Thursday, November 19, 2009
The Preacher’s Corner
“No one of us is whole in himself...”
“Who do you go to church for?” or to be more grammatically correct, “For whom do you go to church?” I ask this question both whimsically and seriously, and without being judgmental, for I think that many of us “bring people with us,” physically, and more especially, spiritually, when we go to the house of God.
Many times, especially on occasions like Memorial Day, All Saints Day, or the recently passed Veterans Day, we remember those who have gone ahead of us in the way of faith, or those who have made great sacrifice in the service of their country.
In the Roman Catholic Church people light candles. Buddhists spin their prayer wheels. American Protestants often bring flowers. But mostly, I think we simply go to church, and we carry those we love within our hearts.
Sometimes you hear the old expression, “God has no grandchildren,” which is meant to say that each must have his own relationship with the Divine; that no one can do this on our behalf. But like most bits of proverbial wisdom, this saying is only partly true.
Parents exercise faith on behalf of their children; friends exercise it on behalf of those who are too sick to pray for themselves; devout persons pray on behalf of those who are neglectful or careless.
In other words, as an old prayer I say expresses the thought: “No one of us is whole in himself. Our loved ones are the rest of us. For them we pray as for our own souls.”
Often, it seems, one member of a family attends church on behalf of the rest. Maybe the other family members ought to go to church, too. But as a pastor I do not judge. People have their reasons, and sometimes the reasons are perfectly understandable. I believe my job is simply to be there for those who are able to come, and those who wish to attend. People have enough guilt without the church laying on more.
I understand that some of us are helped by rituals of regularity, such as weekly worship, that do not speak to others in the same way. I also know that over the course of a lifetime people often cycle into and out of church. The reasons for this are many and varied, and have much to do with age, our need of companionship, our marital status, work schedules, state of health, and changing sense of spiritual curiosity and need.
Youngsters often exercise their growing ability to choose by protesting against Sunday school. They realize, I think, that parents are more likely to acquiesce in this than, say, attending school, or letting down the team.
This may not be a wise choice but it is more a matter of child psychology in our culture than spirituality.
In college, young adults often find the fellowship of a college religious fellowship helpful, and young singles are well-advised to connect with others of their kind at a church where such persons attend. (It is hard to be young and single in a small town, for many reasons.)
New parents are likely to be active in church for the sake of their children. Some remain active for the rest of their lives; others cycle out, again for many reasons, sometimes because of health. One does not have to sit in a pew each week to be religious, although we preachers obviously appreciate those who do.
Religion is a highly individual matter; but it also can be a source of family solidarity. Attending church as a family can be strengthening for the individuals involved; it is also a public statement of our desire to strive together after those things that are highest and best. But I do not believe in religious compulsion. Some people may “need” to be in a highly directive religious environment; there are plenty of these about; and I respect those who feel the need for this.
One thing is for sure: if at all possible families need to be together in their faith commitments. I have had to give up several faithful members when they joined other churches to be with their spouses or relatives. Others have come to our church to be with theirs. People ought to say their prayers together if they possibly can.
I am glad if others pray for me; they may see my need more clearly than I am able to do. We should not ask God to “manipulate” others on our behalf. I think the best thing is simply to “lift them up” and ask the Lord to do what is best.
As another prayer puts it, God is willing to give “much more than we either desire or deserve.” So bring them, and give them to the Almighty to protect and to provide.
If you go to church on someone else’s behalf, you do a good thing. I feel it is a service I can render, and my heart is full each Sunday. If I am lucky, people are doing the same for me.
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