Dear Children of God,
I recently read a story about a letter to the editor that once appeared in a small town’s newspaper. A churchgoer wrote and complained that it makes no sense to go to church every Sunday. This person wrote: “I’ve gone to church for thirty years now, and in that time I have heard something like two thousand sermons. But for the life of me, I can’t remember a single one of them. So I think I’m wasting my time and the pastors are wasting theirs by preaching sermons at all.”
As you can guess, the letter proved controversial. For several weeks responses showed up on the Editorial page. Finally, someone wrote in with this response: “I’ve been married for thirty years now. In that time my wife has cooked, by my calculations, some thirty thousand meals. But for the life of me, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals. But I do know this: They all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me those meals, I would be physically dead today. Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today!”
Now is this a true story? Who knows? It’s just as likely to be a modern parable, a very helpful illustration of a very good and true point. On the one hand, people who neglect to attend church or refuse to go to church at all (and this includes a bunch of people who are “members” of a church) miss out on the nourishment that keeps them spiritually alive. And on the other hand, those who faithfully attend the Divine Service receive rich nourishment in God’s forgiveness, and Christ’s salvation and life, even if they struggle to remember the details of every sermon (or even any part at all).
King Solomon prays at the dedication of the Temple in 1 Kings 8. In his prayer we hear expressed the purpose of the Church. Solomon praises God’s steadfast love, confesses that it is awesome that God would truly dwell on earth, and then pleads with God to hear the prayers of His people as they prayed in that place. “And listen to the plea of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen in heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.” (1 Kings 8:30)
Solomon then goes on to repeatedly pray for God’s forgiveness for a whole variety of sins. If a man sins against his neighbor; If God’s people are defeated in battle due to their sin; When there is no rain because of the people’s transgression: “Hear in heaven and forgive the sin of Your people.” (v. 34) “Hear in heaven and forgive the sin of Your servants.” (v. 36) “Hear in heaven Your dwelling place and forgive.” (v. 39)
We sinners need forgiveness: every man, every woman, every teenager, pre-teen, toddler, every infant; from Eden after the Fall, to Old Testament Israel, to the current-day Church. Feeding on God’s forgiveness for us sinners in Christ is always our nourishment when we “go to church.” According to Scripture, everything in Christ’s Church–from the pastor’s sermons to Sunday School and Scripture Study, from Holy Baptism to Holy Communion, from the conversations in the narthex or in the Parish Hall over donuts to works of mercy to private pastoral care sessions–everything is designed to communicate God’s forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ, so that we will be spiritually nourished.
Luther write in his Large Catechism: “Everything, therefore, in the Christian Church is ordered toward this goal: we shall daily receive in the Church nothing but the forgiveness of sin through the Word and [Sacraments], to comfort and encourage our consciences as long as we live here.” (LC II 55)
Peace in Christ! I do pray that we’ll see one another regularly in the Divine Service.