Recently I was trying to explain to a group of young adults why going to church is so important. In my earnestness, I extolled the benefits of church and religion. I told them the church is the place where a person can find meaning and hope. It is the place where we can learn about God’s love of all people regardless of where they come from or what they have done or not done. It is the place where people can learn how to treat other people; with care, compassion, and respect for human dignity. But for every reason I gave, these thoughtful young adults gave a compelling counter-argument. They reminded me of the church’s historical religious oppression; robbing people of meaning and hope. They argued that even in modern-day churches, people often feel judged and unwelcomed if they are different. Finally, they explained, that although church members articulately spoke and prayed about love, these same people often dropped the ball. Pointing to the divisions and anger currently facing our society, they said that Christians, conservative or liberal, have trouble even being civil with one another, let alone loving.
Honestly, on many of their points, I had to agree. The church has not lived up to God’s hope for us. It is because of us, the people who make up the church. We are broken and frail, prone to errors and arrogance. We have a knack to be judgmental and prejudicial. But if we hold a mirror modeled after the teachings of Jesus to ourselves, we become painfully aware that we are a community of sinners. There is a gift in this awareness. We can discern our failings and strive to be better followers of Christ. The gift of the church is that we don’t have to do this alone. God’s Spirit empowers us and encourages us to help each other in love.
One of my favorite songs about the aspirations for the church isn?t in the hymnal, but its hopeful message is still meaningful. “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” is the theme song from the 80’s TV series “Cheers.”
Making your way in the world today,
Takes everything you got,
Taking a break from all your worries,
It sure would help a lot,
Wouldn’t you like to get away?……
Sometimes you want to go Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came,
You want to be where you can see, the troubles are all the same,
You want to be where everybody knows your name,
You want to go where people know, that people are all the same
You want to go where everybody knows your name….
Although the song is about a community found in a Boston bar, it also describes the beauty of the experience. For me, a wonderful church community is one where everyone knows your name, and we’re always glad you came. It is a place where people welcome each other, even the stranger as if they had always belonged. It is a spiritual home that gives people a pause from the worries of life to see God’s perspective and have hope. It is in here that you are encouraged to be who you are and know that you are loved. These experiences of hope and encouragement help make coming to church so important!