In the 18th century, the Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote about, “O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us! It wad frae mony a blunder free us.” Applying Burns’ insight, it is sometimes interesting to see ourselves (Christians) as others (atheists) see us. The Freedom From Religion Foundation gives an annual award – the “Emperor has No Clothes Award” – celebrating “plain speaking” on the shortcomings of religion by public figures. In 2009, Ron Reagan (the President’s son) gave a speech in accepting this award. Talking about his early years Reagan stated,
“I did grow up in a religious household, it’s true, but we weren’t very religious. We were Presbyterian, part of the great 19th century religious revival, here in the United States. I didn’t know any of that at the time. I just knew my parents went to a Presbyterian church. … We went to the Bel Air Presbyterian Church, actually. … There were homilies, there were benedictions, there were genuflections, there were all sorts of things that we had to do, a little musical interlude and then the hymns would come. I was thinking: This is a hell of an imposition on a Sunday morning. For God’s sake, you know, two hours we’ve got to do this? This is crazy!”
For an inquisitive youth, this lead to a dialogue between Reagan and his father.
So I asked my father, “Why do we have to go to church in the first place? I thought God was everywhere.” And he said, “Well” — he’d get very kind of avuncular with you — “Well, you know, God says, wherever two or more shall gather, there shall I be.”
I thought, “OK, so if you’re alone, and in a real jam, what — God can’t hear you anymore? What does that mean?” This seemed to be a god of pretty picayune rules, frankly. There’ve got to be more than two of you, and you’ve got to be in this building over here? Come on, he was supposed to be everywhere, right? That’s not the way you’d expect a grand, omniscient deity to behave.
Let me take a shot at answering Ron Reagan’s question to his father. First it’s good to have some background from the Gospel according to John. John writes:
The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory. … Jesus declard, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. … Did I not tell you that if you believed in me you would see the Glory of God?”
There was an excitement in Christ, and a thrill at being a part of his ministry. This was momentarily interrupted by the sorrow of his crucifixion and death, but punctuated with the world’s greatest exclamation point in his resurrection. After seeing Christ on Easter morning, John tells us that:
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: I have seen the Lord! And she told them that he had sad these things to her.
The thing about good news is that it is meant to be shared. When we are filled with a joy, that joy is not complete until it is shared with another. Think for a moment on an event in your life that brought you elation. What did you do after the event? Most likely you found your friends and loved ones and told them your great news. Worship on Sunday mornings is (or should be) like that.
“No,” I might respond to young Ron, “you don’t have to go to church on Sunday mornings. And of course God hears you at all times – even when you’re alone and scared. But if you were the Beatles would you want to only perform in a rehearsal hall, or would you want to share your musical gift with others? If you were Sandy Koufax, would you want to pitch in your back yard, or as part of a major league team? If you were Ernest Hemingway, would you want your manuscripts to pile up unopened in your study, or would you want others to read them?”
Worship can (or should) be like that. Don’t worry if you don’t have something obvious to share: God has already provided that. The important part is in sharing and being with other believers.
How does our own worship measure up to this standard? Would our excitement be obvious to an observer? Ron Reagan has let us know that he was watching, and he was taking notes. Let’s take care that when others see us they see the expression of joy that Christ has planted in our lives, rather than a “hell of an imposition.” In that way we can be certain that our Faith will Matter.