A question that always comes up when I get in conversations with folks who aren’t “churched” is, “So what’s the point of going to church?”. Now I can answer this in a whole lot of ways:
1) The social answer: coming to church is an opportunity to visit with friends that you might not see during the rest of the week
2) The missional answer: we are fed and given the strength and courage to go out into the world proclaiming the good news of Christ
3) The ministry answer: we come to church to learn and study and continue in the teaching of the apostles
4) The liturgical answer: we come to church to sing great songs and participate in a ritual that spans the globe and has existed for 2000 years and to worship God
5) The “good Christian” answer: going to church will help you get into heaven
6) The “not-so good Christian” answer: free food
Perhaps you have some answers you’d like to add to that list.
None of these answers in and of themselves are wrong, and some may be better than others. The reality is, going to church is a social, spiritual, and emotional experience. Some weeks, you may come because you feel like you need to visit and eat snacks, and some weeks you come to pray. But the point is you come. It’s like a nun friend once said when asked “do I always have to say the Lord’s Prayer even if I don’t feel like it”…she answered “yes, you pray because everyone is praying; it’s part of being in community”.
For me, part of the point of going to church is about being re-membered. And what I mean here by “re-membered” is about being put back together, being made whole, and remembering who I am and to whom I belong.
So let’s look at the lessons for today.
In the reading from Isaiah (43:1-7), two things strike me. One is in the first verse “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” and the other is in verse 4 “For you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you”.
If you remember from last Sunday, the prophet Isaiah is speaking to a people in captivity and exile. They have been removed from their homes, overcome by Babylonians, their sons and daughters taken away, and they feel abandoned. And yet, in the midst of all this chaos and upheaval, God speaks to them through the prophet and reminds them that they are loved, protected, redeemed, and precious; words of comfort for a people in distress. And not only are they loved, but they have been called by name. Now this is significant in the ancient world. To be named by someone was a sign of “ownership” if you will. Not ownership in the sense of being a slave to, but ownership in the sense that you belong to someone who will look after you. So for these early Jews, to be named and thus belong to God meant that they were being cared for and looked after.
In the Luke text (3:15-17, 21-22) we have another “naming” story. Jesus has come to John to be baptized. And after Jesus is baptized, while he is praying, the heavens open up and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descends on him while these words are being spoken from above “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”. In this moment, God names Jesus—the Beloved, and it is from this moment onward that Jesus embarks on his mission and ministry. God has claimed him as God’s own.
In Isaiah, when the people are reminded that they have been named and are loved, they are “re-membered” as children of God; they are put back together and made whole. Not that they weren’t, but they had forgotten. In Luke, this is Jesus’ first direct encounter with God, and he is “re-membered” as a child of God...he is put together and made whole for the ministry he is about to do.
This morning we will once again say our Baptismal Covenant and be sprinkled with baptismal water. We do this not because it’s in line with the lessons of the day, or because I like to fling water at people, but because it helps to “re-member” us. It reminds us who we are and to whom we belong. It is so easy to get caught up in the belief that who we are is based on our resume, on our paycheck, or on our standing in the community. Those things might be a part of who we are, but more importantly, we are children of God. And it’s even easier to think that we belong to the never ending cycle of emails, text messages, phone calls, budget meetings and a whole other barrage of issues that come at us daily, but ultimately, we belong to God.
When we are baptized, or when we renew our Baptismal Covenant, we are claiming our name as “Beloved” and we are giving ourselves over to God.
So what’s the point in going to church? It’s so I can be reminded of who I am and to whom I belong; it’s so I can be “re-membered”…put back together, made whole, and renewed. Why do you come to church?
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.