On some Monday Mornings I post Sunday’s sermon. Here’s yesterday’s sermon. The questions still linger. What are your thoughts?
Cracked Cisterns/Jeremiah 2:4-13
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about church attendance and active church involvement. A lot of tricky questions have floated to the surface.
(1) Do you have to go to church to be a Christian?
(2) What kind of Christian are you without going to church?
Paul describes the church as being “the body of Christ.” We each are part of the body—an elbow, a knee, the pancreas—and we each have been blessed with different gifts to be used for the common good of the body. This metaphor begs us to ask: What kind of body part am I if I’m not attached to the body? Am I still part of the body? Perhaps I am. In the case of a real, human body, I am the amputated part. I am the dead or dying part.
What kind of Christian are you if you don’t go to church? What kind of Christian are you if you are not connecting with the body of other believers? I don’t mean just going through the motions, but I mean really connecting on some authentic level.
(3) Are Christians diminished if they don’t attend church? Do they dry up—spiritually or otherwise? Almost all of my friends who don’t attend church reluctantly agree that that is a possibility. They tell me that it is possible that their lives aren’t as rich as they could be. Almost all of them agree that they are missing something worthwhile. Some of my friends who do not attend church, feel guilty about not attending church. Or they have been hurt by the church and are angry. Or they have been abandoned by the church and they feel left out.
4) Is the rest of the church body strengthened by the absence of other Christians? This is one question that I have an answer for: The church suffers when other members of the church do not attend. The church is never full until the whole world is in a pew. God’s sanctuary holds everyone, and everyone has a purpose and a place.
(5) When self-professing Christians do not attend worship, how (dare we ask it?) does that make God feel?
* * *
We read from the second chapter of Jeremiah that God felt abandoned when the people wandered away from God, and went after “worthless things.”
The wayward nation of Israel had committed two sins: (A) they had forsaken God, and (B) they had come to rely on themselves, instead of God. This reliance on self instead of God is likened to the people making their own water tanks/cisterns, instead of relying of the God of living water. Your tanks are cracked, God says, and no matter how often you fill them, they can hold no water.
This text from Jeremiah makes me think, if I stopped going to church would I end up chasing worthless things? Would I abandon God? I fear the answer is, “Eventually, yes.” God knows we need the church. Why else would he have given it to us? Why would he have allowed his own son to become the church’s very cornerstone?
The people of Israel had wandered away, probably not far at first, and probably not many. But over time, bit by bit more and more of them got farther and farther away. They were away from God for longer and longer periods of time. Their faith had cooled.
Is that what happens with church attendance? We slip away. Little by little we get out of our routine. We are gone for longer and longer periods of time. And inch by inch we find ourselves farther and farther not only from the church, but we find ourselves feeling farther and farther from God. Church becomes something we used to do, a memory. And God becomes someone we used to know.
I may be over dramatizing. And I may be making an impossible or erroneous connection between what is happening in the Book of Jeremiah and what seems to be happening in our country where fewer and fewer of God’s children are showing up at God’s house to worship God on Sunday.
At the risk of going over the top, listen to the words of Jeremiah: “Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the LORD.” And notice that God has a question of his own; God asks Jeremiah: What wrong have I committed to deserve this abandonment? (“What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?”)
When God asks me that, I want to look away . . .
* * *
I’ve been beset by questions this week. Is it God’s fault? Is that why the Western Church is shrinking? Does God not deliver on Sunday mornings anymore? Has the Holy Gospel become cliché? Has God’s story been replaced by the witty stories of television and the grandeur of American Football? Is that why Christians don’t come? Have we as a culture gone after worthless things at the risk of becoming worthless ourselves? Is it hysterical to wonder if fewer people in worship suggests that more and more people have begun the inch-by-inch turning away from God? Is God appalled, shocked, desolate about emptier churches? Should we be? Are we as a culture making for ourselves beautiful cisterns that are cracked and cannot hold water? Are we thirsty for the things of God and don’t even know it anymore?
Where do we go to quench this thirst? Where do we gather to find the sustaining bread of heaven?
For two thousand years Christian people have come to church. And everybody who still comes is always, always greeted by none other than Jesus himself who says welcome.
4Hear the word of the LORD, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. 5Thus says the LORD: What wrong did your ancestors find in me that
they went far from me,
and went after worthless things,
and became worthless themselves?
6They did not say, “Where is the LORD who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that no one passes through, where no one lives?” 7I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things.
But when you entered you defiled my land,
and made my heritage an abomination.
8The priests did not say, “Where is the LORD?” Those who handle the law did not know me;
the rulers transgressed against me;
the prophets prophesied by Baal,
and went after things that do not profit.
9Therefore once more I accuse you, says the LORD, and I accuse your children’s children. 10Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has ever been such a thing.
11Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit. 11
Be appalled, O heavens, at this,
be utterly desolate, says the LORD,
13for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.
I was born and raised in the sight of water in Hampton, Virginia. I was baptized and nurtured in the Presbyterian church. There was never a time when weekly worship attendance, the giving of ...