"Excuse me, that's my seat, can you move over?" It's not the most welcoming way to be invited into a new worship space. Yet those words have been spoken in church. I know we joke about how we are creatures of habit and often sit in the same area, but to ask someone to move?
Another Sunday, I greeted two regular worshipers. "We had to come early this week because other people were in our seat last week," one said.
"Did you ask them to move?" I asked, holding my breath.
"Of course not, but we did come early this week."
Why does this happen? Is it because we know what we like? The right view, close to a speaker, near a fan, far from an air-conditioning vent. Comfort is great, but can it become a hindrance?
When I encouraged a non-churchgoing friend to attend worship, she responded: "Well, I fear I'll sit in someone's seat." The visitor was showing empathy for the regular worshiper's comfort. Now that blew me away. I never thought of it that way.
Jesus and his disciples never really had a chance to get comfortable. They were always on the move and in a new place. Maybe our church today has become too comfortable. Is that why so many don't attend worship? Is it that people don't know how to get into the club? Or they don't want to be part of a club and therefore worship on their own? Is the church seen as an institution, a building and Sunday morning worship — instead of church also existing as a mystical communion and servant?
It's undeniable that our comfortable living has impacted society's understanding of ecclesiology. Yet Scripture calls us to sell everything and give the money to the poor (Matthew 19:21); to take up the cross and follow (Matthew 10:38); and to continue to forgive and love in a broken world. This isn't easy or comfortable. But standing at the foot of the cross should shake the very foundation of our life.
In Luke 11:43, we hear: "Woe to you Pharisees! For you love to have the seat of honor (of comfort) in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces." Has our comfort led us to a place where we again act as Pharisees, keepers of the law, instead of livers of God's uniting, life-giving word?
What would Paul write today to the church of God in this new world? Are we still the original intended ecclesia (assembly)? Is God's Spirit still at work in the church? Of course, the answer is yes — the church is still a living entity. Yet for some reason a non-churchgoer understands a Christian's focus to be where we sit during worship — with the result that this person fears joining in the mystical communion because it might be your seat.
Maybe it's time for this church to stand at the foot of the cross, to stand at the empty tomb and show this world our life-giving God — not the beauty of our seat. How do you feel about where you sit? With whom will you share your seat?
© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers