Category Archives: 2012-08

Pastor’s Pen for August, 2012

And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  (Hebrews 10:24-25) According to a study that came out earlier this year, Vermont and New Hampshire are two of the least religious states in the country.  People in these parts seem to see the Church and what it stands for as pretty irrelevant to their lives.  Yes, they want a church to be married in and for a place to have their funeral, but for the rest of the time, the church seems pretty extraneous to the things that matter to them in life.  It’s not so much that they’re openly hostile toward the church, but just indifferent (or at least ambivalent). As I’ve listened to people’s comments about the church over the years, there are two major misconceptions that seem to be responsible for people’s avoidance of churches.  The first myth is: Getting involved in a church means that you have to go to worship every week.  It’s hard to know exactly where that idea came from, since there is nothing in the Bible to support it. When the Torah bids us to “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy,” it means much more than just attending a worship service.  Jesus never made it one of the criteria for faithful discipleship, and there’s no indication that he and his disciples attended services in the Temple or synagogue every Sabbath.  (And it’s certainly no secret that even the most dedicated church members often miss services for weeks or even months at a time!)  In other words, this myth seems to be a “straw man” – i.e. a flimsy excuse – used to justify one’s reluctance to change or to get involved or to stand up and be counted. The fact is that Sunday worship is not what the church is all about.  Attending worship once a week does not define the life of faith.  Christianity is a way of life that seeks to follow Jesus’ leadership every hour of the day, every day of the week – not just for an hour on Sunday.  It is a lifestyle that rejects the materialism, the violence, and the self-centeredness of our modern culture in favor of the healing, sacrificial, and reconciling values of Jesus.  It is a way of life that isn’t easy to practice.  It’s hard to resist the seductive influence of our secular world.  We can’t seem to ever get it quite right.  We fail to achieve his level of faithfulness to God over and over again.  Our own resources just aren’t enough, and we need to keep coming back, again and again, to strengthen our resolve, refocus our attention, and draw support and insight from others who also are trying to walk in Jesus’ ways.  It isn’t that Sunday worship has all the answers we need, but that in sharing our lives and our struggles with one another, we find the Spirit of Christ revealed in our midst, no matter what day of the week it happens to be. This leads us to the second myth that is subverting the life of the Church: The only thing that matters is what I believe in my heart.  This one is subtle, because our inner life obviously is important to the life of the Spirit, but only to the extent that it expresses itself outwardly in our behavior.  Private beliefs are only as good as the quality of life they enable us to live.  It’s not about our moral purity or about being good citizens, but about our ability to love enemies, embrace misfortunes, and offer healing to those who wound us.  Most of us find that our private beliefs aren’t enough to generate those qualities, but that we need abundant doses of God’s help to bring them into the light of day.  And in most cases, the help God sends our way comes through the broken, humble, ordinary lives of other people.  Without the support of a compassionate community of faith around us, our noblest beliefs are nothing more than pipe dreams and good intentions.  There can be no spiritual life without a spiritual community.   The “Church” isn’t just a building, and it isn’t just the people who gather on Sunday mornings.  The Church is the group of people whose lives are inextricably woven together by their commitment to follow Jesus through the twists and turns of daily life.  If we try to follow him individually, we tend to get distracted or to lose sight of him as he turns this way and that way to minister to people we don’t even see.  Only in the company of other disciples can we keep him constantly in view, and signal one another as to which way he’s headed now.  But watch out!  As he makes his way through this needy world of ours, he tends to move pretty quickly, so if you wait till Sunday, he may have left you completely in the dust.  And if you wait until Christmas or Easter, well . . . God help you! – Duane