This is the devotion aired on KCNI Wednesday, December 2, 2020. Thanks to KCNI for airing weekday morning devotions from pastors of the Custer County Ministerial Association.
If our lives had soundtracks, what songs would be on them? Good morning, I’m Pastor Matt Fowler of Broken Bow United Methodist Church. This week, I’m diving into some top country songs of the last few years to explore the intersections of faith and life.
Today, we’re talking about another breakup song: Mitchell Tenpenny’s, “Can’t Go to Church.” Here’s the chorus:
“I’ll still do my prayin’ but I’ll do it somewhere else
Ain’t it crazy how an angel can drag a man through hell?
Oh, I know Sunday mornin’ she’ll come walkin’ through that door
So, Lord, forgive me
I can’t go to church anymore.”
In this song, Tenpenny laments the challenges of splitting apart lives that were once lived together. In other songs, the crooner might complain that he gets the truck and she gets the house and the dog. But in this song, he laments that she gets the church. A place they once shared now brings him too much pain, because he’ll see her there, sitting in the front row with someone else.
When relationships end, we do have to deal with splitting up things, with packing up boxes, and with going to places alone that we once went together. These things are challenging. And yet, as I hear this song, I think about some other ways going to church can be challenging.
For example, I think about someone whose loved one has died. Even if we’ve been regular, church-going, communal-worshipping people, going to church the week after a funeral is strange. Sometimes, it’s challenging to get beyond the memory that, “this place is the place I said my last goodbye to grandpa, or mom.” Perhaps this is natural, and many of us can move through these feelings and memories with time, by the grace of God. But let’s not diminish the difficulty of this situation.
Even worse, there are stories aplenty of people who’ve been hurt by the church, intentionally or unintentionally . We hear this critique frequently: “All the church wants is my money.” Likely, this is not true, but when we as the church have conveyed more care for the bottom line than the real life struggles of people, can we truly claim to be shaped most by love of God and love of neighbor? Likely, there are other times in which the church and its people have failed, or intentionally hurt others. Sometimes, we’ve called people “incompatible with God’s teaching.” Other times, we’ve been oblivious to people struggling with grief, depression, or loneliness.
Hearing Tenpenny’s song with these stories in my mind, I’m reminded of Jesus’ charge to his disciples to care for people, particularly the most vulnerable. In stark terms, shortly after arguing about who was the greatest, Jesus said, “As for whoever causes these little ones who believe in me to trip and fall into sin, it would be better for them to have a huge stone hung around their necks and to be thrown into the lake” (Mk 9:42). Here, in light of Tenpenny’s song, I wonder how we, as church – God’s body in the world – can faithfully be a community of healing and grace for those who say, “I can’t go to church” for any of the reasons I’ve mentioned. How can we be better, more life-giving, more compassionate and caring, more shaped by Jesus who calls us to welcome and nurture all?
Let’s pray: Jesus, help us see and hear our neighbors as you do. Guide us to be a people shaped by your transforming grace and forgiveness. May it be so.