Why Church? Introduction
Passage: Hebrews 10:19–10:25
When I was a toddler I went to church because it's what my family did. I had very little control over where I went or what I did. That continued through early elementary age. Round about second grade or so my church did a Bible Bowl children’s program where you had to memorize things about the Bible, would be quizzed weekly on those things, competed against other teams and played games. So for a while I went to church because it was so much fun and because I liked my Sunday school teachers. In middle school and high school I went to church because my friends were at church. Sometimes I went in search of connecting with God’s Spirit. In college I went to church to find meaning and purpose and acceptance. And from time to time because a girl I liked went to church. Just bein’ honest. Now I come to church to encounter the truths of God and celebrate the presence of God in community.
There are many different reasons people might come to church. Some might come out of obligation to family. Some might come out of a sense of duty either to God or as part of what it means to be a good citizen. Some might come for their kids. We might come for community or to see our friends. We might come to experience the Holy Spirit. I’m sure it's a combination of all these things. And really we’re all here for the donuts.
A number of things happen to us when we come to church. Church invites us to and asks us to do a number of different things. And each of those things do something to us. Often times we don’t talk about what is happening, what is going on, and why we ask you to do different things. Why do we ask you to come to worship? Why do we ask you to pray? Why are we talk so much about small groups? What do all these things do for us?
For the next six weeks we are going to talk about how the things we do as a church function for us. We’re going to talk about the benefits of worship, of prayer, of small groups, of giving, and of mission. We are going to talk about how all those things actually practically benefit your life.
And they do this in a couple different ways. The first way is therapeutic in that these things are actually healing for us. Spoiler alert, prayer is one of the best things you can do for your brain. Science has done studies in this. And putting aside any theological or formational benefit, prayer is psychologically beneficial for your brain. The second way is formational. These actions help form us as people, they are habits that help retrain us in how to love the right things. And the last way is theological. These are things that put us in step with God, that help us tap into God’s presence which in itself is a good thing.
But before we go any further, how about some Scripture? Hebrews 10:19-25
This passage is a beautifully deep argument for being a part of a church. Included within it are the three different reasons I just outlined: therapeutic, formational, and theological. I want to expand upon those but unfortunately the order that I want to go in is not the order that the text goes in. So I have to ask you, dear friends, are you ok if I go in my order and jumble the Scripture up a bit?
The first one I want to revisit is therapeutic. We come to church for therapeutic reasons. Verse 23 says, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” Today is the fifteenth anniversary of the devastating terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. I was a sophomore in high school at the time. I remember being at school and my Latin teacher sick with worry over her son who worked in the World Trade Center. I remember friends and classmates crying in the hallways because their parents worked at the Pentagon. I remember the hurt, I remember the pain, I remember the sadness, I remember the fear, I remember the terror.
Some of you in this room I’m sure had friends and coworkers and loved ones hurt or killed in those attacks. Some of you in this room might have served in Afghanistan as a result of those attacks or in other operations that have been a part of our war on terror. And your stories are going to be more important and more powerful than my story of remembrance of that day. But one thing I do remember is that in the wake of those attacks we all went to church.
We were lost. We were hurting. We were afraid. And we went to church. We went to church to be comforted. We went to church to connect. We went to church to mourn. And we went to church to hold unswervingly to the hope that we all profess. We went to church in the hope that the God who promised to end violence, to end suffering, to end death, the God who promised joy and peace and happiness, that the same God would be faithful. We came to be healed through participation in the hope of eternal life. We came to be comforted in the joy of resurrection. We came to be connect with the God who makes all things new.
And we still do today.
Part of why we come to church, whether in moments of personal tragedy or national tragedy, moments of our greatest joys, or the immense ground in between, is to be comforted, to be uplifted, to be healed. We come to feel something. We come to get in touch with the Spirit of God, the grace of God. We come to connect with each other and feel like we are part of something bigger. We come seeking joy and peace and happiness. We come to renew our hope. We come to leave here refreshed and renewed.
So as we ask the broad question why church, the first answer is to feel better! I think that church can help us feel better about the trials and hardships of life. Church can help bond us together, bond us to God, and give us a sense of hope. A sense of this to shall pass. A sense of we can do this. If you’re looking for that, for a therapeutic uplifting, why not give church a chance? The second reason to come to church is formational. Verses 25-25 says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 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.” This verse connects meeting together, coming to church, to spurring one another ron towards love and good deeds. This verse makes clear that there’s a relationship between the two. And this is how I think they are linked.
There is a growing school of philosophy that says that human beings are ultimately motivated deep down by love. We seek to gain the things we love, we seek to attract the things we love, we seek to satisfy the things we love. Love is most basic human stimulus. This school then wants to talk about the Christian life in terms of love as well. Sin becomes loving the wrong things, namely loving ourselves more than God and others. So when we talk about sanctification, when we talk about growth in grace and righteousness, what we are really talking about is a reforming of what we love.
How does this happen? How do we train ourselves to love the right things? Through forming new habits. Habits are the things that reveal what we really love. But how do we form new habits, especially when habits are actions carried out on a near sub-conscious level? Through ritual practice. Ritual practices are those things we do that are intentional, repeated, and filled with meaning. When we pray. When we sing together. When we study scripture together. These things are practices that help us build new habits. They help us look to others with a loving disposition more regularly. They open us to God and to the world.
Coming to church gives you the practices you need to train your mind and soul to love aright.
Lastly, we come to church for theological reasons. The first part of the section from Hebrews says, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”
Simply put we come here to meet God. We come here to encounter Jesus Christ. We come to enter God’s holy place and be enveloped by God’s Holy Spirit.
When we talk about theological reasons, though, we leave the practical world behind. We are talking about reasons that are based on faith, that can’t be fully proven, and things you can only discover through experience. Have you ever been singing a worship song felt your spirit caught up in something greater than you? Have you ever celebrated Communion and had the sacrifice of Christ made so present to you that it brought you to tears? Have you ever prayed and known deep down that God was there?
We come to church in the hopes that we might have one of these experiences. We come to church knowing that these experiences are possible. And we come to church because this is the place where the Spirit of God is.
In this series we are going to talk about a lot of practical, rational, provable things that church does for us. But we also have to acknowledge that first and foremost we are here for spiritual reasons. We are here for faith. We are here to experience a grace and a God that aren’t empirically proven and we want to experience as much of that grace as possible while also talking about the practical and rational.
In order to do that, we are going to celebrate Communion every Sunday of this series. We want to do this to open our hearts and ourselves to the grace and presence of God in the most profound way we have been given. In Holy Communion we believe that Christ is made present to us in a special way, unlike any other way we have of experiencing God. We believe that the grace of God nourishes us for our spiritual journeys and that reality is made concrete as we are nourished by the bread and juice. We believe that in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup, God is here. The past of Christ’s sacrifice is made present. And the future hope of our eternal life with God breaks into the now.
So for the next six weeks we are going to celebrate Communion with each other and with God each week.
We are also going to make one other change during this sermon series. But first let me warn you: one of these sermons is going to be about giving. About money. We’re going to talk about the practical benefits of giving your money to the church. Which sounds ridiculous I know. But I am convinced that giving and tithing can help benefit us therapeutically and formationally. The Bible tells us that we are to tithe, we are to give one tenth of what we have to God. And I think there’s real world wisdom in there and doing so makes us more appreciative of what we have, makes us more generous, and turns us from a mindset of scarcity to one of abundance.
But there’s also something theological about giving and it relates to our celebration of Communion. In the traditional communion liturgy there is a line that connects the gifts of bread and juice, our other offerings to God, our lives, and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In some churches, the bread and wine or juice are brought in and placed on the altar signifying that they are offerings of the people to God. And often this is connected in some way to the offering of money the church has just done.
What that is meant to signify is the connection between Jesus, the communion elements, and our lives as disciples. Jesus offered his body and blood to God on the cross and through that God accomplished the salvation of the world. We offer to God simple bread and juice which God takes and makes it a profound experience of his grace. We offer to God our tithes and offerings, the fruits of our labors in the sure hope that God can take them and use them through the church to accomplish miracles. And we offer to God our lives in the sure hope that God can take them and make something truly beautiful out of them.
Jesus offers his body to God and God fills Christ with the Holy Spirit and raises him from the dead. We offer God the bread and juice and God fills them with the Holy Spirit to make them means of grace. We offer God our money hoping God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, will use it to work miracles. We offer God our lives hoping to be filled with God’s Holy Spirit.
All of this is wrapped up. To try to experience this theological, mystical aspect of giving, we are going to have a basket in the front of the auditorium. So that as you come forward to receive Communion you can also bring forward your own gifts to God. You can bring an offering of money to God. You can bring your green card to signify the offering of your life to God. On your green card you can write a prayer and bring your prayer to God. Or as you come forward you can speak a commitment to God, a commitment to serve a commitment to be faithful, spoken in your heart with the basket there meant to signify its connection with the commitment of Christ.
We’ll still have one in the back if you prefer to use that one. And we won’t judge you if you don’t make use of either basket. This isn’t a communion tax or a some sort of entry fee, Jesus already paid that for all of us. But if you wish to make an offering to God and to this church, this is an opportunity for it to be connected and caught up in Christ’s offering for us. And it's an opportunity to experience a new dimension of giving.
I hope you’ll join us for this journey of discovering everything that church can be for your life. I hope you’ll discover all that God can do for you through the church. But most of all, most of all, I hope you’ll encounter Jesus, truly and profoundly, in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup and that you will offer your life to him so that God’s Spirit can animate your life and soul in unimaginably beautiful ways.