It’s Sunday morning. What do we do? Coffee? Walk the dog? Sign into social media? Roll over and go back to sleep? We have so many excuses for not getting ready for church. Why bother when it's just going to be more of the same? The same pastor, people, songs, prayers, everything the same. And Jesus? Do we avoid church because it's a church, because it's full of sinners, or because we might run into the crucified God? Do we even know the difference?
How often do we conflate a negative experience at church with a negative experience with God? The pastor nagged at us in the sermon. The songs were uninspired. The prayers didn't address our struggles. And the people? A child behind us had a meltdown during the prayers because she wanted more goldfish crackers. A man in the second pew from the front nodded in and out of consciousness during the sermon. The two old ladies in front of us didn't seem to care that their constant chatter could be heard by half the congregation during worship.
Why go to church on Sunday morning? What's the point? God is obviously NOT in the building. Otherwise, it wouldn't be that way Sunday after Sunday. And the hurt is too much to endure again.
We're desperate for some gospel, but it doesn't seem that the pastor realizes or recognizes this. We want meaty prayers that call God to honor his promise to protect and preserve us because we need help. We need songs that preach and offer comfort to our troubled consciences. More than anything, we just want Jesus. No filler. No fluff. No flowery words. As the man once said: Sir, we would see Jesus because he alone is the living bread (John 12:21).
We've all been wounded by someone or some group at our local church. But that doesn't mean God has abandoned us. It means sinners are doing what sinners have always done; hurting each other in their futile attempts to be god in God's place.
We want to receive comfort and peace in the midst of our chaotic lives. We want someplace to go where we can have the weight of the week lifted off our shoulders. We want to be told that death isn't the inevitable, unavoidable end to all our life's struggles.
When we don't receive what we need, that doesn't mean we give up. What’s the sinner's answer to an absence of the gospel, no gospel? Problem solved! Except it's not. Now it's gotten worse. We've chosen to shut ourselves away from thechurch, the sinners inside, and most of all, the crucified God.
Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were told by God to leave their family, friends, and everything that gave them a sense of place and purpose in the world. God told Abraham, for example, to leave his home, land, and gods and journey to the place that the true God had appointed for him. Where was that place? God would tell Abraham when he got there.
The Hebrews experienced the same when God led them out of Egypt and into the wilderness. Where were they going? The promised land. How would they know when they had arrived? When God said: Stop. Here is the land that I promised to your fathers.
Maybe your local church doesn't preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Maybe it's been years since you've heard an unconditional absolution. Maybe you've never tasted the body and blood of Jesus, never knowing what it's like to receive the graspable God. Maybe you've gotten to the point that you don't believe God's baptismal promise to you is valid. Are you a baptized child of God? Are forgiveness, new life, and eternal salvation for you? The simple answer is: YES! The hard reality is that God may be sending you away from your local church into the wilderness, to lead you to another church, with a new pastor, new sinners to congregate with, and a new word to hear.
It's scary. It was scary for Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. It was scary for Israel. It's always scary when God leads us away from what's familiar into a strange and alien place.
We don't know what we'll find at the next church. We may even have to attend worship at fifty or sixty churches before we hear the sweet sound of the gospel: “Jesus Christ died for sinners, and that means you! So hear this: In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven. Now, come and receive his gifts of salvation; his body given into death for your sin; his blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.”
We have so many excuses for not getting ready for church. But we also have to confess that it may be that our own hardened hearts and stiff necks prevent us from receiving the gospel and gifts of salvation. It may be the case, that God is driving us out of our comfort zone, even if that comfort is in avoiding our local church on Sunday morning.
But we're not looking for a church on Sunday morning. We're searching for the Church of Jesus Christ, which can be located where Christ Jesus locates himself: amongst sinners, delivering the Gospel for the forgiveness of sin, giving himself away in words, water, bread, and wine.
So don't lose hope. Don't avoid church on Sunday morning. Instead, pray that our heavenly Father would honor his promise to never abandon or forsake you. Ask him to satisfy your yearning for the gospel and gifts of salvation. Demand of him (because he commands us to do this) and say: Sir, I would have you show me Jesus!
And he will because he has promised you that for Jesus' sake he will.