Discovering Spiritual Truths & Celebrating God's Grace in the Every Day Happenings of Life.
Earlier this week, I heard a pastor say that the church is place for “everyone to be comfortable.” Though I understand, I think, the sentiment behind what he was trying to say, the phrase still struck me in an awkward way. Indeed, the church should be a place where all are welcomed and embraced. But should the church be a place where we are actually, completely comfortable? Should it be a place where our personal comfort is catered to? Should it be a place where our sin is overlooked? Where we are never called to repent? Where we are not challenged to change? Should the church be a place where we are never confronted? Where we never grow? It brought to my mind, from John 8, Jesus’ interaction with the women caught in adultery. She absolutely found acceptance and deliverance. Even more than that, she found salvation as Jesus' fended off her stoners. But she was no doubt made a bit uncomfortable by Jesus’ acknowledgement of her sin. In order for her to go and live her life differently, Jesus calls her away from the selfish and sinful ways she was living. There was no condemnation, but there was absolutely a call to do better, to sin no more.
A recent study by Lifeway Research revealed 67% of U.S. Protestant pastors believe comfort is a modern-day idol that has a significant influence on their congregations. This idol is hardly noticeable. But think about it. In a world of “church shopping” do we not try to have church our way? We choose churches where the worship music matches our taste, the hymns are always easy to sing, the sermons fit our preferences, the teachings tell us what we want to hear, our peers never disagree, and the building suits our style. We talk to the same group of people. We sit in “our” pew. Of course, although these habits aren’t inherently bad, they quickly reveal how easily we can turn the church into a country club—a place that never challenges us, never makes us a bit uncomfortable.
Yet, in our congregation, we begin each service with something to this effect. “We confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean,” or “We have sinned against you in through, word, and deed,” or “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess…” This hardly seems user-friendly and comfortable. Admitting our evil. Owning our immorality. Acknowledging our iniquities. Imploring God to deliver His mercy and forgiveness hardly seems like a comfortable thing to do. To be sure, no one want to admit their flaws or failures. Yet this is the very first part of our timeless Lutheran liturgy. Why? Because the Word of God puts us in our place. We stand in front of the spiritual mirror with a harsh reality check; we are reminded that we are sinful and cannot stand before God who perfect and holy. But no sooner than we get the confession out of our mouths, then the holy and grace-giving words of God’s absolution are spoken over us. As the mercy of Jesus is poured over us, we are cleansed of all unrighteousness. The unholy are made holy. The wretched are made righteous. The sinful are made sacred. We arise from the uncomfortable kneelers as blessed children who have been made new, forgiven.
The church, our church, can never be driven by self-interest or human comfort. On the contrary, it must be the place where we are forced to face the uncomfortable reality of our sinfulness and brokenness. It is essential because only then can we rejoice in the Gospel of Jesus and in the incredible acts of love that He does on our behalf. Remember these words from Jesus, when He was being ridiculed for the flawed company He kept: “And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’” (Mark 2:17) We cannot fully appreciate the cure, unless we understand the severity of the sickness, our sickness. This is why we continue to be a church that is fully entrenched in the Word of God. This is why we make ourselves rightly uncomfortable to start the service, so that we can leave the worship service far better than comfortable—renewed and recreated in the image of our Savior (cf. Ephesians 4)! There should be Sundays, most Sundays, when you are challenged, when you are a little rattled, when you ask questions. There should be times when you resolve to do things differently than those around you, especially when the truths of God’s authoritative Word are penetrating the lies that we all believe in this fallen world. There should be those moments when you feel itchy and uncomfortable, and you end up going home and searching for answers in Scripture. Because the whole point is not to be happy and comfy– the whole point is to humble ourselves and find rest in Jesus, to pattern ourselves to be more like Him.
"The church is a place where broken people can fall in love with a beautiful God." (Shane Clarborne)
"The church is not a select circle of the immaculate, but a home where the outcast may come in." (J. H. Aughey)
Pastor Steve Vera