Faith

Uncomfortable in Church

Recently I sat in an unfamiliar church, surrounded mostly by people I didn’t know, listening to a sermon preached by my oldest son. This experience wasn’t entirely new to me; I’d listened to my husband (who is not a pastor) preach a few times years ago, as he completed the requirements for his seminary degree. Sitting in those pews twenty years apart, I was more relaxed as a mother than as a wife—perhaps due to my greater age and experience, and perhaps because I no longer had several small children to wrangle as I listened.

By the time my son’s sermon began, I felt entirely at ease with the whole situation. The songs were familiar … the liturgy was familiar … there were no surprises here. I wasn’t even the least bit anxious about how my son would do, what he would say or wouldn’t say, or how he would say it. I felt calm, at peace, and ready to hear about King Saul and how he tried to kill David multiple times (1 Samuel 18:6-16 and 1 Samuel 19:8-16). It was a story I knew well. As my son stood at the pulpit to begin his sermon, I settled in and got comfortable, ready to listen.

All was fine until about fifteen minutes in. We’d been given the background of King Saul and his relationship with David—that Saul knew his (already shaky) kingship was threatened by David, his jealousy and hatred because of that threat, how he gave in to his anger and pride, and how he attempted to murder David, over and over, in order to rid himself of his “problem” and continue being king. So far, so good.

Then we were asked to think of ways in which we resemble Saul, and things took a turn that I’d never experienced before in church. It was not “comfortable” at all.

After a humorous illustration with a popular movie reference (laughter in the congregation, pleasant smiles all around), my son reminded us that in ways involving pride, jealousy, and anger (murder in our hearts, according to Jesus and John), we are just like Saul. Like Saul, we have rejected the true king of the universe because we want to retain kingship over our own lives. He then looked out over the congregation and began, in a calm and direct voice, to call people out by name. He started with the pastor.

“John, you crucified Christ. You put Christ on the cross. You wanted to be the king.”

“Rachel, you wanted to be the king. You put Christ on the cross.”

“Sean, you crucified Christ. You wanted to be the king.”

The congregational smiles and laughter quickly disappeared and suddenly you could hear a pin drop. These words took less than 20 seconds, but in my head they lasted longer. During that time my breathing became shallow and I was convicted of my sins in a way that I hadn’t experienced in a long time. Because even though I heard the names John, Rachel, and Sean, the name I heard in my heart and in my head was “Rebekah” … maybe even “Mom.”

“Rebekah, you crucified Christ. You put Christ on the cross. You wanted to be king.”

Yes, son. Indeed I did, and I admit I often still do. I want to be king of my life, ruler of my destiny, controller of my universe (and sometimes other people’s universes, as well).

“Rebekah, you crucified Christ. You put Christ on the cross. You wanted to be king.”

I felt the heavy conviction of my sins. Google’s dictionary tells me that “convicted” means: “having been declared guilty of a criminal offense by the verdict of a jury or the decision of a judge, such as ‘a convicted murderer.’”

I had been convicted. Convicted by God of my sin and convicted in my heart that I deserved exactly what the Bible says I deserve. No, this was not a comfortable morning at church.

Of course, just as God doesn’t leave us in our convicted state, the sermon didn’t end there. Five minutes later (and strangely enough, I heard what came next with grateful surprise as if I were hearing it for the very first time), from the pulpit came these words:

“John, Jesus died for you and your sins are forgiven.”

“Rachel, Jesus went to the cross for you and he forgives all your sins.”

“Sean, your sins are forgiven because Jesus died for you.”

(“Rebekah, Jesus died for you and your sins are forgiven. Your conviction has been erased. You didn’t deserve this pardon, you did nothing to earn it, but he loved you so much that he died in your place.”)

Because the truth is, the Good News of Jesus Christ means nothing without the reason to need good news in the first place. We have to get uncomfortable with our sin before we see a need for the gospel and why God himself sacrificed his only Son.

Coincidentally, the evening before I heard my son preach, a longtime friend said to my husband and me (in a completely different context), “Church shouldn’t be comfortable.” This comment led to an excellent discussion on several levels. And the very next day, I found myself uncomfortable in church, placed in that position by my own son, God bless him.

No, I was not comfortable in church that day. Because the Lord is just, and I know this, and yet still I want to be king and I continue to put Christ on the cross. But the sermon and the story don’t end there.  As I walked to my car, lyrics from “Before the Throne of God Above” sprang unbidden to my mind:

Because the sinless Savior died

My sinful soul is counted free

For God the Just is satisfied

To look on Him and pardon me

To look on Him and pardon me.

One with Himself I cannot die

My soul is purchased with His blood

My life is hid with Christ on high

With Christ, my Savior and my God

With Christ, my Savior and my God.

Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

3 thoughts on “Uncomfortable in Church

    1. Thank you! Yes, it was a little surreal that it was my son. But it was sort of him and not him, if that makes sense. It was a unique experience in so many ways. I’m so grateful for it and I won’t forget it.

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  1. Thank you again. Another thoughtful post. Thank you for sharing your gift of words. Our former pastor would name individuals in his sermons sometimes and it was always powerful.

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