“A Book of Cheers and a Book of Tears”
I have a book near my phone – near my recliner. It is not thin, it has lots of pictures, and the pages are mounted together on a spiral ring. It is about three-years-old, and I don’t use it very often, only when I need certain information. It is a church book and I believe many churches have a similar book, either in their office or the Pastor’s study. I call it “my book of cheers and my books of tears.” You may know it as the “First Lutheran Church Members Directory”. It contains photos and addresses and phone numbers of our “membership”.
I love that directory. I can flip page after page of pictures of members in action. It has wonderful pictures of individuals and families who invest their time and lives in the worship services of the congregation. It features young people and middle-aged folks, as well as old-timers, who can be found week after week in the house of the Lord – singing, listening serving, and receiving the precious body and blood of the Savior who died for the sins of mankind . . . and rose from the grave with the promise that we too may live forever with God’s redeemed. I love looking at those pictures of familiar faces and recalling their familiar voices – “the peace of the Lord be with you.”
Sometimes I drag my weary bones to the worship services reluctantly . . . seems like such a chore. But always, always, always, the presence of being in God’s house with God’s family revives my soul again. And I rejoice; I am cheered and renewed. I say to myself, “Why were you downhearted and hesitant? Foolish man! You would have missed healing and hope and the renewed assurance of the Presence of God. You would have missed God comforting you through Holy Communion. Your week would have been a dud, a blah, blah, dud. You would have missed the memories of loved ones who have been in this place and left their mark in the atmosphere of the sanctuary. You would have missed the opportunity to publically THANK AND PRAISE THE LORD!”
That is why I call my church family directory “A Book of Cheers”. It calls to mind the beauty and wonder and majesty of people gathering together in a special place to celebrate the love of God and the love from God. But at the same time, I also call my church directory “A Book of Tears” because it also reminds me of three things that break my heart.
The first is that there are pictures in that book of brother and sister Christians who have been called to their eternal home by our Blessed Trinity. They were very faithful and now they are longer here on earth. Their leaving has made earth a little poorer, but heaven much richer . . . and I miss them.
The second reason why I call it “A Book of Tears” is because there are pictures in it of my brother and sister Christians who would dearly love to be with us at worship, but are unable to join us because of health reasons. They physically cannot leave their place of residence because they are ill, or weak, or have some difficulties which inhibit them. They are an active part of the First Lutheran Family, and we call them “shut-ins”. We know them for their love for God and His Church and we miss them. Thanks to a team of devoted members, the shut-ins are not forgotten because every month the consecrated elements of the Lord’s Supper are brought from the altar to their place of residency. Also, thanks to Bill Johnson and his helpers, recorded Sunday services are brought to many of them. Oh, how I wish that our shut-ins would be able to come to the services again! If not on earth, they will someday be in the gathering of Christians around the throne of God.
The third reason I call my directory “A Book of Tears” is because there are some listed who, for whatever reasons, have chosen not to be among those who regularly join in the worship services of the church. Perhaps they do not participate in any way in the life of the congregation. As far as I know, they are healthy and able, but for reasons of their own choice, they are absent. Maybe once they did participate and maybe they will again. I hope and pray they do. In the meantime, I am saddened if anyone deliberately chooses not to come to the weekly family reunion of church family – our worship service – and misses out on the meal prepared for us by our Lord . . . the sacrament of Holy Communion. I know their faith and their church has meaning for them because often when hospitalized many of them name First Lutheran as their church. When that happens, we are pleased to call upon them and pray with them for God’s healing Presence in their lives. We are both honored and glad to so because we are here to serve Our Lord and minister to people in the Name of Christ.
As Lutheran Christians, we affirm that there is no way we can earn salvation – eternal life – by what we do or say. Salvation is a gift to us won by God’s only Son Jesus, through his death on the cross and his resurrection from the grave. The Scripture clearly states in John 3:16 that, “God so loved the world that God give his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” At best, we accept the gift and have faith in Jesus as our Savior.
We cannot earn eternal life by worshipping God. But we worship God because God has won salvation for us by the victory of Jesus over, as Luther puts it, “sin, death and the power of the devil.” Since this is so, why then do I get hung up on the importance of being a member of the Church and attending worship?
Here is one way of looking at the importance of being involved in the life of the church which Scripture calls “the bride of Christ”. The precious title “Christian” is derived from the Book of Acts where Christ-followers are labeled such. The idea is that Christians are people who believe in Jesus and do what they are able to do to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Practically speaking, Jesus did much that only God could do. Miracles of healing, raising the dead, feeding the 5,000 with two fish and five loaves of bread, and calming the storms are examples.
Admittedly we cannot do those miracles. However it is important that we remember that Jesus shared many kind and loving actions that we CAN, and should do, in His name as Christ-followers. We do as we are able: we build hospitals; we provide life-saving efforts such as the fight against malaria initiative of the ELCA; we share our blessings through our AMELCA food pantry; we respond to calamity with disaster aid. As His followers we follow the example of His life.
The gospel of Luke 4:16 reads: “Jesus went to the temple as was his custom on the Sabbath day.” His temple – synagogue – was the equivalent of our church in the days Jesus walked upon earth. So, if we, as Christians, take the opportunity to do what Jesus did, it seems to me that we could follow the example of our Lord with His custom of going to worship services. Worshipping God in a place dedicated to God is putting into practice just one more way of following the Savior. It does not earn us salvation, but it is one more way of showing our Lord that we appreciate His gift to us. As we are able, we are always and forever welcome to the “weekly family gathering” and the meal He has prepared for us.
An additional reason I call MY directory “A Book of Tears” is because it also reminds me of my failure to walk always in the footsteps of Jesus. The book reminds me of my missed opportunities to worship God and give God thanks and praise. It is so easy to take God’s blessing for granted.
I pray that I have not confused you but rather that I have given you some helpful thoughts for your Christian walk with Jesus. Pray for me that I will become what God wants me to be, as I pray that you also will grow as a Christ-follower.
In Christian love,