Acts 2: 43-47
In our increasingly busy lives, why do people make time to go to church? When you’d rather sleep in, why do you get up on Sunday morning to go to church? With the ridiculous publicity garnered by extremists who identify as Christian, why do you want to associate with Christians at a church? Not to be disrespectful, but really, why are you here?
For me, it started with Miss Thiessen. She held a Bible club every Tuesday afternoon after my elementary school ended. Miss Thiessen was a tall spindly woman. I don’t think she ever married and I got the impression she didn’t have any family around. She was dedicated and never once missed a Bible club. Every Tuesday she was prepared with an activity, a lesson, and a memory verse. Oh, and she had cool signs with the words to Bible songs on them! It was a great way to spend time with friends… and we got prizes for memorizing Bible verses and bringing friends! Miss Thiessen was ancient. Looking back now, I realize she might have been in her 60’s, but at the time I thought she was knocking on heaven’s door. Why do I go to church? Miss Thiessen had me memorize so many Biblical texts that my brain still pops one out in surprise periodically!
And what do we say to people who offer reasons not to go to church – like “it’s full of hypocrites” or “it’s not relevant anymore” or “I’ve just outgrown the church in my thinking”?
To consider these questions, I chose Acts 2: 43-47 for reflection. It is the description of what would become the first church. It speaks of why church is important – then and now. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Acts 2: 43-47
When I was in middle school, I was a complete misfit. I had never worn a pair of pants until 7th grade. And although all the cool kids were wearing jeans, they were strictly forbidden at my house. I was gangly and odd. I could never climb even 1 foot off the ground on the school rope. I couldn’t jump over one hobbyhorse in gym. It was pretty obvious no boy was going to invite me to the middle school dance. One night at church, our youth leader, Norm Bomer, heard my complaints about not fitting in. Norm was a young married man with a mountain man sort of look. He had a beard and mustache. His wife was Carol and they were a knock-out looking couple. She had long, beautiful blond hair and was a professional artist. Norm drove corvettes and motorcycles. He was easy to relate to and very fun to be around. Norm and Carol didn’t have any kids of their own so our youth group fit the bill (and I’m guessing provided ample motivation for them to use birth control). When Norm heard about my middle school awkwardness, he volunteered to start picking me up from school – in his corvette! I hoped in the car in front of all those cool kids at my school and suddenly, I felt like I was on top of the world. Norm revved the engine for show and off we went – 2 blocks to my house! I don’t know whether I got a date because of Norm picking me up in the ‘vette, or if my new-found self esteem helped, but I had a couple of offers to the dance! I go to church today because of people like Norm and Carol…. People who are willing to go out of their way to help awkward, uncertain, and un-cool people feel better about themselves.
A decade or so later, Eric and I were married and had our first child. Erin was everything we wanted in a baby – she was beautiful and healthy and precious. There was only one problem. She had colic. She cried and cried. She spit up and threw up. She cried some more. Night and day. Day and night. I was a youth minister at our church and one of the moms and her 16 year old daughter approached me after church one day. They offered to babysit for Erin. I explained that I wouldn’t put anyone through her colic and constant crying. Carolyn looked at her 16 year old daughter, Lori, and said, “Lori had colic when she was a baby and she cried night and day. I didn’t sleep for months. Lori and I are going to watch your baby this afternoon because I want her to know what it feels like! You and Eric go home and take a nap. We’ll be fine.” I stammered and then I cried. For the first time, I knew someone understood. And then Carolyn said, “When you come to pick your baby up tonight, you might even like her again.” That’s when I knew that some divine intervention had taken place in front of my eyes. For weeks, I had been quietly chastising myself – but I had told absolutely no one – that although I loved our baby, I didn’t like her anymore. I wasn’t sure I was up to being her mom anymore. It had only been a few months and she was making me insane. As a new mom it frightened me more than words can say. But Carolyn knew in her heart just the right thing to say. Tears of relief poured down my face. Why do I go to church? Because of Carolyn and Lori taking my crying baby that day. Some day, I might meet a mom who needs me to give a listening ear or an afternoon reprieve.
Last week, someone said to me that he assumed people go into ministry to help “save” other people. I took a breath and asked what he meant by that. He simply said, “You know, saving them from spending eternity in hell.” I took a deep breath and admitted that that wasn’t the reason I went into ministry. Quickly (and without much thought) I said that I went into ministry to care for people. Since then, I’ve been thinking about it more and these phrases from Acts kept popping into my mind. It is about caring for people… and so much more! Acts outlines why being a part of a church is important. And Miss Thiessen probably taught them to me when I was a 3rd grader:
· They were together and had all things in common;
· They sold their possessions and distributed to those in need;
· They spent quality time together;
· They broke bread and ate their food with glad and generous hearts;
· They praised God;
· They held all people in goodwill.
Two weeks ago, you received the church growth plan. I told you that 86% of people who visit a church and eventually become members are there because someone invited them. Why would you do that? Why would you invite people to UCC? Why not let them enjoy coffee on their deck or play golf or stay in their pajamas every Sunday morning? Those are great ways to commune with God! So why come to church? I doubt that you’re going to invite someone because you’re afraid they’ll end up in hell if they aren’t part of a church. What do you say when you invite someone to church?
You could start by telling them why you come to church! And tell them about some of the incredible people you’ve met here. Tell them about the preaching and the music and the community we’ve built here. Tell them about the Hygiene Pantry or the partnership with Gammon School or the house churches. Tell them about the help and healing you’ve found by being part of a church… the quality conversations… the bread broken at a fellowship dinner… the thoughtfulness of a person who loaned you a book or invited you into their home. Tell them about the children and the adorable things that are said during the children’s messages. Tell them something you’ve learned from another person or a sermon.
Church matters because it provides a community – a beloved sacred space where people can be nurtured and grow. Book clubs serve a good purpose. Country clubs are popular. Social service clubs are benevolent. Friends and family are vitally important. But the church is the one social institution where you give & receive; work & rest; love & are loved; inspired & find solace; teach & learn. The church community is a living organism, a sacred and holy gift, a place of love and support. Church matters because it provides sacred space for nurture and growth.
Why come to church? Why invite another person to come to church? Because it reminds us that there is something bigger than us in the world – a divine energy, an entity, or God (however we conceive of God.) So often we are prone to get involved in our own worlds of work, family, activities, and life that we lose sight of the ultimate purpose of life. We forget that our souls are important; that life itself is sacred; that there is a holy power at work within us. Church keeps us grounded and connected to God.
In another church, when we were raising our kids, there were youth group leaders – Kirk and Phil. Now, Kirk and Phil are hard to describe. Kirk was a psychologist and Phil was a furniture salesman. They are friends. You might call them the odd couple. Kirk plays guitar and writes his own songs. He even wrote songs about our kids… one of them is about our son, Adam, when he went to Israel and about how he smoked cigars with Jesus on the Sea of Galilee. It’s a true story. When we had trouble with one of our high school children, Kirk and his wife let him stay at their house for several weeks. Kirk and Phil took our kids on several mission trips to Mexico – yes, they willingly slept on church basement floors with a bunch of teenagers. They talked to our kids about high school doubts, romance and sex, about faith, about life and death. They listened with open minds and brought up taboo subjects. Kirk & Phil were able to laugh at themselves, which is an essential part of leading youth. To this day, our adult children invite Kirk & Phil to lunch when they come into town. They might just be in Wichita for a day or two, but a visit with these guys is essential. Through pimples and teenage angst; through romance and heartbreak; through high school basketball games and music programs, Kirk & Phil were there. I go to church because of people like Phil & Kirk. They renew my faith in humanity and in God.
If you are ready to join our dynamic church family, we have scheduled a New Member Sunday on Nov. 18th. All you have to do is call the church office! We would be honored to share life with you on this journey of faith.
In the foyer are new calling cards with our church information on them. You’re welcome to take as many as you like and use them to invite people to UCC. In your bulletin is a bookmark about why church matters. Share it with someone. Miss Thiessen, Norm & Carol Bomer, Carolyn & Lori Barbour, Kirk & Phil were all normal people – like you and me. But they made a difference because they were part of a church community and they shared their lives openly and lovingly with an awkward kid and a desperate mom. And that’s why I’m a part of the church.Why Church