Church Attendance: Why? I Already Know Jesus Loves Me, “The Bible Tells Me So”

A common statement about attending church is, “The motivation to attend Divine Worship is because we LOVE the Lord.”

But notice how egotistical and self-centered the statement is.  “…we LOVE the Lord.”  Where is the focus?  Where is our attention drawn?

We LOVE, therefore, we ATTEND.  It’s about US – our love, our presence, our praise, our worship.  In essence, we make it “all about me!”

[media width=”450″ height=”280″ link=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9dvVp0Nxjo”]

There is another way that this same attitude exhibits itself.  As believers, It is absolutely true that we have a holy desire to give glory to God for all He has done and continues to do for us.  But because we lack an understanding of how God is at work in the world we miss the very real things God is doing during that hour on Sunday morning

Our misunderstanding of this goes deep.  Even though this video attempts to keep the focus correct, it still ultimately points us back to ourselves and makes us the prime movers and shakers in “Worship”.

[media width=”450″ height=”280″ link=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nuYoVjp33zk”]

Much could be said about this video.  It says many things that are good, edifying and helpful.  Unfortunately, “a little leaven, leavens the lump” (Galatians 5:9).   Rightly, it points out that worship is not about our doing and our actions by saying, “It’s not about US!  It’s about Him!”  But then it goes on to say, “The cross is where we . . . ”  But I thought “it’s not about US” and our actions and our doing.  Is it “about us” doing and acting or isn’t it?

The truth is that what happens on Sunday morning is about us.  But it is not about what we bring or what we do.  Rather, it’s about Jesus coming to us and Jesus serving us with the gifts that He won for us through His death on the cross.

The biggest problem with the second video is that it separates Jesus from the real, honest work He is doing in the world today.  It points to all the stuff that makes life difficult and complicated and then says, “No one is asking you to pretend that those things aren’t affecting you.  You’re just being invited to bring that stuff to the cross, and simply gaze at Jesus.  And as you look at Him, allow your response to be WORSHIP.”

So, according to the video, it is up to US to “bring that stuff to the cross.”  According to this way of thinking, the cross becomes our tool to deal with things rather than God’s tool to deal with us.  In this view, whatever the issue is, it’s ours to deal with by “bringing it to the cross.”  But notice that there is no hope that Jesus has done or is doing anything about those things that cause us such worry and problems.

But let’s assume, for the moment, that this thinking is correct.  That is, let’s assume for the sake of argument, we ought to “bring that stuff to the cross and simply gaze at Jesus.”  Let’s now ask the very practical questions . . .

(1) Where is His cross so that I can bring that stuff there?  (2) Where can I go TODAY to “gaze at Jesus?”

The fact is that we would have to travel through 2,000 years of history and thousands of miles across the ocean in order to “bring that stuff to the cross, and … gaze at Jesus.”

While it is true that many churches have crosses and some even have representations of Jesus ON the cross, we know that these are not THE cross.  They help us to remember and tell others about what He did for us, but when we look at them, we are not “gazing at Jesus.”  Such terminology and thinking drives us inward – to our own thoughts and our own hearts.  That is not where Jesus points us!

Jesus said, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved!” (Mark 16:16)  St. Peter said, “Baptism now saves you!” (1 Peter 3:21).

Jesus said, “Take eat, this is my body … take drink this is my blood … for you … for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26-29, Luke 22:19-20, cxref. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

According to the Christian faith, Jesus rose from the dead and and has ascended into heaven.  There is literally no place we can go today to “gaze at Jesus” and see His body hanging on the cross.  The message of  the angel at at the tomb, “He is not here, He is risen,” (Matthew 28:6, Mark 16:6, Luke 24:6) is echoed by the heavenly messenger at the ascension, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, . . . was taken up from you into heaven.”  Though we are given the promise that He, “will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven,” there is no cross to go to and gaze upon Him today.

Today, though He is very near to us (Acts 17:27-28), He is hidden from our view.  But even though we cannot see Him, we must not forget that Jesus is active in the world doing things to bring His salvation to us today.

In fact, that is what that hour (or so) on Sunday morning is all about.  It’s about our risen and ascended Lord being active in the world today.  It is about Him continuing His work of salvation among us here and now.

On Sunday morning, JESUS SERVES US – NOT the other way around.

During His earthly ministry, Jesus said, “the Son of Man cam not to be served but to serve . . .”  This is no less true today.  He still comes to serve us.

Even though we use the word “worship” to talk about our Sunday morning at church, giving glory, honor and praise to Him is really only a part of a much bigger thing that happens during that time.  On Sunday morning, Jesus breaks into our lives in real and tangible ways in order to deliver to us the benefits of what He accomplished on the cross.

Among the many gifts that Jesus gives to His church are the Apostles, prophets, evangelists, as well as pastors who teach His Word (Ephesians 4:11).  As His word is read and preached (in so far as it is the same teaching that Jesus handed down to us through the Prophets and Apostles), we hear Jesus speak to us (Matthew 10:40, Luke 10:16, John 13:13, John 20:21, and others).  Therefore, in a real sense, on Sunday morning, Jesus is speaking to us.   This is not to say that the person in the pulpit is Jesus, but He is like the herald sent by the King or the ambassador sent by the President.   The herald or ambassador brings the message of another.  Therefore, since the King sent the herald to speak, the herald’s speech is the King’s speech.  Since the president sent the ambassador to speak, the ambassador’s speech is the President’s speech.  Since God has sent the pastor to speak, the pastor’s speech is God’s speech (so long as he sticks to the message given him to proclaim).

The message Jesus has given the Church and her pastors to speak is the message of “repentance and forgiveness of sins” (Luke 24:47).  Therefore, on Sunday morning, Jesus is calling us to repentance.  Through the proclamation of His Word, Jesus is reaching out to us and speaking to us in order to turn us away from our own selves, our own desires, and our own way of life to return to Him so that we would hear Him and follow Him.

Not only has Jesus ordered and commanded His spokesmen to call people to repentance, but He has also ordered them to forgive those who have been turned from their sin and whom Jesus has brought to Himself for healing.  This is why Jesus tells the Apostles, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23).  Because when the pastor speaks Jesus’ word of forgiveness, we are hearing Jesus Himself speak to us (Matthew 10:40 – “He who hears you, hears me.”) it is proper to say, on Sunday morning, Jesus is forgiving our sins.

Understanding this, we come to see how attendance at the Divine Service is important.

The church’s service on Sunday morning is God’s service to us.  There He is at work forgiving our sins and giving to us the impulses and motivation to love and serve one another in our daily lives (2 Corinthians 5:14).

In the context of American self-determinism, this idea that Sunday morning is about God serving us ruffles the feathers of many.  We don’t like the idea that OUR LOVE for the Lord is secondary.  St. John sets things right when he tells us, “We love Him because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19).

When our Father calls us into His family and makes us His child, He also urges us to gather into with our brothers and sisters in the faith so that He may lavish His love upon us by pouring out forgiveness, life and salvation upon us in Word and Sacrament.  It is this calling of God that creates a hunger and thirst for His mercy.  It is that hunger and thirst that impels us to go and receive His gifts in Word and Sacrament.

God’s action (i.e., His love) in Christ fills our deepest need – our need to be forgiven for our disobedience and rebellion.  This disobedience and rebellion is what we call “sin”.

There are two aspects to “sin”.  First is inherited sin or “original sin”.  Original sin is that “predisposition” to reject God and His work and His will in the world that we have because we are born as descendants of Adam and Eve.  This situation is true for everyone born in the world today.  We are sinners because we are born in Adam’s sinful image (Genesis 5:3) instead of the image of God in which Adam was originally created.

This, itself, is enough to condemn us.  It is true rebellion against God because from our conception we are ignorant of God and His will (Psalm 51:5 – “in sin did my mother conceive me.”).  Because of this ignorance, we have only our own wants, needs and desires to focus on.  As a result, every fibre of our being seeks its own way to satisfy our own felt wants and felt needs rather than relying upon God to supply all that we truly need to support this body and life.

When we live out our desire to satisfy our wants and needs, we commit actual sin.  We actually do things that are against the will of God.  Hearing God’s law compounds this.  Because of Original Sin, we hear God’s law and we naturally don’t want to do what He commands and we want to do what He forbids.

Because the inborn inherited sin remains and brings forth actual sins throughout our life, we have a constant need to have Christ’s forgiveness applied to us and we need to be strengthened in faith and love.

This is what happens on Sunday morning.  Through the Word and the Sacraments, God applies the forgiveness that Christ won on the cross to us personally and individually.  Through these, as through means, God gives us His Holy Spirit who works to create, strengthen and build up our faith so that we fear, love and trust in Him.  Through these means He leads us in His paths and causes us to walk in the good works which He has prepared for us to do (Ephesians 2:10)

Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the preaching of repentance and forgiveness are the means by which God works to change our heart  (Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26), renew our mind (Romans 12:2), and mould us into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).

We don’t go to church because we are holy and righteous in ourselves – as if we have anything worthwhile to present to God.  We go to church because we recognize our unholiness and our unrighteousness and we desire to have God’s holiness and righteousness given to us.

When we talk about church “attendance” we’re focusing on the wrong thing.  Attendance at the Sunday Service is simply what we do as God’s children.  It is the natural expression of our existence as a member of the body of Christ.  Just as we go home and sit around the dinner table, God calls us to His house to feed and nourish us.  The local congregation is the place God has established where this occurs.  It is the place where we can hear Him speak to us.  It is the place where He washes us clean.  In fact, the Divine Service is where we can “gaze upon Jesus” as we receive His body and His blood under bread and wine as He delivers the Holy Spirit to us and works forgiveness for our sins – handing over to us the benefits of His sacrifice on the cross for us.

If loving and serving your neighbor through your God given vocation as parent, provider, or care-giver prohibits your regular attendance the Divine Service as scheduled by your local church, it is important to speak with your pastor and find opportunities to remain connected to the source of forgiveness, life and salvation through Word and Sacrament.

Intentionally leaving your seat at God’s banquet empty is a rejection of God’s love and a rejection of His mercy for you (Luke 10:16).  It rejects God’s grace by turning our nose up at the means He has given to receive His forgiveness, life and salvation.  By being absent, we put a barrier between God and the work He wills to do for us and in us.

So take your seat at the banquet, be served and fed by our Lord.  Then, leave and pour out your life in loving service to your neighbor through the work God gives you and through the opportunities He puts in your path.

Love God by receiving from Him the blessings and benefits He promises to give.  Then, Love your neighbor by serving him or her at every opportunity (Luke 10:27).

 

Related: Pastor Nate Higgins post, “Hurry up and Give the Benediction Already!” (http://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=18543)

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