Thursday, August 6, 2009
The Preacher’s Corner
Grateful for each one who loves the church
Sundays have a different rhythm, a change that I enjoy. For some reason it seems there is more time. It is especially nice to wake up early and have a few minutes more to linger over breakfast, and perhaps write a letter or two. These days it is more likely an e-mail, but the idea’s the same. My Auntie Fran was our family’s great letter correspondent, and most of her epistles, like those of the Blessed Apostle, were Sunday affairs. Auntie Fran never used a period when she wrote. The letters were just long phrases divided by hyphens when she came up for air. But we got the news and that was what counted.
My little dog and I go for a stroll before Sunday school, and since the other churches around the courthouse square begin their classes at an earlier hour than we do, I wave at regular attenders from other churches as they ride by. Those of us who are committed to Sunday school are a kind of fraternity, even if we attend our classes in different congregations. Sunday school puts a different dimension on church life, and those who take part know all about this.
For one thing, those who attend Sunday school get the word first. There is always something to discuss, even in the smallest church — or is it especially in the smallest church? — and satisfactory conclusions to all issues are usually reached before the class coffee pot is emptied. There was also a time when all the children would descend on the square between Sunday school and church, and one of the stores would open so they could have a “Coke.” I hate to think how much of the Sunday school collection was diverted to this purpose, and I also hope that nobody carries lingering guilt, for I am sure the good Lord understands!
I like to be at the church for a good hour before people arrive. That is how I arrange my thoughts, and the ritual of opening the building is a satisfying exercise for me. I think about my late cousin Fred Winter at those moments, for Cousin Fred made it his practice to open and close First United Methodist in Fulton, Ky., every Sunday without fail. He had a key, and he used it. Jesus told St. Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Fortunately, I think that the matter of keys is usually more prosaic than that. The keys that matter most are the ones that make God’s house ready on Sundays, and opening our church is a ritual for me that symbolizes the greater entrances and exits of life and eternity. The church is one of the last places in our society that invites the public inside, no questions asked. That is a bold invitation and a challenge. It demands our best and is not to be taken lightly.
Leading worship is one of the most enjoyable and most difficult things a human being can do. True, one can be an actor on a stage, or an anchor person on TV, or teach in front of a class, and these things are similar in what they demand. They are also different.
Having been away for a Sunday recently, I know quite well that people do not have to go to church or Sunday school, and I know that many freely exercise this choice. The church ought not to take its members for granted, and it ought to have something worth while for those who make the commitment to come. There are many pleasant alternatives available.
Christianity can be Christianity without the traditional church or Sunday school. But it will be a very different kind of Christianity, and so as I unlock the doors each Sunday, I am grateful for each one who loves the church and supports its work toward another day.
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