Today I want to talk about why we go to church.
I mean, seriously. What do we get at church that we can’t get at home? Most weeks, I listen to a sermon on my iPhone. I can get almost any preacher I want. Adam Hamilton? No problem. Andy Stanley? You bet. Barbara Brown Taylor? All day long. Even those not tech-savvy enough for podcasts can get a good sermon from the comfort of their own TV rooms. Preachers like Harry Emerson Fosdick and Billy Graham have been delivering sermons over the radio and television waves for almost a hundred years.
Sure, there’s other stuff we do in church, too – but we can do most of that in our living rooms, as well. We can pray. We can read our Bibles. We can sing (and if not, we can listen to music). And let’s be real: it’s work to get up and go to church, and sometimes we just don’t want to do it. We’ve been getting up and getting dressed for our obligations all week long, and we just want a day to throw on a ball cap and go to brunch.
Why bother going to church?
I’m a preacher, so you’re expecting me to make a case for church. And you’re right. I’ve been convinced that church is important for a long time. But just recently I did something that convinced me all over again that actually going church is worth the extra time and effort.
I went to a college football game.
Wake Forest was playing Appalachian State on their home turf in Boone. My husband is an App grad; we have good friends who are Wake alumni. When this date was announced about a year and a half ago, we put it on our calendars and gathered a posse of old friends to come along.
But going to a football game is hard work.
First there’s the work in planning. We had to get the tickets – not too expensive and not too cheap, and ideally as close together as possible. We had to find a place to stay that could accommodate 10 adults and 5 kids… preferably with some fun amenities like a game room, not to mention a price tag that became affordable when split 4 ways. We had to figure out who was bringing what food, who was sleeping in what rooms, and who was riding in whose cars.
That’s all before things got complicated… because we’re not young college kids anymore, we’re parents rapidly approaching middle-age.
What were our children going to do during the football game? They’re too young to bring along with us (not if we want to enjoy the game at all). Could we find babysitters in Boone, or did we need to import some with us? How many babysitters do we need for 5 kids? How much do those sitters need to be paid? What will our children do while we’re gone for 5 hours? Where will they all sleep… if they sleep at all?
Once our grand master plan was fully devised and the weekend was upon us, our work wasn’t over. Now we had to get to the game itself.
Load it up, find a parking spot, hand out the tickets, navigate the crowd, get into the stadium, find your seats, realize you have to go to the bathroom, climb over 12 sets of knees, go to the bathroom, come back out, climb back into your seat… and proceed to sit on a hard metal bleacher in the unusually-warm September sun for the next 4 hours.
At some point in the process, I couldn’t help but wonder… Is this worth it? Because this game’s on TV, and we could have watched it from home.
The answer is, “Yes,” and if you’ve been to a sporting event you know why.
It’s worth it when 35,000 fans get up on their feet to cheer the Mountaineers on the field.
It’s worth it when half of them scream “APP” and we yell back “STATE.”
It’s worth it when Appalachian scores and we all jump to our feet and give high-fives to strangers like they’re our new best friends.
It’s worth it even when Appalachian loses by one point or two attempted kicks, however you want to count it. It’s worth it even then, because there is something about being there together.
We could have saved a lot of time and effort and money by watching the game from the comfort of someone’s home. But if you’ve ever been to a sporting event before, you know – being there in person is just different. That kind of togetherness on a massive scale has an energy that doesn’t come through the TV screen, a magic that makes it worth all the extra effort.
And so does church.
Yes, you could stay home and in your pajamas on Sunday morning. Yes, you could watch a sermon on TV and then say a prayer sitting on your couch.
But it’s not the same.
God has designed us for togetherness, because God is together. God is Father and Son and Holy Spirit, living in perfect togetherness. We are made in God’s image, so there is a part of us that craves that same thing. We get a taste of it at big events like football games or concerts.
And let me tell you about an even more mind-blowing event than any music or sport:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Every Sunday when we gather for worship, we’re coming together to celebrate the most amazing thing that has ever happened. Our sins were forgiven through Christ’s death on the cross. Death was defeated by the empty tomb. God loves us; God forgives us; God gives us eternal life!
Yes, we could sit at home and get all that through a recorded sermon and reading our Bibles. But this event is too big, too good to settle for couch-side viewing. When we gather together – not just here, but all across the world in all sorts of different churches – when we come together to remember Christ, there is a special energy in the room, a feeling we don’t often get at home.
We Christians call that feeling, “the Holy Spirit.”
And the Spirit makes our souls leap a little, because we’re getting a glimpse of how things are ultimately designed to be. Revelation tells us that in the end, we’re brought together as a massive worshiping body – much bigger than the 35,000 people at that App game. God is together, and God’s plan is for us to be together, too.
Next Sunday morning when you wake up and first think about going to church, you might try to talk yourself out of it. It takes extra effort, after all: setting an alarm, getting cleaned up, getting dressed, getting your family out the door… but let me tell you, it’s worth it. There is a unique kind of togetherness that happens when we put all our voices together and sing a hymn, or bow all our heads together to pray, or tune all our ears in to God’s Word read through Scripture and interpreted through a sermon. Whether there’s 35,000 or 35 who are present at worship, that kind of togetherness is… well, it’s worth it.
There’s nothing quite like it.