We heard earlier this week from guest poster Matthew Redmond on why he is not excited about church. Oh how I echo his feelings. I have been in church, involved in church, serving the church, working for the church, sweeping up after the church for going on 40 years now. I’ve been in the back-room meetings that dictate what happens on the stage. I’ve been in meetings that discuss how to market the product we were selling (the Sunday service) to attract more customers (tithing members).
I have worked with numerous motivational speakers who call themselves pastors, but who do all in their power to avoid ever having to even brush up against a sheep. I have seen lighting schemes in sanctuaries that put some Broadway theaters to shame. Video cameras TV stations would love to be able to afford. I’ve even known churches to rent those hideous spotlights that rotate on the night sky like the Bat Signal.
I go to a church that, for the most part, avoids being a full-blown circus. But even there I’m tired of singing the same emotionally-soaked songs week after week. I don’t need to watch movie clips during the sermon. And I really don’t need a comedian using the pulpit to try out his stand-up routine. Yet still I go—at least, most Sundays.
Why? Why do I keep going? I know that my salvation does not depend on my attendance record at church. I didn’t use to know this, but I do now. And to own the truth about this, most Sundays I’d rather sleep in, or go take a walk, or read—anything but go to church yet again. After 40 years, I don’t think I’m going to see or hear anything new.
And yet I do keep going (most Sundays). And here is why.
War broke out again between the Philistines and Israel. David and his men went down to fight. David became exhausted. Ishbi-Benob, a warrior descended from Rapha, with a spear weighing nearly eight pounds and outfitted in brand-new armor, announced that he’d kill David. But Abishai son of Zeruiah came to the rescue, struck the Philistine, and killed him. (2 Samuel 21: 15,16, The Message)
David was a giant-killer. He had done so when he was a young man, before he was king of Israel. His reputation as a giant-killer had preceded him for years. It was a given: David was a great king in battle. But the years and the battles had taken much from David. His family in-fighting, the wars with other nations, the civil war he had put down (but would not stay down for long) drained David’s strength. And now there was yet another war with the Philistines. David once again was facing a giant, this one by the name of Ishbi-Benob. We’re told David was exhausted. There was no fight left in him, no energy to defeat this giant. So Abishai, the son of Zeruiah, rushes to his side, kills Ishbi-Benob, and saves David’s life.
How must David had felt at that time? Humble, or humiliated? Grateful, or frustrated? How about all of the above? This event came near the end of David’s reign as king. He was king over Judah, then all of Israel, for a total of (wait for it) … 40 years. Now he needed the help of others. Or perhaps it’s better to say he had needed the help of others all along, but was just now realizing it.
And maybe I’m just now realizing how much I need the help of others. I am fighting giants on a number of fronts, and to be honest, I’m exhausted. Ishbi-Benob is bearing down on me, and I need an Abishai. Like it or not, I can’t defeat the giants in my life by myself any longer.
This is where my church comes in. These are people who know me, know my faults and failures, see me as I really am and still accept me. They are there to stand with me, encourage me, fight with me. They are not afraid to tell me when I’m doing something in a wrong or hurtful manner. Their encouragement at times is hard to swallow, just like medicine that could save my life, but they give their encouragement still.
I need my church. And, somehow, I believe they need me. Me, as I am, with all of my failures, all of my warts, all of my scars. I’m not as strong as I think I am. I cannot do this faith thing alone. I wasn’t meant to. And yet that is my temptation these days. Just let me have my books and blog sites and fellowship occasionally over lunch or coffee and I’ll be fine. But Abishai sees right through me to my exhaustion, pushes me aside and kills the giant that would have killed me. I don’t always like that. I still like to see myself as a giant-killer, but life has taken its toll on me, and I really do need others to help me.
So that’s why I go to church. That’s why I can’t turn my back on this faulty, failed institution. I need the broken church because I, too, am broken. Go ahead and tell me all of the reasons you can no longer go to church. I know that church has hurt many of you. That’s because it’s made of others who have been hurt. And hurt people hurt people. Yet it is still the way God has made for us to receive the help we need.
This Sunday morning I’ll wake up and drag myself out of bed. I’ll tell myself all the reasons I don’t need to go to church, all the reasons why I shouldn’t go to church. Then I’ll shower, make a cup of coffee, and grab my Bible, and go. And my hope is that Abishai is there as well. I need him now more than ever.