I find many persons anxious and afraid about the stability of their church and churches in general. Even secular media is devoting time and space to this fear and anxiety. Research indicates 4,000 plus USA churches close every year; 3.5 million persons “drop out”.
It is not pleasant to think of facilities and groups that one has adored and have blessed one to close. I recently did a Microsoft Satellite Pictorial visit on my computer to my hometown and discovered my elementary and high school has been demolished and replaced by the University School of Medicine! An adored place is no longer there! (Yes, with a computer one can type in an address and instantly “visit” it, in all 360°…magnified!)
Such change gives one an opportunity to re-evaluate the appropriateness of attachments to facilities. I recognized that the facility is not as important as that which I was taught in that facility. It laid the foundation for my continued learning, especially about life’s “key” of service to others, back then to my fellow students, teachers and community. My graduation certificate was not as important as the “learning” it represented.
Isn’t this true of churches? It is not the facility, its physical size, nor the number of congregants, but the experience of “learning” the importance of Jesus’ way of life of serving human NEEDS, by which we experience life’s intended completeness and satisfaction. Without this, neither a church facility nor its congregation matters! Church worship doesn’t matter unless it is both motivated by, and a celebration of, a personal spiritually invigorating experience of salvation to God’s intention.
Thus, if a church facility happens to cease housing a congregation it isn’t the saddest thing. The saddest thing is for people, who are born God’s “hosts” to lose their passion for that which they are the “host” of: observing others meeting needs and meeting needs themselves. The people of God don’t have to own their own facility. In fact, owning a facility can and does tempt its owners from their purpose of compassion for meeting the needs of persons. Church can become a building persons go to, rather than church being individuals who are temple “hosts” of God to experience joyous and peaceful fulfillment from serving others. Thus, gathered persons are motivated to gather to share having been with God.
So, indeed, congregants need not be anxious and fearful about facilities. Churches need to not focus on having enough money to survive, but on whether our behavior is compassionate enough to experience Jesus’ love. That will make us want to share one-to-one AND in groups, our personal experiences, worshipping “God with us!” Anxiety and fear fades; true Church doesn’t close! So?
Analysts are trying to UNRAVEL the reasons for the rising level of very public ethnic prejudice in America. Pro-white groups are marching without hoods. Public prejudice against ethnic groups is credited for electing politicians. Some credit goes to white Evangelicals who claim the Bible as an “inerrant” document that includes and excludes prejudice texts. But “inerrancy” is a human conclusion first made in the 19th century by persons who felt victimized by teachings of “established” or authorized churches: Catholic (in England it became the Church of England) and some subsequent European “birthed” churches (Lutheran, Presbyterian, etc.).
This Evangelical victimization historically began during the sweeping rise of individual democratic power. People were feeling victimized by the establishment’s authority; and with wider availability of evangelical printed resources, individuals were feeling FREE to elevate personal interpretations of Scripture. They saw Jesus like themselves “as a victim” of the authorized Temple theologians, resulting in his capital punishment. Jesus became a victim of human sin to please God, which even ancient Abraham rejected when told to kill his son to satisfy a victimizing image of God.
It appears many white Evangelicals today feel victimized and then blame others for their feeling powerless. This motivates them to vote for fellow victims and victimizers promising freedom. But we live under the “rule of law” and that isn’t a product of victimization, but of self-empowerment. The “rule of law” is a product of “the common consent of the governed.” This phrase “common consent” seems to be a crack that can “let in” victimization. Who are the “consenting governed”? The individual or is it the agreed upon adopted majority of individuals who comprise the “common consent”? Is it an individual who feels victimized and retaliates by victimizing others, verbally and/or violently, to gain control, or is it those under SELF-CONTROL by Holy attitudes of patience, kindness, generosity and gentleness? These attitudes are necessary to assure questioning an authority, even one’s own, to avoid becoming victim of oneself or of another! Remember, self-control began as a gift from God to our ancestors Adam and Eve! But each chose to feel victimized by the other’s influence rather than to use their Self-Control by the above Holy attitudes. To resist victimization by any person or by a thing that acts like a creepy crawling snake that lived to victimize other creatures, requires choosing empowerment by the above Holy attitudes, not the powerlessness of victimization!
Yes, the level of prejudice grows unless we use our God-given Self-Control of the above Holy attitudes, when we are tempted to feel victimized. Let us be so!
Last Sunday was Communion Sunday and by tradition we receive an offering at the exits for local benevolence needs. This is only one way we congregants express our commitment to commune with Jesus in the manner of his God’s image of SERVING humans in NEED. This Divine image, as you know, is the reason 1 John asserts that “God is love (the agape-type).” Agape is the Greek word for love meaning to serve needs. One only serves (as an employee or volunteer) to meet needs. So, God is need serving love and can be directly encountered when people are needy or meeting needs. Biblically, God’s design is for persons to achieve fulfillment by meeting needs. Any other form of “riches” can’t fulfill you! Perhaps another way makes you excited or happy like with a new car. But, only using that car to serve a neighbor or stranger in need of a ride can leave one with a lingering sense of joyous satisfaction for being a genuine fulfilled human (Galatians 5:22-23). God wants that because God made us to feel that satisfaction!
I remembered this about SERVING NEEDS when I read a recent editorial in The Christian Century magazine. It stated that contrary to many assumptions, “There is little evidence that low-income people don’t want to work.” My personal experience as a pastor makes me agree with the editorial. We congregants who donate to the Communion Benevolent Offering authorize the pastor to distribute those funds. As pastor I never distribute funds without it humbling me and without the weight of responsible discernment granted me.
the years I
have experienced two type persons who enter the office door or phone in with
requests. One type person wants
to work and always asks if there is any work they can do for some money. Many ask money for transportation
to get to work or money for a meal
until they do work for the day or
week to earn a paycheck. Usually persons who request help for rent, medicine
and food are working but the
unexpected occurs (which I help by cooperating with Fairfax County Social
Services whose professionals interview and follow them; or through ACCA or
through our Communion Benevolence). Another
type person wants a “handout” but always with a reason, such as hunger, a
meal, a cup of coffee (provided by you in the office), or motel room.
Remembering the opening paragraph about serving needs or working as essential
for human fulfillment, I’ve come to discern that persons who ask for work or to
get to work are still aware of the inner satisfaction from serving others.
But sadly those who are only concerned about money for the moment are so
injured by life’s addictions, mistreatments, etc. that my efforts to plant the serving
seed in their ground is too hard for it to drop roots and grow. My only option
is to take a risk, give some money to satisfy the only need with which they are
aware, and by doing so to reinforce my own human need for authenticity and our
church need to experience the reward God intended as authentic church through
me acting for you. I am sad that some people who enter our door asking for help
have lost the joy and peace of human fulfillment. But we must never give up on
serving persons of both levels of serving-needs awareness. Even Jesus didn’t
convert some people, including some religious persons who had lost their
authenticity of serving human needs. Sad, yet still needy! So?
What makes one’s existence worthwhile? Jesus seemed to think it has to do with that which one does during a storm. We are entering the hurricane season. Those are weather storms. Other storms are emotionally internal. Both storms expose human neediness or vulnerability.
My first reaction to being in need is to WANT someone to fix it. Last week I went to Suitland, MD to conduct a funeral. I Googled for directions. I chose the direction with which I was most familiar, around the beltway. I assumed the Woodrow Wilson Bridge would be open during the midday. I assumed the results of the previous day’s fatal accident would be removed. But when I got near, all traffic stopped still. So I turned to go through Alexandria to I-395 to find Pennsylvania Avenue, and turning south I could come at the funeral home from the opposite direction! But I never saw the sign for Pennsylvania Avenue! I became totally lost. Time for the funeral was clicking away. I asked two FedEx truck drivers for directions. I would remember the first two turns, but forget after that. I became more lost. I was desperate! How embarrassing. I started silently praying for God to take control of the car and rescue me. But God never “took the wheel.” I was going to be late for a funeral, something in 50 plus years as a pastor had never happened. Oh, my ego! Finally I stopped feeling sorry and mad at myself and I called the Funeral Home. I almost yelled, “Help Me!” That reminded me of the sermon text last week about the apostles yelling at Jesus to save them from the storm on Lake Galilee. The funeral director asked me to look around and tell him the street names I saw. He was familiar with the area and could picture exactly where I was, so that even when I missed a street turn, he re-routed me. Turned out I was only 7 minutes late. Oh, what a relief to remember neediness is human. A stranger served my human need, so I could serve his human need! “In giving I receive!”
Storms come and go. When his disciples woke him Jesus rebuked them for their lack of personal need meeting vital to a “faith” in God. Such “Faith” isn’t to make life easier and safer. “Faith” is about everyone being needy. Thus the only way to meet one’s own neediness is to meet other’s needs. In so doing, one’s own neediness is fulfilled. There is an often overlooked phrase in verse 36 that says there was an armada of boats full of people following Jesus when the storm struck. But the disciples forgot their need to serve to be served. Jesus was upset over their personal survival needs over service needs. I was more concerned about my stupidity and being late, until I let my neediness humble me and get control of serving the mourners arriving in other cars/boats. The change came when I chose Self-Control to reject my embarrassment at being late and only focused on meeting the grief-need arriving in their cars/boats. Need-meeting isn’t controlled by clocks! So?