Sometimes I fear we have the same attitude about our attendance at and participation in church during the summer. Summer arrives and we get so excited for all of the fun things that we have planned. Outdoor actives, vacations and the other things we find to fill out time. It’s easy to feel like we’re on summer vacation from church and this might be just as exciting to you as it was to me when we were on summer vacation from school.
That’s not how it should be; we should never take an extended vacation away from being in church. Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “Of course you have to say that because you’re a pastor.” But that’s not actually why I say it. It’s not some sense of self-preservation. I say it because there is no more important place that we can be than in the same place where God has promised to be and where he promises to distribute his gifts.
In Hebrews 10 we read, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
In this text we are encouraged to hold strongly to our confession of hope – that is the faith and confidence we have in Jesus Christ and what he has done for us. The writer goes on to say that we should encourage one another to love and to do good works. The only way we can do that is if we are actually gathering together in the same place which is probably why the sentence continues “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some”. Already in the time when this is being written there are people who are taking a vacation from gathering together as the Body of Christ.
So there’s the relationship that we have with fellow believers and the opportunity that we have to love, support, and encourage one another when we gather together for worship. But I also mentioned that it is the place where God distributes his gifts. What are the gifts? Martin Luther preached a sermon once that used a wonderful image to describe the gifts that God gives.
Luther said that each week we come into God’s presence and we’re carrying an empty sack. The troubles and problems of our life have just really taken it out of us. We have nothing to give and need to receive something to fill up our sack again. So we come into church and in our service at Trinity, we begin by confessing that we are sinners, in response we hear that our sins are forgiven. Boom! God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness is dropped into our sack. Scripture readings are read and God drops more grace, mercy, and love into our sacks. Our sacks are starting to fill up. The gospel – the good news of life and forgiveness through Jesus Christ is proclaimed in the sermon and this life and forgiveness is dropped in the sack. We receive the blessing of God at the end of the service and that is dropped into our sack too.
By the end of the service our sack is full again. We lug the sack out with us as we go about our lives in the places God has put us. Along the way we encounter our parents who annoy us with their expectations and rules for our lives. We get into a fight with our spouse. Someone mistreats us at work or school. Our first instinct is to take this sack and beat them over the head with it, but that’s not why we have it. Instead we can reach into the bag and pull out some of the grace, mercy, peace, and forgiveness that we have received and we can share it with the people who have sinned against us. We can show them the amazing love that we have already received. By the end of the week our sack is empty again and needs to be refilled.
You see, if we take a vacation from church for the summer then our sack is going to stay empty. We won’t have the gifts that God has given to us to share with others and that would be rather unfortunate.
Have fun this summer. Enjoy the outdoors. Travel to see friends and family. Explore the world. Just don’t take a vacation from God. He loves you more than you can imagine and wants to keep refilling your sack with his awesome gifts so that you can keep sharing them with others in your life!