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A couple of weeks ago I competed in the Houston Highland Games. WE threw 56 pound weights, threw 22 pound hammers, and tossed a huge log the size of a telephone pole. After competing I was hooked and looked for another Scottish festival that featured the games. However, my hopes quickly faded as I found that most of the games were not just on a Saturday, but also on a Sunday. This was a problem for me, not just as a pastor, but also as a father and a husband. To compete in these games, I would not only have to skip a Sunday of working as a pastor, but also make my wife and children miss church.
But, why should I feel bad about this. It's not like I'm denying the faith and raising my children as atheists right? I'm only missing maybe five Sundays a year if that. What's the big deal? Think about it. I'm not leaving the ministry, nor am I telling my wife she is no longer allowed to receive the gifts of the cross in Word and Sacrament. Why should I feel bad about missing a Sunday every now and then? Should I?
Yes! I should feel great shame and guilt for desiring to participate in an activity of the world rather than receive the gifts Christ freely gives. I should feel ashamed of myself if I miss church, cause my wife to skip church, and show my children a bad example of what it means to be a baptized child of God. In fact, if I miss church on Sunday morning, I should do nothing the rest of the week.
What if I have a commitment and church just has to wait? What if I go out drinking on Saturday night and the organ makes my head hurt the next morning? What if I just need to catch up on my homework and my deadline for work? What if? What if? If I can't make it to church, then nothing during the week matters. If I miss church on Sunday morning, then I am worse than an unbelieving pagan. At least a pagan doesn't believe in God right? If I skip church, I am worse than a pagan because I know the good thing I am rejecting. If I miss church, for any reason, then nothing else during the week matters and, if I felt any shame, I would lock myself up in my room for the week and beat my chest in repentance over my apathy and rejection.
The reality is this. If we miss church, then nothing else matters in this life. We are not sons of this world, but children of God destined for heaven. When we skip church, we are not hurting anyone but ourselves. It's like being covered in mud and dirt and thinking we can get clean without taking a shower. What happens if you go a long time without showering? You go nose blind and don't recognize your own stench. What do you do when someone tells you that you smell? You get made at them and say they are judging you. What should our reaction be when we are told we stink? We should take a big whiff and say, "Yeah, I do smell, I need a shower and a few rounds of deodorant." When we miss church, let us not make up excuses or try to justify our actions. Instead let is repent and petition our Lord to be merciful to us.
God demands us to be in Church, not because He is needy and can't survive without our praises, but rather because He knows our sins and our need to be forgiven. Yes, Church is a requirement because of our state in sin. Yes, we need church just as a smelly person needs a shower. Yes, we need church because that's the only place where the Gospel is preached and the Sacraments are distributed. Yes, we need church because that's where we are defined as children of God, forgiven and cleansed of all our sins. Yes, we need the Sunday morning Divine Service because that's the place and time where we are declared righteous and set aside to receive the holy things of God.
Yes, we need church more than we need a job, sports, and other activities. Why? Because Church is that assembly of all believers amongst whom the Gospel is purely preached and the sacraments are administered in accordance with the Gospel in order that we may go to heaven when we die. Yes, church is there for us so that we may live eternally with God. Church is there for us that we may be forgiven of all our failures and mistakes. Yes, Church is there for us in our weaknesses and anxieties. Yes, Church is there for us when we fall back into a sinful life and when we mess up for the thousandth time. Yes, Church is there for us as that sacred place and time where God comes among us to serve us with His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Church is that place where we and fellow sinners are gathered to be told, "God doesn't hate you. No. God loves you and forgives you and can't wait to bring you home to heaven."
So, my friends, be in church with me this Sunday. Be in Church and be fed the gifts of life. Be in church and be forgiven all your sins. Be in Church, so that you may live in your vocation with a clean conscience and joyfully serve your neighbor in the place where God has put you. Be in Church and receive the assurance of your salvation, the reality that God does indeed forgive you. Yes, God forgives you no matter what you've done. God cleanses your conscience and sends you out for another week of living in faith toward Him and in fervent love toward all He places into your life. Be in Church, so that the devil, world, and the Old Adam may be silenced for a brief moment that you may hear only the voice of Jesus forgiving you and ushering you into a life of bliss supernal.
Peace be with you. May the devil be silenced, the world be hushed, and the Old Adam be drowned anew so that you may hear only the peaceful voice of your Savior Jesus who says, "I love you. I forgive you. I claim you as My own forever, Amen."