I want to thank you for coming this morning. You made a choice to come to worship God with us. It’s a choice many others faced and decided to do something else. You could be doing many other things in this hour, but you chose church. I’m sure the yard needs mowed. You would probably have liked to sleep another hour or 2. You could be spending the day at the lake enjoying the sun and water. You could be lounging reading the paper. You could have spent the day running around after kids. But, you chose church. Thank you for coming.
Church attendance is a funny thing. There are people who only come on the high Holy days of Christmas and Easter. Some add Mother’s day to the list. Some come holidays and Holy Days. Some come every day except holidays and Holy Days. Some come when there’s nothing else to do. Some come as often as they are able. You chose today to come.
I didn’t attend church much while I was studying in seminary. I did when I served a church for a year and when I was home visiting, but not often else. One weekend while in seminary, I was visiting family in Columbus. I said I was going to go visit a church near there and told the pastor I had planned to come. When the alarm went off that morning, I decided not to get up. I decided to sleep a little longer and enjoy breakfast with my family.
As we crowded around a table for eggs, bacon, and pastries, the pastor of that church I was supposed to go visit called me to see if everything was okay. It hadn’t dawned on me that the pastor and church would have missed me that morning. I wasn’t a part of the church. I visited once a year. I didn’t think they’d miss me if I decided to sleep in and have breakfast with my family.
That’s the thing about church. We miss you when you’re gone. Even if you only come once in a while, we miss you when you’re not here. We miss you, because our community is not complete without you. We don’t judge you for not coming. We know there are days that you can’t come. We know there are days you’re on vacation or with your family. We still miss you.
Whether once in a while or every Sunday, church is a choice fewer and fewer people are making. People are choosing more convenient ways of getting their spirituality. When our Elders pray in the office on Sunday mornings before service, there is often something prayed about the message being something that can be carried through the week. Often people say the reason they come to church is to get something for the week. Fewer and fewer people are choosing the church to come to get fed.
Society is changing the way we do things and get things. Young adults no longer listen to the radio or buy CDs; they use Spotify, Pandora, and Apple music. Vicki’s new car doesn’t even have a CD player, but you can sync your music through your phone to your speakers. People aren’t going to movie theaters anymore. People are dumping cable and satellite TV. Who has Netflix? We can stream or rent movies cheaper than going to the theater, plus we can watch in our jammies and pause and rewind.
It is the same with church. People think they can be fed in different ways. You can listen to sermons online, even watch the video on YouTube. People think they can be fed only reading devotionals or their Bible at home or listening to Christian music in the car or taking communion at home while watching a video of a worship service. People are opting out of church and thinking that they can get what they need elsewhere.
Folks, you can’t.
You can’t get everything you need by worshipping at St. Mattress on Sunday mornings then listening to sermons or watching videos.
You can’t get all you need apart from the church, because part of what you need is the church.
You can feed your spirit throughout the week. You should do your home devotionals and study your Bible and listen to uplifting music. You should pray. But, you can’t get everything you need during the week without church, because…Christianity is about community. The church is the community of Christ, the fellowship of believers. Gathering as a community and worshipping God in fellowship is as important as any other spiritual practice you do.
So, thank you for coming this morning. Thank you for choosing for yourself to participate in community, to be fed by the feast of communion, and to allow us to be a part of your week’s journey of faith. Thank you.
Now, that you’re here, let’s talk about why community is so important. Our answer comes from our text today. It’s a challenging text for those of us who try to live in community.
The Apostle John calls us to love one another because love comes from God. Loving one another is hard. Sometimes we get in each other’s way. Sometimes we get irritated with each other. Sometimes we don’t agree with one another. Most of the time we get along. Most of the time we love each other. Most of the time love seems easy. But, sometimes loving one another is hard. We’re not all the same. We don’t all agree on everything. We like different things and may disagree on what is best and what is the right way to do it.
Gathering as a community of faith requires us to love one another even when it’s hard. Gathering with a community of faith and learning to love others when it’s hard, when people are different, when people don’t agree with us, when people have done ticked you off, all of that is practice for being people of faith out in the world. In the church, we learn the challenges of love then are able to go out and love a larger group of people. The church is where you learn to love one another.
We’ve gathered. We’ve loved one another. Then, we are sent out to love them, the world. They definitely are not like us. They may be harder to love. We don’t know all of them. Many of them don’t agree with us. We’re tempted to just find more people like us and love just them. In a small town like Bethany, it is very easy to find people like us and love them.
I think the challenge of the Gospel is not to seek out just people who are like us and love them. The challenge of the Gospel is to love everyone. The Apostle John says love one another. Jesus said love your neighbor. There is no exception from either John or Jesus. The Bible doesn’t say love one another except Muslims, except Mexicans, except Jews, except undocumented immigrants, except gay people, except hipsters, except the people in the beer tent…no exceptions. The Bible’s mandate to love one another is without exception.
The church is where we learn to love people as a community. If we look around the room, we are all friends because we have the church in common. Without the church, we may not know each other let alone be friends, maybe only because we live in a small town. The church teaches us how to love people then sends us out to love others.
Choosing to come to church is more than a decision about whether you want to get out of bed or not. Choosing to come to church is choosing to accept the challenges of discipleship, of following Christ. If we allow the Gospel to convict us, if we take seriously the commandment to love others, if we take seriously our calling to serve others, the decision to come to church was more than what am I going to do today. Your decision this morning was a part of a life style choice that includes church attendance, growing in faith, being generous, being servants, and sharing Christ.
Yesterday, we showed our love for our community. We tossed candy to kids along the parade route and shared cool sweet treats with people at the park. I spent much of the earlier shifts of popsicle passing out staring at a cow hoping she’d p-oo-p. Only in Bethany! We had lots of good volunteers in the early shifts who gave great effort in giving away free popsicles. But, by 1:30 we still had A LOT of popsicles.
So, we set up again in the evening. We were determined to give away those popsicles. We loaded up a bag and walked around the park. People were glad to have the cool treats because it was still hot. Adults and children loved the generosity and were surprised by our generosity with free popsicles. No one was coming by the popsicle stand, but everyone we went to wanted a popsicle.
I think that’s a lesson for the church. People aren’t coming to us to be loved. We have to go out there and share our love out there where it’s more difficult to love people. We have to go out and love the Walmart people in their pajama pants. We have to go out and love the kids on the playground who are dirty and stinky from playing all day. We have to go out and love all those people we don’t want to love because we don’t agree with their religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, worker status, neighborhood, clothes, car, kids. We have to love them all, because that’s what John and Jesus said to do. Love one another without exception. Love your neighbor without exception.