Vegetables or Dessert?
I have an uncle who, as a child, was not a fan of vegetables, unless you count French Fries and somehow they just never seem to count. One night my grandmother told him that he couldn’t get up from the table until he ate his broccoli. For two hours he sat and stared at that broccoli, unable to bring himself to eat it. But eventually the broccoli disappeared and my uncle was set free from his table bondage.
Several days later the kitchen began to stink. A clean freak, my grandmother scoured the kitchen from top to bottom but the smell just kept getting worse. It wasn’t until several days later that my grandparents discovered that their son had hidden his broccoli underneath the table where additional table leaves could be added.
Many of us grew up with parents who, wanting the best for us, insisted that we eat our vegetables. “No dessert until you finish your vegetables” is a common dinner table refrain. I often ate vegetables out of a sense of guilt or coercion, but I always ate dessert because I wanted to!
The other day I was sitting in a coffee shop, looked up and saw a church member. She immediately lowered her gaze. I’m certain that if she had been a dog she would have put her tail between her legs. She walked up to me and said, “I’m so sorry that I haven’t been in church lately. I know I should go but I’ve been so busy.” Guilt dripped off of her like butter off hot peas.
I find it a bit odd that people often feel the need to apologize to me for their lack of church attendance. Do people think that somehow they’re doing me a personal favor by attending, or personally insulting me when they don’t? Do people think that I keep an attendance sheet on God’s behalf, or that God loves perfect attenders more than the “Cradle and Cross” crowd?
I wonder what would happen if we thought of “going to church” more like eating dessert and less like eating vegetables (I know…some of you love vegetable, but go with me here). I don’t mean to imply that worship attendance isn’t important, but I wonder how much richer the experience would be if we did it, not out of guilt but out of sheer pleasure. It is, as the old liturgy says, both our duty and our delight, but sometimes when duty does all the driving the journey isn’t terribly joyful. Guilt is, in my opinion, a miserable motivator in the long-haul.
The chairs were filled at our church on Easter weekend. They probably were at your church too. How many pastors and dutiful church members thought (or even said out loud) “I guess we won’t be seeing them again until Christmas?” I wonder if behind the humor lies a vegetable discipleship.
Easter is the proclamation of the good news that God’s love for us is unconditional. It isn’t dependent upon our church attendance. Worship attendance is a “get to” and not a “have to”. That’s what grace is all about. When it comes to following Jesus you really can have your cake and eat it too. It can even be carrot cake.
So, which is it for you…duty or delight? Or both? I’d be curious to know, so leave a comment.