There was never any Golden Age for the church. From the beginning there have been problems galore. You’ll get that in any organization that is made up of sinful human beings. Groucho Marx once said, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.” Well, that’s the church. We’ll let anyone in because that’s what Jesus told us to do, going out to the street corners, inviting in all who will come.
A Christian congregation is like no other human organization on earth. We do many of the same things that are done in other organizations; elect leaders, meet to talk over the business of the organization, agree and disagree, serve those in need, get together for meals or coffee, maintain a building, hire staff, raise funds, and manage a budget. But the main reason that we exist is to simply meet together at least once a week in God’s name, and to hear a Word for us from that God. Think about that. We are given the opportunity to keep in touch with God: you know, God, who created this whole universe, the One who holds in his hand your next heartbeat. That God has something he wants you to hear, and he invites you to bring your thoughts and needs to Him in worship and prayer. Even that can become routine and boring, but our faith is the only thing in our lives that expands our possibilities beyond this brief life in this temporary little world. Therefore, once a week we gather together to remind ourselves of God and of eternity. As a pastor, I am privileged to be the one up front week after week to speak that Word. It is not my Word, but the Word of the Almighty Creator God; explained, expanded upon, and illustrated by me, yes, but it is God’s Word, and we depend on the Holy Spirit to work in and through that Word.
A while back I saw a little girl wearing a pink shirt which said, “It’s all about me.” Wow! Aren’t you already feeling sorry for her future husband? That is not a very good attitude to implant in a child’s mind, and it is the complete opposite of what the church is all about. Church is not all about me or you, and it’s not all about the old folks who are the foundation and financial backbone of the church, and it’s not about the youth who are the future of the church, and it’s not even all about the budget or the building. Rather, church is all about God and what God has to say to you.
Many years ago, on my first Sunday in a congregation, an elderly lady came over to greet me. After introducing herself, she said with a sneer, “I’ve been a member of this church for a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of you pastors come and go, and I know what you are like, and you are all the same. Welcome to ____ Lutheran.” I wasn’t sure what she meant by that, and the way she said it was a little scary. But I have to admit, part of what she said was true. Pastors are different in many ways, so she was wrong about that; but we do come and go. And we are all the same in that we are sinners like the rest of you; and we do come with our own mixed bag of strengths and weaknesses, gifts and quirks, skills and short-comings. But hopefully, along with all of those secondary, organizational things we have to do, we will, by the grace of God, also faithfully bring you a bit of God’s Word each week. It is indeed all about God.
That lady turned out to be a difficult one, but she was, at the same time, a faithful servant. She had a common trait found in many church members– she was difficult because she cared. She cared about her church and wanted things done right, and that’s a good thing. But right for her meant doing everything her way, and that’s not a good thing. But I learned from working with people like her to appreciate the care and the hard work behind their rough edges; and people like her need to learn to care and work in less difficult ways. And none of us ever get it completely right.
That is why we come to church, and that is why we begin each service with the confession of our sins and by hearing God’s word of forgiveness.
Matthew 22:1-3…8-10 — Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come… Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.”
1 Peter 2:9-10 — You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Petition from the Book of Common Prayer, Sunday morning ‘Prayers of the People’:
For this congregation, for those who are present, and for
those who are absent, that we may be delivered from
hardness of heart, and show forth your glory in all that we
do, we pray to you, O Lord.
The church is not the only sinful human institution with problems. With next year’s elections already dominating the news, here is one more Groucho Marx quote: