September 8, 2017
Around the corner from our house, along my typical route in to work, there’s a church with a marquee out front. You know the type—they are ubiquitous in the south. They hold removable letters and have space for announcements, preachers’ names, sermon titles, and most commonly, pithy sayings about God, faith, and church.
Whenever I drive by a church with a marquee, I have to check out what it says. I must admit, it’s not always because I’m curious who the preacher is or what she will be preaching on that Sunday. More often than not, I check out those signs to get a chuckle at the puns and turns of phrase that are commonly posted there. And I’ve seen some funny ones. One of my favorites is this:
If you love Jesus, tithe. Anybody can honk.
I usually find the signs amusing, and sometimes they cause me to think a bit, but mostly I have a little laugh and keep driving.
Recently, however, this church near our home has had the following on its marquee:
Church is a gift from God. Assembly required.
Clever, right? And oh, so true. Reading these words each morning as I drive in to my job at this church has inspired and challenged me. Church is a gift from God, ushered in through Jesus’ ministry (Matthew 16:18) and nurtured at the outset by women and men who lived in community as Christ’s followers. Critical to the success of the early church was that communal living—the “assembly” referenced in the church sign.
Too often, people believe that faith is a dyadic relationship, just “me and God” against the world. This belief assumes that God’s primary concern is with the status of their personal faith, and that prayer and scripture reading are sufficient to ensure a robust life of faith. There is absolutely nothing wrong with nurturing personal faith; in fact, it is crucial for all Christians to do so. But if this is where an individual’s faith journey begins and ends, something is missing.
Throughout scripture, we are shown and reminded that life and faith are not individual endeavors. God created us from relationship and for relationship.
“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity… For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life forevermore.” (Psalm 133:1, 3).
“For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” (Romans 12:4-5)
Church is a gift. Assembly is required. And that is not always easy. There are lots of other things that crave our attention and attendance on Sunday mornings. There are always chores to be done, papers to be read, coffee to be drunk and snooze buttons to hit. And when we do make it to church, there’s always the chance that something won’t go our way—someone might snub us or the coffee might not meet our standards, we might not like what we hear from the pulpit or feel like our contributions are valued.
Many years ago, my dad and I were talking about some conflict that his church was facing and he was sharing with me the challenge of watching fellow church members act rudely and dismissively to someone for whom he cares deeply. He was trying to wrap his mind around how this could happen at church of all places. I said to him, “Church would be a perfect place, if it weren’t for the people.”
It is no accident that the only perfect human being called us to follow him by surrounding ourselves with other imperfect human beings. We are all in this together, and the only way we can worship, serve, experience and follow God is by acknowledging that truth and getting together anyway.
We’re not called to be perfect, we’re called to be together. We will stumble and fall more times that anyone will care to count, but along the way, some miraculous things will happen.
People will be fed and comforted, challenged and changed. God’s word will be spread and God’s will done—around us, within us, through us and even in spite of us.
It will be amazing to witness. Hope to see you in church.