The Word of God we’ll consider today is from Hebrews chapter 10. Let us pray:
O Lord, your Word is a lamp for our feet and light for our path. Open our hearts and enlighten our minds that we might understand your Word, believe your Word, and live our lives according to it. Amen. (Based on a prayer by Johannes Bugenhagen – 16th Century Reformer and Martin Luther’s pastor at St. Mary’s church in Wittenberg)
To begin today I’d like to ask you a few Mount Olive trivia questions. I’ll give you three choices for each question… see how well you can do, okay…
How many individual days are worship opportunities available at Mount Olive in a given year?
How many unique worship services are offered at Mount Olive in a given year?
What is the average weekly attendance at Mount Olive for weekend worship?
Where does that rank among the 1,200+ churches of our Synod?
Seems like we’re doing pretty good, huh!? Tons of worship opportunities… tons of people coming to them… near the top of our Synod… why the need for a sermon on going to church? Seems like we’ve got that covered pretty well, right? Or do we…? One more trivia question for you?
On average how many Mount Olive members are absent from weekend worship?
Well… c’mon pastor… that’s only like 48%… we’re still talking about a 50-50 split! You’re just a glass half empty kind of guy… ya gotta look on the bright side!
Don’t get me wrong. I am so thankful to worship each week with hundreds of other Christians. I have been in churches bigger than Mount Olive in membership who had less people coming to worship. And I’ve been in little churches where you could count the attendance during the first hymn verse… not judging those situations… just saying, I appreciate Mount Olive and I do not take our membership or worship numbers for granted… and yet… isn’t there a part of you that wonders why? Why does only half the congregation come to worship on any given week? And sure… it’s not as if 800 people are sitting home all year, never worshipping… they come… but how often? Every other week? Once a month? Christmas? Easter? Weddings? Funerals? If you thought about it what would your number be? How many times have you been in God’s house for worship in the past 12 months?
You know there’s a real danger in preaching a sermon on God’s opinion about going to church. This type of sermon can be just what your sinful nature was looking for to start latching on to you… If you’re here every week for worship is there a part of you right now excited to hear me lay into those “average” members who are not here as often as you? Or maybe you’re not here every week but you know you are here more than a lot of other people… Or maybe this is your first time back to worship in several weeks and the last thing you were hoping to hear today was a lecture on how bad of a Christian you’ve been for not coming to church.
Yeah… this is a bit of a dangerous topic for people like us… people with sinful natures… sinful natures that are prone to pride… eager to compare themselves to others… and quick to grow frustrated with a preacher who brings up a sore subject…
But just to be clear… for all of us Christians here today this subject isn’t all bad news… there’s another side to it… because there’s another side to us… a new side… a new self… created by God himself when he brought us to faith. And that new self is the reason you’re sitting in church today… you hunger to be fed by the bread of life that is God’s Word… you thirst for the forgiveness and peace offered in the Lord’s Supper… you rejoice to not only hear God’s Word but to proclaim that Word to one another in the words you speak and the songs you sing… Yes as people who have been freed from sin through the blood of Jesus there is a part of us that wants to be at church not just today but as often as we are physically able. That’s what God has designed us to be as Christians. And the blessings poured out on us when we’re at church – both for ourselves and our fellow Christians – those blessings are a part of God’s design too.
Did God really say going to church matters? Of course he did. It’s written right in our sermon text for today from Hebrews: Let us not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). Of course God wants us to go to church. The better question is: why? Why is it something God tells us to do? And why is it something we’d want to do? Well… as I’ve alluded to already there’s really two pretty simple reasons.
#1 – It’s good for your faith and your life when you go to church
In 2008 there was a Barna Poll conducted about church attendance in the U.S. and it was interesting… compared to regular churchgoers, those who had not attended church in the year prior to the survey were found to be:
§ more likely to feel stressed out
§ less likely to be concerned about the moral condition of the nation
§ much less likely to believe that they are making a positive difference in the world
§ less optimistic about the future
§ far less likely to believe that the Bible is totally accurate in its principles
Now why might that be? Well because when you go to church regularly you hear God’s Word regularly. His Word which reminds you that you are forgiven. That you have hope beyond this life. That your problems are temporary. That your God can be trusted. And suddenly your attitude toward things starts to change… and it’s not because your life has less stress in it or less problems… but because God has equipped you to face those problems… he’s turned you into a mature Christian who has grown up in his Word… And as a mature Christian you have confidence in the future even when the present looks bleak… you are trained to recognize sin in this world and in yourself… and best of all you recognize the solution for sin in Jesus Christ.
So yeah… going to church is good for your faith and good for your life… But going to church is not only about what you get out of it. In fact there’s another equally important reason to go to church every week.
#2 – It’s good for your fellow believers when you go to church
And that’s actually the focus of our sermon text to be honest… when it comes to going to church you’re doing it not just for yourself but for the person sitting next to you in the pew. You’re doing it to encourage them in their walk of faith. To strengthen them when they’ve been weakened by the daily assaults of the world around them and the sin within them. To confront their doubts about God and his Word with the assurance of faith and the community of the faithful. Simply put we need each other. God didn’t create Christians to be independent of one another but rather dependent on one another.
He tells us so in his Word. In Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others (Romans 12:5). And just like our human bodies the body of Christ is made up of many parts that serve different yet important and interdependent purposes. In fact we’re told: God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be (1 Corinthians 12:18). Each part of the body with a different gift that God uses together to serve the others and bring him glory. That is how God wants it to be. That’s how God designed it to be. We can’t survive spiritually on our own. We need each other.
The picture of burning coals in a fire is often used to illustrate this point. We all know what happens if you take one burning coal out of the fire and set it off to the side by itself… it goes out. It needs to be with the other coals to keep its flame burning. But it’s also true that if you take that coal and put it back into the fire with the others what will happen? It will soon be burning again with the rest of them.
That’s what God is talking about in our sermon text when we’re told: Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:24-25). We are bound together as Christians and we are duty bound to find ways to encourage each other in our walk of faith. There are two words here that I’d like you to focus on as you think about these verses. The first is the Greek word translated “meeting together.” It’s has the same root as the Greek word “synagogue.” The synagogue of course being the place where Jewish believers “gathered together” to hear God’s Word and encourage each other with that Word.
And that word “encourage” is the other word to really focus on. That word in Greek is the same Word used by Jesus to describe the work of the Holy Spirit as our Counselor or Comforter. When we gather together we put our arm around our brother or sister in faith and comfort them with the assurance of sins forgiven. We counsel them to live their lives as the children of God they are. In word and song we offer strength for the weak… confidence for the doubting… and hope for the suffering.
And if that kind of “encouragement” was needed 1900 years ago what about today!? We’re not told when the Last Day of this earth will come but we are a whole lot closer to it than the Christians who first read the words of our sermon text…
So what does this all mean for our church habits? Well it means we will live as the new creation God made us to be and we’ll make this a priority… and if there’s something in our life that has pushed this priority down the line we’ll be willing to sacrifice it… and yeah… that might mean looking for a new job that doesn’t make you work almost every weekend. It might mean quitting that league or travelling team that has been the focus of your weekend for so many years. It might mean you don’t have a single day during the week to sleep in. It might mean you have to sit in the same room as a family member who has hurt you. An ex who was unfaithful to you. A pastor who has failed you. And it might mean you need to forgive them…
Yes going to church means sacrifice… it really does. But don’t ever let those sacrifices distract you from the eternal blessings you and your fellow members receive every time you go to church… blessings you receive all because of THE SACRIFICE… the sacrifice that our Savior God has made for each and every one of us. The sacrifice of sending his only Son to bring forgiveness to a world of sinners. The sacrifice Jesus made all his life as he lived perfectly for you… worshipped perfectly for you… went to church perfectly – for you! And the ultimate sacrifice he made when he laid down that perfect life on the cross for you.
Yes, it’s Jesus’ sacrifice that means something when we talk about church, not our sacrifices. It’s Jesus’ sacrifice that opened heaven for us… that allows us, as we heard in our text, to draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith… it’s Jesus who has washed away our guilty conscience in baptism and given us confidence in God’s presence… it’s Jesus death and resurrection that give us the hope of heaven we profess… And it’s when we consider all that
Jesus has done for us that we can’t help but consider all the ways we might spur one another on toward love and good deeds… how we might make it our habit to meet with one another as often as we can… to hear God’s Word… to taste his forgiveness… to encourage one another… and to point one another to Jesus’ sacrifice and the peace that is ours because of it. God grant us the desire to do so brothers and sisters… and all the more as that final Day approaches. Amen.