Some friends invited us to Lake Carlos State Park for the weekend. We went up late yesterday afternoon, talked into the night, went hiking in the drizzle this morning, and right after lunch drove back to Cokato. A two hour drive each way, but absolutely worth it.
Our friends' son wondered why we were going so soon. "Can't you get a substitute?" he asked. Actually, I wanted to go. Not that I don't like camping. But the work of the church is wonderful, and important to be a part of as often as I can.
Now, there's nothing I'm saying here that's intended to guilt anyone who isn't getting together with us at Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cokato tomorrow. When I push the PoWeR SuRGe commitment to "Worship Every Week" I try to make sure people know they can gather with others for worship wherever they are. There is worship at the Lake Carlos campground tomorrow. Still, there's something absolutely important about the ongoing work of a group of Christians who know one another well -- something you can't get by bopping from one worshipping community to another week after week.
As I'm preparing to preach tomorrow, I'm thinking I need to CONVINCE people that the work of the church is worth their trouble. I think of all the PROGRAMS of the church from Sunday school to Befrienders to Marriage Education to grief work to prayer and worship. I think of the CULTURAL difference that Christians bring when they live according to God's Word. There's more honesty, more energy, more willingness to sacrifice for others. I think of the difference that loving Christian PARENTS make in their children's lives and in the lives of their neighborhoods. The preaching and teaching and COMMUNION among Christians makes a difference you can't easily describe until you experience the opposite.
Why do I think I need to do this convincing? Partly it's because I think people see only a little bit of the church's work on a week by week basis. Partly because some think the church exists for its own glory, for its own good. But mostly, I think, because being part of a somewhat disorganized religious organization seems to be, at times, more trouble than its worth. After all, we have a deficit of $33,500 so far this year and are always on the lookout for volunteers to be involved in many ways. And then, besides all that, there are all those people - people who we just get to know too well.
Church people, like all people, are interesting, fun sometimes, but also full of trouble! Church people sin and annoy and hurt each other. They do! That's our nature! We all sin every day and fall short of God's plan! And our expectations are so high - after all, aren't religious people supposed to be GOOD? You might think so, but when you get to know us, you'll discover that though Christ's love does flow well sometimes in our lives, sometimes we're just a pain. And then, to make things worse, instead of following God's plan for reconciliation (Matthew 18:15) and forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-22) we avoid each other. We even avoid worshiping together!
Sometimes, I think, people go camping over Sunday mornings, not just for the great out of doors, but to get away from the troubles at church! When we do this too often, it handicaps the church -- and the church is, according to scripture, the Body of Christ on this earth. Handicapped by too many of us AWOL, we neglect the works of God. We stop seeking and saving the lost and turn on ourselves and then go away to lick our wounds. People give up and scatter like lost sheep.
Amazingly, however, it's just for this situation that Jesus came. Jesus chose to come, not just back from a camping trip to a comfortable home, but from heavenly glory to a world full of distrust and hate. He chose to come from perfect peace to a lost world full of failed God-followers. He chose to come from his perfect kingdom to live and suffer in our neighborhoods, among people who hurt and malign others while insulating themselves. He chose to pay our debt, to sacrifice himself in our place, to pay our penalty, so he could be our Lord and we could be his forever. He thinks we, the church, are worth every drop of his blood and every ounce of his tortured body and soul. He gave it all for people just like you and me.
So, tomorrow, we gather. We gather with people some of whom we like, some of whom we don't know well, and some we wish we could avoid. We gather under the sign of the cross, where Jesus died for sinners like me and like you. And we bring other lost souls who are sinners so they can rest in the presence of the Lord too. And then together we do God's work: bringing friends to Alpha, to youth group, to give children a good start in our homes, to bless the world God loves so much. To bless it especially with forgiveness and never ending love.
Together, we can do quite a bit. And it's worth it. No doubt.