there should be no divisions or dismemberment, but “if one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26).
And yet, the Christian Church in America has seen some dramatic changes in worship attendance over the last several years. I recently read that 15 years ago 40% of church members attended four times a month, but in 2018, only 10% attended four times per month. I’m not sure where all of those statistics come from, but I have heard other similar statistics through various research groups. I have heard and read that regular attendance in many places is now considered once or twice a month rather than weekly (with the exception of vacations).
This is a disturbing trend. At St. Peter’s, we seem to have about 35-50% of members in worship every week, but it’s not always the same 35-50%. But my purpose in bringing this topic up is not to scold people for not being in church and become legalistic about church attendance and your priorities. I know that we have firmly committed members of St. Peter’s who are not here every Sunday because of other things in their lives. Maybe you have softball or baseball, a family reunion, or even work that might keep you away from church at times. I can tell you that church is more important than sports, and that’s true, but that really misses the point. The point isn’t to make you feel guilty. The point is to talk about the blessings and benefits of being part of the body of Christ.
When people ask me how often they should or have to go to Holy Communion, I often tell them that they’re asking the wrong question. The question isn’t “How often do I have to go to communion?” but “How often do I get to go to communion?” Like Holy Communion, the gathering of the Body of Christ is a gift from God to His people. Sundays are not just karaoke and a Ted Talk, but it is where the people of God gather in His name to receive His gifts. And what are those gifts?
1. His Presence and Promises: God is omnipresent and He never leaves us, but He has also told us where He can be found for our good and for our benefit. He has promised to meet us in His Word and through His Sacraments, gifts from Him that communicate His truth and grace to us. So we gather around the apostles’ teaching and the breaking of the bread. We gather around pulpit, font and altar because God has promised that He will feed us and nourish us through His Word and Sacrament.
God may not dwell in a temple made with hands like He did in Jerusalem, but as 1 Corinthians 3 says, the church (the people of God together) is God’s temple where He comes and dwells with us in a special way for our benefit.
This is gift language. We come not simply out of obligation, but because of the gifts that He gives to us. The 3rd Commandment reminds us to “Remember the Sabbath by keeping it holy.” Well, Sunday is not a new Sabbath like Saturday for the Jews, governed by rules and laws, but we are called to attend to the hearing and reading of God’s Word and to find our rest in Him. The Small Catechism says, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” This, again, reminds us that this is for our benefit, that we would find our rest in Christ and His gifts.
2. His People: Together as the people of God, we are His temple. We are people called together, set apart, and blessed to be called children of God. And the Church is a blessing from God to encourage, build up, strengthen, bless, support and care for each other in this life. Hebrews 10 reminds us that the day is drawing near, meaning the Second Coming of Christ (or the end of our days should it come first), and that we need each other. We need to walk through this life with other brothers and sisters. We need each other to encourage one another when we go through difficult times, praying together, comforting each other, and helping each other. We need to stir each other up toward good works. Together as the Body of Christ we have a calling in this world. That calling is not simply one for each individual Christian, but a calling of the Church to glorify God and be His hands and feet in the world. As mentioned already, it’s dangerous to go through life alone. It is lonely and difficult. But our Lord has not called us to be alone. He’s called us to a family of believers, brought together by the Holy Spirit through water and the Word, and held together through His Body and Blood.
My prayer is that here you find family, and that gathering together we would be reminded of how God comes to us and feeds us, fills us up and strengthens us, but also how God brings others together to walk with us and encourage us. When people ask me if you can be a Christian without going to church, the answer is a little complicated and nuanced as there is much to consider, but plainly we can see that we are not simply called to be individual Christians but members of the Body of Christ, and you can’t be a member of the Body on your own.
So I pray that you each find encouragement in the body, where two or three are gathered (Matt. 18:20), and strength in God’s gifts, coming regularly to His house with His people to be refreshed, built up, encouraged both by God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament and His gift of the brothers and sisters He has given you.
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”-Acts 2:42
Pastor Joe Dapelo