It is, once again, Sunday morning. And I am once again up at some totally-too-early-hour, getting ready to go to church and join my community in worship and in fellowship. But that, my friends, is my favorite way to spend my Sunday morning. No lazy lay-a-bed with the New York Times for me — 5:30 wakeup, meditation, preparation, and out the door at 9 a.m. only to return, if I am lucky, by 2 p.m.
But what is really on my mind this morning as I get ready for the day ahead, is, well, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the things we read together as a study group in his work Life Together. And, more than that, what I read about him in his biography Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas.
If you know anything about Bonhoeffer’s life, or even the legend attached to Bonhoeffer’s life, you have probably heard that his thinking about faith and community was transformed by his time at Union Theological Seminary in New York. But it wasn’t the work at Union that transformed him, in fact he writes rather negatively about the students and the prevailing secularlism at Union in that time. He was transformed by his time spent with the congregation of the famous Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem.
There were a lot of transforming things for him about that experience, according to Metaxas, but the one I am thinking about this morning is that, before Dietrich Bonhoeffer came to New York and before he worshipped regularly at the Abyssinian Baptist Church he was a theologian, yes, a man of faith, most likely — but he did not attend any kind of service of worship on a regular basis. After his experiences in New York, he went to church each Sunday.
Now I am the first to admit that going to church is not an end in itself, but I find myself wondering how can a person be a theologian, someone seemingly devoted to the language of faith, and not seek to worship with a community of believers each week…particularly someone who, ultimately, would find the idea of community in Christ so compelling that he wrote a book about it? How can someone who spent most of his life thinking about and writing about and teaching about what it means to be a church…how can that person not seek or create a worship community that he could call home?
Yes, I understand the problems of his time, the affiliation of the German church with the state, the perversion of that church through that relationship once the National Socialists came to power. And I understand that not all churches would fit my own definition of a Gospel community, and I’m guessing that the church of his day did not satisfy Bonhoeffer’s definition either. But I know that Holy Spirit will always win, and if we listen we will find a community within which to worship.
Bonhoeffer aside, thinking about his transformation from non-church-goer to regular-church-goer, I found myself thinking about quite a few people in my own community who attend on nothing more than a casual basis…meaning, we may not be blessed by their presence even once a month (and statistically, the experts consider regular church attendance to be at least twice a month). I know, Washington is a busy place…people travel for work, people sometimes only have the weekends to pursue other hobbies and goals…I get it.
But as for me, I’m glad that I am able to rise early on a Sunday morning and worship with my fellows in Christ. And I realize that that worship is strengthened and amplified by sharing it with others. And I know, that in my life, in my relationship with the God of All, that this act of worship is primary.
Some say I know this because I’m older, and therefore, having lived a bit more of life, my priorities are different than a younger person’s might be…maybe that is true. But what I know is that once Bonhoeffer experienced a community that worshipped in faith and not in politics, a community that struggled to live out the Gospel in this world, that he too began to seek out a community with whom he could worship.
A friend of mine points out to me regularly that, we make time for what is important to us, that the excuse “I don’t have time for that” is just that…an excuse or even worse, a failure to acknowledge that the activity in question just isn’t a priority.
Even before I read Life Together, I knew that my priority is worshipping and learning with my community any chance that I get. After reading Life Together, I am even more convinced that community means life together, warts and all, failures and successes, sorrow and joy. But it is really hard to live a life together if you don’t show up.
Consider showing up for your community, whatever that might be.