Showing Up

  Sometimes, the story the Bible tells feels disconnected from our daily experience. But, other times, you read the Bible and feel like it’s the story of what’s happening right here and now.

 Take the sixth chapter of Mark’s gospel, which Joy read for us a few moments ago. The disciples had been on a mission trip. When they returned, they were excited to report about the things they had said and done. The seasons were changing, many were coming back home to work or going away to school, and everyone was so busy that they seemed to have no time to do anything, even to eat properly. Jesus said, “Come to the sanctuary with me. Let’s worship and rest and get rejuvenated for what comes next.” No sooner had they started out, than other people began to follow along and join them, and it wasn’t so quiet anymore. And Jesus had compassion on them, as did his disciples. Rather than send them away, they had a big barbecue. Because pork was not in their diet plan, they had fish. Because Jesus was there, despite all the busyness and commotion, everyone ate, was filled, and there was plenty leftover. Writing 2000 years ago, Mark somehow managed to describe the life of our church during the past several weeks, and right through today’s annual barbecue.

 One of the things that I find interesting about this episode is the short-term memory of the disciples when the day is done. You’d think that after a miracle like that, they’d never question his leadership again.  You’d think that following the Day of Resurrection and the Day of Pentecost, with the tongues of fire, and the speaking in many languages, and the incredible feeling of community that was generated in these events, never again would a disciple question the value of gathering together with Jesus for worship and fellowship. But they do.

 Later, someone in the early Church addressed that very problem in a portion of a widely circulated letter.  It’s the text I just read from the tenth chapter of Hebrews, perhaps the best-known call to gather regularly in Christian community.  We don’t know the author’s identity, though it seems likely that he was a respected leader in the early Church, and certainly had a commanding knowledge of the Old Testament. The recipients of the letter were Jewish-Christians who were subjected to humiliating persecution, and had grown impatient waiting for the prophesied “Day of the Lord.” Years had passed by since Jesus’ ascension, iron-fisted foreigners still ruled the land, oppressive taxes were still levied, freedom and abundance seemed like a distant dream.[1] The amazing miracles and convincing victories of an earlier time no longer seemed so powerful, and they were ready to give up their Christian faith.

 Sometimes, the challenges faced in Bible times seem so remote that we have a difficult time appreciating them. Other times, the challenges seem as fresh and relevant as the family member or friend whom you are missing here on Sunday morning. 

 There are, of course, many good reasons for not being in worship. Among the most common are poor health and an occupation that requires work during the same time frame. Every hour of every day there are babies that need mothers to birth them, sick children that need parents to nurse them back to health, elderly family and friends who need someone to care for them. What horrors we would face if on Sundays there weren’t police to keep order, firefighters to put out flames, medical personnel to attend to critical care, utility company workers to restore our power, plumbers to fix our leaks, tow truck drivers to rescue the stranded, bakers to provide a donut and cup of coffee to those who have been up all night, chefs to cook up our chicken and our pork. God bless them all.

 But there are compelling reasons for showing up to worship whenever you are able, and wherever you might be in your travels. Regular participation in worship has a power to shape your values, your character, and your life’s direction.  Researchers like Harvard’s Robert Putnam argue that social connectedness of the sort you find in a worshipping community is one of the most powerful determinants of health and happiness.[2]  Life-transforming moments take place in worship; if you look back into your memory, then I’m sure you’ll remember some.

 When Therese and I were married, I was touched by the number of family and friends in attendance. Many people traveled long distances, some of whom I had not seen in years. I remember meaningful conversations with several individuals. Never before or since have so many members of both our families gathered together in one place.

 Later, when my father died, I was moved again by expressions of sympathy and support that came from places near and far. Friends I had not seen in twenty years took time from their busy schedules to come to the funeral and express condolences. Some told stories of encounters with my dad that I had not previously heard.

 As I ponder our regular worship services, sometimes I call to mind these special worship experiences, and wonder about what it takes to replicate the community spirit that characterizes milestone moments like weddings and funerals. Naturally, community spirit is supported by the proper selection and preparation of things like the scriptures, the sermon, the music, and the prayers. Community spirit can be enhanced by openness to fresh new elements, as the Holy Spirit moves us to embrace them.  Yet, among the most overlooked factors is the simple gift of each member’s presence.

 I have a recurring fantasy about what would happen if each able-bodied member of the church made a commitment to attend worship forty Sundays per year. The traffic and parking problems around our facility would tell the community that Presbyterians are especially serious about faith, and the church’s moral influence would be strengthened. Expensive marketing campaigns would seem less important because the unchurched would begin to follow their Presbyterian friends to church. Children and youth would have an example set for them with greater impact than any curriculum resources, because when it comes to faith formation, more is caught than taught.

 As we enter a new season, I encourage you to offer our church a gift that cannot be bought or sold: grace us with the gift of your regular participation in worship. Whether it’s a wedding, a wake, or a weekly worship service, there is tremendous power in simply showing up.

[1] George Wesley Buchanan, To the Hebrews, Vol. 36 of The Anchor Bible, Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co, Inc., 1972, p. 169.

[2] Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000, pages 20, 327, 332.



~ by JohnH1962 on September 9, 2012.

2 Responses to “Showing Up”

  1. Another great one!! ***** Thank you.

  2. Thank you! I appreciate your feedback!

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