The force of comfort

Amos 6:1-8
I’ve always thought we should get rid of padded pews in our sanctuaries.

The first pews, apparently, were uncomfortable concrete benches. They weren’t called pews. That term comes later to describe elevated benches. I love the parallel someone made to our modern skyboxes. Do you think people get all weird about their pew today? That’s in our religious DNA. Again, the skybox illustration is a good one because we aren’t talking about mere benches. People paid for their holy box seats and they became family heirlooms. The term “pew rights” tells you a lot.

It could be we can blame the sermon for this kind of attitude. Or Martin Luther. When teaching became the ultimate priority in worship, the homilies transformed into sermons. And the sermons got longer. Some sermons are still going on right now. Seminaries should train their preachers to know “the mind can only absorb what the posterior can handle.”

So, if you can’t quite the preacher, let’s at least make things comfortable.

I’ll agree with you that sermons don’t need to be hours long. There are occasions for that, of course. And there are people gifted with the ability to engage a group of people that long. Still, I’m not convinced our priority needs to be to make worship comfortable.

But we do need to be mindful of our comfort.

Comfort is a force. God commands the angels in Isaiah’s visions to offer comfort to the people of God. Why? Because that’s what they need as an assurance of God’s faithfulness. Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Comforter. Spirit, of course, does more than comfort. But she does stand true to the definition of paraclete, which is calling alongside.

The apostle Paul knew the Lord as “the God of all comfort.” He also wanted Christians to receive God’s comfort and share it with each other (2 Corinthians 1).

All that to say that comfort that comes from God is important and a gift. Comfort’s other force, however, isn’t so wonderful.

When comfort morphs into comfortability, that’s when things sour. That’s when the padded pews become a striking illustration. We concern ourselves more with being comfortable than being faithful. Of course, this kind of comfort goes beyond the Sunday morning worship hour. The prophets have a word for us then.

Being too comfortable can make you forget how much you need God. It has a way of lessening your desire to know God more. Why would you need to? You’re already comfortable. You sing differently, you eat differently and your priorities change when you’re too comfortable. Even worse, you treat other people as less than bearers of God’s image.

Let’s take comfort in the promises and gifts of God’s presence and salvation. But don’t get too comfortable. Or should I say, listen to those who are trying to make you a little more uncomfortable. 
Stay blessed…john

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John Fletcher

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