“Everybody needs a church, because when your mama dies who’s going to bring you a casserole?”

I have a friend who says to me now and then, “Everybody needs a church, because when your mama dies who’s going to bring you a casserole?” I baptized her about thirty years ago when she was a young woman. A lot of life has passed since then and all the while she has been a regular in worship, tending the community she was received into.  She has had her share of hardships as most of us do, and yes at those moments folks from her church have shown up at her doorstep with a casserole.

Lately Philip Hepler has been broadcasting the 8:50 AM contemporary worship service on Facebook. Two weeks ago we hit 1,200+ views. Some of those were live, 400 within the hour, and the rest spread throughout the week. That total is nearly four times our average Sunday morning attendance. If you had asked me how many I thought would watch a video feed of the band playing and me preaching I would have guessed maybe twenty. Obviously, I didn’t have a clue.

That is the second time I have been surprised by our media reach. Before I came to Thomasville I had been told that the 11:00 worship service was on AM radio. I recall remarking to my wife, “How much are they paying for that?” Forgive me for being dismissive, but I assumed the audience was slim. I realized I had misjudged when after several months of living here people were saying to me things like, “So that’s what you look like. I listen to you on the radio.”  It has been three years and still folks comment  at retirement centers and in casual introductions that they tune-in.

There is nothing like a large audience to make a preacher feel good about himself and his church, but I also know that radio listening and social media views do not make a church. I am thrilled that we are getting the word out, but whether or not we can turn those mouse clicks into attendance among the able bodied is the more difficult task.

A primary theme of the Christian faith is the incarnation, which means that God came to us in human flesh. It is a remarkable statement of our faith. God showed up and lived among us, like the friend who arrives at your doorstep with a prayer and a casserole when your troubles have gotten the best of you. There is nothing that can substitute for the divine presence, even when that arrives faintly in me or you.

If the heavenly father could have sent his son to us by radio frequency he would have. There would have been far less pain and inconvenience, but the Lord understood that love shows up. Even when our technology has progressed so that we can duplicate ourselves with a hologram, the tenants of our faith will require that we gather as flesh and blood, with all our aspirations and hang-ups.

There are no video screens in the kingdom of God, no texting, Facebook or Skype. There is no substitute for your presence. We like to think that having a Christian faith can be separated from attending church, but in our honest moments we will admit that our absence has to do with hurt feelings, holding a grudge or maybe we simply have become distracted and uninterested. Faith is like anything else, it is a matter of what you put into it. There is no getting around getting dressed and claiming your seat.

Each Sunday morning when I walk into Jarrett Hall for the early morning worship service I am welcomed by a woman who lifts her arms over her head, then puts them around me, and shouts my name as a personal greeting. It is a demonstrable – three cheers for Ben, we are glad you are here. Has she perceived those off moments when I thought to myself, “And did I have a choice?”

She does this for everyone who comes through the doors: the old and the young, the reluctant and the restless. She reminds us that it matters that we have shown up.

And it matters too that you have a church, because when your mama dies you are going to need a casserole.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
      he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death –
    even death on a cross.

 Therefore God also highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
    so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth

 and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

(Philippians 2:5-11)


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