Daily Devotion - Monday, March 14, 2016
23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. - Hebrews 10:23-25
Even in the first century, when the Church was barely fifty years old, people were already giving up on Sunday worship. The writer of Hebrews indicates that some Christians decided that getting together with other believers to sing, pray, break bread and hear some teaching from the Scriptures wasn't really working for them.
Maybe they didn't like the songs that were being sung ("Why do we always sing those boring, old psalms?" or "Those newfangled praise choruses from Antioch just say the same thing over and over again!").
Or perhaps they didn't care for the pastor's style of preaching ("Does he really have to use so many parables--can't he just preach the word?" or "Seriously, two hours isn't nearly long enough to preach--I heard Paul preached all night once!")
It could have been they didn't approve of the way The Lord's Supper was celebrated ("Using grape juice isn't working at all--Jesus drank wine, we should do the same, right?" or "Do we really have to have Communion every single time we meet?")
Maybe they decided they would rather be doing other things ("I can experience God at the Hippodrome watching the chariot races--I don't really need to go to church for that.")
I'm not sure if it's all that comforting to know that first-century Christians were struggling with the same issues surrounding church attendance that twenty-first Christians struggle with, but it does tell us something about human nature: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
I was having a conversation years ago with a church member who had darkened the doors of my church only a handful of times in the past fifty years. "I used to come to church," he told me with a grin, "but every time I came, the pastor was either preaching about the Nativity or the Resurrection, so I decided to stop coming altogether!" He laughed and laughed at his joke.
Then I told him that it was better to be seen in church at least a few times before being viewed in church. He laughed, but not quite as hard.
I think today's lectionary text from Hebrews gives us a clear purpose for coming to church, for gathering together with other people to worship, sing, share the Lord's Supper and hear the word of the Lord. "Let us consider how we may spur one another toward love and good deeds...encouraging one another."
When we gather for worship, when we "go to church," we get the opportunity to see our friends, to be connected to our brothers and sisters in Christ, to realize we are not alone in our efforts to stumble after Jesus. We also get the chance to see what the world could be if we practice love and good deeds in the name of Jesus.
And we have the opportunity to put our own needs aside, worrying less and less about what we want, as we encourage one another.
May you discover a new vision for your faith community that fills you with joy and expectation, and a new sense of what it means to follow Jesus. If you don't have a faith community, but long to feel that connection, may you discover one that feeds your soul. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.