What is church for?

25 August 2019, The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16C (RCL) Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17.

There are several resources for choosing hymns to go with the lectionary readings. The Episcopal Musician’s Handbook is one. Marion Hatchett published a index of the Hymnal 1982 keyed to the old Prayer Book lectionary. There is a three volume set called Liturgical Music edited by Carl P. Daw, Jr., and Thomas Pavlechko. Every time there is a healing in one of the Gospel readings, you can be sure all three resources will recommend “Thine arm, O Lord, in days of old,” or “O for a thousand tongues to sing.” If you expand out to include Voices Found, Wonder, Love and Praise, LEVAS, and My Heart Sings Out, you can be sure you’ll see recommendations for “Heal me, hands of Jesus,” or “From miles around the sick ones came.” But, often, the point of a healing story isn’t about the healing.

In this instance, the leader of the synagogue is indignant with Jesus for healing on the sabbath.  He tells the  crowd they can come to synagogue any of the other six days of the week for healing, just not on the sabbath.  Which raises the question, just exactly what is synagogue on the sabbath for.  Or, in our case, what is church for?  Why do we go to Church?

I’ve asked that question in a number of settings, and am often surprised that people can’t really give an answer.  I’ve usually asked it when the conversation has turned to getting other folks to come to Church.  I ask, “Why?  Why should people want to come to Church?  Why would we want people to come to Church?”  The answer is always, “Well, we need more people.”  And again, I’ll ask why.

The answer just seems self-evident – because going to Church is a good thing to do.  Jesus seems to be suggesting that if lives aren’t being changed on the sabbath at synagogue, there’s not much  point.  People will give all kinds of reasons why they go to Church — their friends are there, it recharges them for the week, they like the peace, or any one of a thousand other reasons.

None of those is sufficient.  You could join a social club to meet friends.  You could sit at the pool to get recharged for the week.  Go to an art museum if you want peace.  Church is about encountering God, and the encounter with God changes lives.  Shouldn’t this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom the devil has bound for eighteen years, be freed from her bondage on the sabbath day?  Isn’t that what it is for?

The passage from the Letter to the Hebrews seems to suggest the same thing:  You have not come to something that can be touched, but to countless angels in festal garments, the feast in the heavenly Jerusalem.  Lives are going to be changed.  I don’t think we really expect that lives are going to be changed at our genteel Sunday morning services.

Who are the stooped old women who need to be freed from their bondage in our midst?  How do we go about shushing them?  What would Jesus do if he showed up on Sunday morning, whose lives would he change?

I wish there were hymns about healings irritating us enough to change why we come to Church.  Shouldn’t lives be changed?  Isn’t that what it’s for?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *