Worship is not about you

By The Rev. Cynthia Espeseth, St. Hilda St. Patrick | Apr 25, 2012

 

“The devil likes it when you skip church because he knows that dry people burn better.”

Perhaps it’s not theologically or even politically correct to say such things now, but I'm reminded of that proverb as I have observed church attendance dwindle. Not only in my own church, but in other Christian churches across all denominations.

Over the last 10 years, there has been a slow decrease in membership and participation. Maybe this is happening in your place of worship – if you attend a place of worship.

According to the Pew Research Center, “Americans ages 18 to 29 are considerably less religious than older Americans. Fewer young adults belong to any particular faith than older people do today. They also are less likely to be affiliated than their parents' and grandparents' generations were when they were young.” (www.pewresearch.org, “Religion among the Millennials.”)

As a priest in the Episcopal church, I've been watching this trend for some time. My own children, who are in their 20s, don't attend church. It isn’t just the Millennials – people are finding more reasons to not get up on Sunday morning to come to pray and worship with their neighbors.

We are a consumer culture, and it infects how we respond to everything, including our faith. A colleague recently told me about a family that left his church because they didn't like the service times. That may be a truly good reason.

But it also sounds like people who didn’t like what they were getting for their money, so they traded in for something different.

Our faith and the whole reason we even go to church has little to do with our wants and expectations. Does that sound scandalous to you? It does to me, but then so does the whole Gospel story of Jesus Christ.

God became human in Jesus, dwelt among us, was murdered because of human fears, and then was resurrected. That last bit seems the hardest to grasp. But Jesus didn’t stay dead. Divine love and forgiveness redeemed fear and hate.

The message of Jesus, the cross and the empty tomb is really about the power of God who always redeems our lives. It isn’t about how we feel or think. God has already provided salvation for each and every person who ever lived, past and future.

Divine love and forgiveness is freely given to all – no exceptions. And it doesn’t matter if you believe it – because the truth of the event has already happened.

But it does matter that we respond to such amazing grace. As the old hymn says “Love so amazing so divine, demands my life, my all.”

It is presumptuous for us to think that our faith depends upon our feelings. It is presumptuous of us to decide whether to attend church based on how we are feeling on any particular day.

Our prayer and worship is not about us. It is about God, and what God is doing in our lives, and the way we know that is through our relationships with each other.

We show up in church because we need each other. And to give thanks and praise to the One who made us, whose image and likeness we have at the core of our being.

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