Peter Marty: The Windup: Deciding to Get Up and Go to Church
Decision to get up, going to church becomes more complex, still basic
The burden of being married to me is never more obvious to my wife than on Sunday mornings. I set three alarm clocks the night before, fearful that I might miss the start of worship. Running into worship late, unable to find misplaced sermon notes, that's a pastor's worst nightmare. Not that my clocks have ever failed me. But what if they should someday?
When I forget to disarm the two I don't really need and they go off before dawn while I'm exercising in the basement, that's what exercises my spouse. Our marital unity gets tested every several Sundays.
You may not set an alarm clock on Saturday night. Many people don't. What's more fun than to wake up gently to birds singing? Or to hear the patter of rain on the bedroom window?
Looking up and out from the pillow, only to see storm clouds outside, causes some people to say: "No church for me today." Strangely enough, the same decision can happen when the sun is shining: "Ah, what a perfect day. Let's skip church and work in the garden. I can squeeze in a little golf first, can't I?"
What a peculiar idea that Christians would have to deliberate, in a weekly way, whether or not to go to church. We don't wrestle each morning with whether or not we should brush our teeth or get dressed.
If your faith is of the variety that made the church decision long ago, consider yourself blessed. You don't decide about church - the Sabbath decides for you. God's mercies are new every morning. Divine grace is not frivolous. Why would we be casual in deciding to extend praise, or dismissive about the privilege of sharing company with brothers and sisters in Christ? It could be that our congregation needs us as much as we need it, or the people within it. In fact, this is always true.
Martin Luther recommended that we make the sign of the cross as a first gesture when climbing out of bed. It's a good idea, especially given how many times our identity will be challenged during the day or come under self-scrutiny. If this gesture isn't your habit, a cross on your bedroom wall will suffice. Place it where you can't miss it. Spiritual honesty will tell you that your life depends on it.
Once we decide what to wear to church - no small decision for half-open eyes and a half-awake brain - we're well on our way. Or are we?
There is the newspaper to read and the Internet to check. If kids are in the house, they need their own encouragement and prodding. There is breakfast to eat. If time isn't working in our favor, we rush the toast and shovel down the cereal. Inelegant manners are not exactly reflective of the gift quality attached to food. But a growling stomach in church with unbecoming breath seems a worse scenario than a hastily eaten breakfast with dirty dishes left in the sink.
Not many people walk to church any longer, given the spread-out geography of our lives. So we drive. The commute has its own functional value, readying us for the mysteries of God. We quietly contemplate life. We wonder what worship will include. Who will be missing? Is the sermon worth it? I imagine we'll pray for the hungry.
Some weeks the car seems to guide itself. Other weeks, it doesn't.
I know a family of four for whom the commute is painful. They argue ferociously all the way to church. The dad in that clan has told me so.
"It's awful," he said. "We try to look all put together when we walk up from the parking lot. But it's a joke, I know. We can't seem to get past arguing."
Worship is for those who know their need for God. We bring our brokenness, not just our togetherness. The church has room for all, including those with fresh wounds from their verbal skirmish inside the SUV.
How do you walk up to your church door? Is there a bounce to your step, a heaviness to your heart or something in between?
Next month, let's go inside your church.
Taken with permission from the July issue of The Lutheran magazine.