Thursday, December 11, 2008

Late for "church"

Philip Yancey shared this story he heard from a friend in his 'What's So Amazing About Grace' video series:
When I'm late to church, people turn around and stare at me with frowns of disapproval. I get the clear message that I'm not as responsible as they are. When I'm late to Alcoholics Anonymous, the meeting comes to a halt, and everyone jumps up to hug and welcome me. They realize that my lateness may be a sign that I almost didn't make it. When I show up, it proves that my desperate need for them won out over my desperate need for alcohol.

I have to admit, I sometimes get irritated when people are late for our Sunday worship gatherings (or Small Groups, dinners or whatever). For some it seems like a lack of discipline or concern for others. But Yancey makes a good point.

I often fail to recognize just how much of a struggle it is for some people to overcome their brokenness and seek out help through the church. And if anyone ought to be welcoming, it should be the followers of Jesus.

This reminds me of the parable in Luke 18: 9-14 where two men prayed very different prayers. One was confident of his righteousness and looked down on everyone else. He prayed that he not become "like them." The other could not even raise his eyes for shame. He simply asked for mercy. Jesus said it was this second man who went home justified.

Sunday worship gatherings (or "services") are odd things. On the one hand, they are meant to be FOR God. It is a time for people of faith to come together to worship and praise Him. Yet, could it be that the greatest form of praise we can give is to bow before him in our awkward brokenness and ask for mercy? Is God impressed by our 'dressing up and doing something for him'; or is it our humble confession that we desperately need him and his church, and that sometimes we don't even know how to go about proper worship, that is more pleasing in His eyes?

I think we have a fairly welcoming church, but I pray that we might become even moreso. May we celebrate the late-arrivals, and most of all, the One who welcomes all of us as we ask, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."


Fran Leeman said...

Amen. It seems to me that our "services" often take on a strange culture that actually works against welcome and community. So many years of doing "church" are hard to undo. Keep trying. I'll keep trying to.

Jim said...

Amen again. And how coincidental - I was just praying the sinner's prayer ten minutes before I read this. I pray it a lot. I need to pray it more.

I am almost painfully on time for things, and have a hard time unclenching about being late to anything. There's a joke among my friends that if you invite us over for dinner at seven, as the second hand sweeps up the dial toward 6:59:58 the doorbell will ring and, "There's Jim!" :o)

That said, even in our 5:00 pm "contemporary" service I sometimes feel like our family is exactly what you're talking about. Les and I arrive separately because she works on Sundays and shows up in her nursing scrubs, even as she sings with the worship band. The kids often come in separately from us, late and muddy from spending the weekend with their father and playing before showing up. I am sure some disapprove. Whatever.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed with feelings and don't even go at all. "Church" is an emotionally loaded thing for me, as you know, and sometimes it is the LAST thing I want to do. And then I force myself and usually (usually) am happy afterward that I did.

Good post, Dan.

Spankie said...

i thought my wife was the only one that went to church in scrubs and had to leave early to go heal the sick.

good post