Has Everyone Been Fed?
Has Everyone Been Fed? or: Why We Go To Church
An Open Letter To My Son, Jack, Age 7 Years (Dec 2015)
This morning you asked why we go to church. Your actual question was, “Why?!? Why do we have to go?” I answered, “Because that’s who we are. That’s what our family does.”
But it’s a fair question. I think your deeper question is, “Why is that who we are?”
That’s who we are because we say that Christianity, or living the way Jesus taught, is our foundation. It’s our starting point—like the base plate for a Lego structure. We start there and ask, “What comes next?” The instruction booklet is the Bible. Step one is to study the stories of how we got to this place—the stories of creation, the prophets and finally, Jesus and his disciples. We snap all those blocks on to the base plate and then we ask, “What does it do? How does it go?” For us to move the structure, we have to use our own judgment.
Make no mistake: it is hard to follow the teachings of Jesus. Even though we live in a state, nation and culture that professes—sometimes even shouts and sneers—that it is Christian, the society itself is teaching other rules. But we believe what Jesus taught.
He taught that every person in every community is worthy and should be cared for and respected. He showed us that there is enough of everything for everyone if we all share. He preached that there are no outsiders, no bad guys. Everyone belongs, even the people we don’t like and even the ones who don’t like us. And more than that, the Earth itself should be cared for and respected.
Jesus taught this because every person, every flower, every “thing” was created by God and is part of God. So we are loved and claimed by God—God loves us first—and then God tells us to love every other part of creation with that same love. But we don’t always love like that, right? Sometimes we make mistakes; sometimes we choose ourselves over others; sometimes we don’t share or take turns; we want the biggest cookie or the extra balloon; and maybe we say mean things or hurt someone. But God says, “That action is not who you are. Who you are is my child, and I love you, and you can do better. Try again.”
What the rest of the world often says is: “You’re a bad person.” Not that you did a bad thing but that you arebad. Do you hear the difference? After the world blames you for being bad, then you feel bad, right? When you’re feeling bad the world can play a trick on you. It says, “You’re feeling bad? Well, one way to make yourself feel better is to eat this doughnut or buy this new toy, and by the way, other kids will think you’re cool.”
Do you see the trick? But it’s a lie. If you’ve done something bad, the only way to feel better is to apologize or change or repair the damage. You can’t buy something or ignore the bad feelings and hope they’ll go away. You have to choose to learn and to make a better choice the next time. The Bible calls this repentance.
Church is a community of people who are all trying to live the way Jesus taught—with love and sharing and forgiveness. Even when it’s hard. Church people know it’s hard and have made their own mistakes, too. That’s why you can trust them when they tell you, “You’re still loved. You’re still worthy. Make a better choice next time. And ask me if you need help.”
Sometimes we are the ones reminding others of their worthiness. Sometimes they remind us.
Sometimes you’ll hear people say that Jesus is your savior. And that’s true. Jesus came to show us how to live and how to love; and, in that way, saved us from living—and dying—separated from God. So Jesus saved you, but saved you as part of the whole of God’s creation. Jesus lived and died for you, but not as your personal savior. (Though it is really important for you to have a personal relationship with God). Jesus came to be our collective savior. Collective means Jesus came to save all people—people living now and those who’ve already died and those who aren’t even born yet—and to bring the whole world back into the full, complete love of God. This is called redemption
Let’s back up and talk about God.
There are three ‘persons’ that together make up God. That’s why you hear the words Trinity or Triune in church. (Tri- like in triangle and tricycle—three). Today when I asked you about God you said you kind of thought that Jesus was the cheerful or happy God; that the Father was the more stern or angry God; and that the Spirit was just kind of there. I don’t blame you for being confused. I don’t think we in the church explain it very well.
God is not “the Father”, or not just the Creator that we sometimes call Father. (And you know that that “Father” doesn’t mean that God is male, right?) God is not Jesus, though Jesus was fully a man and fully God at the same time. God is not the Holy Spirit, or not just the sustaining spirit of Life and Light and Being. When we say “God” we mean all of these, together, at the same time, all the time. It’s hard to picture, isn’t it?
Can you picture a Lego structure you’ve built, say, a superhero hide-out, that has a part that makes it able to fly and a part that makes it invisible and a part that gives it a force-field shield and a part that makes it able to swim? If you can imagine that it wouldn’t be the perfect ‘hide-out’ without having all of those parts; and, that any one of those parts by itself wouldn’t be the ‘hide-out’ either, then you’ll sort of begin to understand.
Sometimes we say that God is Love. I think of it this way: the ’person’ of God the Father is pouring out love into the other ‘persons’ of Jesus and the Holy Spirit as they are receiving and pouring love into the two others and they receive it and pour it out…do you see? God is love in all directions, all the time, forever. Even more—God is doing the loving and God IS the love. God is verb and noun at the same time.
God calls us (which means demands in a strong but nice way) to love that way, too.
That’s why Jesus isn’t your personal—your individual—savior. Jesus is the part of God that is always redeeming and bringing us, all of creation, back into the flow of God’s love. Not just you. No matter what you do or don’t do. That’s why we say, ‘nothing can separate you from the love of God’. Sometimes you might feel yourself separate from God, but that’s your decision. God never turns away from you. At its best, church is the place we go to help us wrap our heads around such complicated ideas.
Fellowship is practicing God’s love in a community that is also trying to live this way, so that we can go back into our other communities—school, sports, Scouts, birthday parties, playdates—and live this way there, too.
Sometimes what those other communities teach us is that we’re not good enough. Jesus says we are good enough. Your worth is who you are—the expression of God called Jack—not what you can buy or how much cool stuff you have or whether you came in first.
The church helps us build our life around Jesus. Each person will do this in an individual way. It’s like people putting the Legos together in different ways but ending up with roughly the same structure. It’s important to understand and appreciate what other people are building.
I like going to different churches because there are different styles and formats of worship. Same Legos, different arrangements.
In the Presbyterian Church (USA) our liturgy—which means the way we structure the order of worship—generally follows this format:
Preparing to hear God’s word
Hearing God’s word
Responding to God’s word
At the front of our church there is a Communion Table (Not an Altar. That’s another whole discussion.) Communion Tables are often wooden and carved with decorations or words. My favorite one is at Black Mountain Presbyterian Church. It says:
I like this because Jesus’s most important lesson was to love and care for all people. And the most basic need is to make sure people have enough to eat. But there’s a double meaning. When in Communion we “eat this bread and drink this wine” we are remembering that Jesus died for us. And also remembering that Jesus lived for us—and taught us how to live. We are ingesting Jesus: we are pledging to take in his lessons and become like him—loving as we were first loved. Has Everyone Been Fed? reminds us that we show our discipleship not only with our actions, but also with our words. We should tell everyone about the love of God, and make sure that everyone is fed on God’s word, too.
God has called each person specially to be God’s face and hands and mind in some particular way. Our job, our response to God’s love, is to figure out what God wants us to do and to be, and then do it and be it. Even if it isn’t what the world would say is right or smart or cool or good. Be your best, whoever that is. Remember that what you produce outside (homework, smiles, laughter, help) is the reflection of who you are inside. You are a child of God, a disciple/follower of Jesus, a participant in the grand outpouring and receiving of love.
Act that way.
God is calling you to be the best Jack you can be. With God’s help, you will. And, it really helps to be part of a family and community of faith that wants that for you, too.
That is why we go to church.