Monday, September 17, 2018

A Church Strong – Presence

               Actor/director Woody Allen—like him or not! —observed that “80% of life is showing up.”

               Over the years, I have talked with business owners and managers, and I have often asked them, “What is your greatest frustration?” The answer—workers or employees who don’t or won’t show up.

               We value ‘being present,’ showing up. Every school I know gives that coveted “perfect attendance” award (an award I never earned, he said sheepishly...). In our schools and in our culture, we value showing up.

               Often around town here and in other places we’ve lived, folks have had these big raffles. I almost bought a ticket when I was visiting my parents in south Alabama one time—I was absolutely certain, I felt it...I had a ‘premonition’ that this was it...I was going to win that brand-new BMW. I had my $10 in hand...and then I saw the small print: Must be present to win.

               I teach a couple of classes each semester at the local community college, and one thing I tell my students—I guarantee them! —is that if they will 1) show up and 2) turn in something every time something is due, they will pass my class. It’s that simple. Now, I don’t give anyone a grade—every grade is earned. But, what I learned long ago is that showing up matters. Just being in class every time almost ensures that the student is learning the material. So, with all confidence for the last nine years, I have told my students that if they just ‘show up’ and ‘do the work,’ they are guaranteed to pass my class. And it works—when they show up, they pass...earning every grade they get.

               Being present is really important. And, like prayer, presence is a matter of of those ‘holy habits’ that we find in our Methodist hymnals on page. 48. Let’s take a look:
          Will you be loyal to the United Methodist Church, and uphold it by your prayers, your  presence, your gifts, and your service?

               Where did these holy habits come from that we ask people to affirm as they are joining our congregations? They come from over 2000 years of Christian life and practice. They come from the Scriptures—seeing the habits and practices of Christians and other faithful followers of God through the ages. These are the habits that make for strong Christian lives...and for a Church Strong.

               In the Old Testament, in the Psalms, we hear the call to gather—Psalm 122:1 and Psalm 27:4. Jesus our Lord—our example, our guide—shows us that one of his holy habits was gathering with God’s people—Luke 4:16a. And, we have that well-known admonition from the writer of Hebrews—10:23-25. When we read this last passage closely, we realize that it’s not about you or me. I don’t ‘gather’ and God doesn’t call me to ‘gather with others’ for me. Verse 24 calls us to “spur one another” and verse 25 tells us to “encourage one another.” We gather because we need each other. Our faith is strengthened we come together—we are better, stronger, and more faithful when we gather together.

               In a perfect world, when this holy habit, this ritual, is part of our rhythm of life, the question in the Christian household will not be, “Are we going to church today?” Rather, it will be, “What time are we leaving for church today?” The going, the gathering, will be presumed.

               These little rituals, rhythms and habits—like making the bed—sometimes seem small and insignificant. But, they can have a huge impact on our lives and the lives of others. Just 5 – 10 minutes in prayer for our congregation can make a difference. One hour of presence in worship with God’s people can impact the other 167 hours of your week in ways we cannot imagine.

               May we decide to make these our habits, and may God help us to live in new rhythms and rituals. Our lives of faith will be made strong...and we will have a Church Strong.


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