11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection November 19, 2017
Who Cares About Church? by: Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
Because we were missing so many members this past Sunday, November 12, I’ll place much of that sermon here:
This past Friday, November 10, after I had my tooth extracted, I stopped off at the Orland Park Barnes and Noble. I find myself relatively incapable of passing by a book store. Even though I had a mouth filled with cotton, I still stopped.
On my way out of the parking lot, I noticed a bumper sticker on the car in front of me. The sticker read: “Caution: My dog bites Democrats.” Really? Don’t we have enough hate already circulating in our society without adding more?
I believe three things are essential for a follower of Jesus Christ: conversion, conversation, church. Conversion and conversation are deeply tied together - even having the same root word. We need to talk to each other. But, even more importantly, we need to listen to each other. Listening is not something we do naturally. Listening takes considerable effort because we all like to hear ourselves talk - me, too!
Look at prayer: if we’re always talking at God in our prayers (“do not rattle on like the pagans” Matthew 6:7) we become unable to listen. Listening is not only the most important component of prayer, it’s the most important component of every conversation.
If I’m a good listener, what you and I have in common will be much more important than what you and I differ about. Here’s a quotation I came across this week: “If all that our friends and news sources require of us is a ‘right on’ or ‘that’s telling it like it is’ then we are in danger of becoming impenetrable to wisdom, immunized against the sensation of sympathy, resistant to the pleasure of being amused by our own ignorance, and closed to the joy of being wrong.”
Yet we do love to argue. We love to be right. We love to prove how ‘I‘m right’ and ‘You’re wrong!’” This happens every where. It happens in every church - because there is no such entity as a perfect church. It happens in every marriage because there is no such thing as a perfect marriage. It happens in every family because there is no such thing as a perfect family.
But we should keep in mind this truth from the monk, Thomas Merton: “It is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.” We need to cease defining ourselves by the things we’re against. We need to heal our deeply-ingrained propensity to be easily offended. Feelings of righteous indignation have seriously wounded the communal fabric of our society.
The English poet, W.H. Auden, wrote that Jesus’ largely unheeded call is to have a go at loving people. This largely unheeded call is even more difficult for those of us who are easily offended by others.
As the spiritual writer, Ronald Rolheiser, writes: “Church is not about a few like-minded persons getting together for mutual support. It’s about millions and millions of different kinds of people transcending their differences so to become a community beyond race, (beyond) gender, (beyond) ideology, (beyond) language, (beyond) background.”
Scripturally-speaking, the church is the Bride of Christ (see Revelation 19:6-8; 21:1-2). This is a very important analogy for us. And while we correctly proclaim Christ died for sinners, it’s more theologically correct to say that Christ died for his church.
And the church is, of course, not a building. The church is the people who come together in a building to be crafted, shaped, molded, into a community centered around Jesus Christ. “People don’t enter a church - the church enters a building.”
The church is beyond denominations. The church is, as our preaching text states, “God’s household.” (1 Timothy 3:15) The church is “the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” (same passage)
The church, however, doesn’t decide what the truth is. Otherwise we’re left with the danger and disaster of church inquisitions. Yet the church is the means by which truth reaches out into God’s world. And that truth, for us, is Jesus Christ.
Our worship, so very important, is meant to do one thing: open our collective hearts to the holiness of God and the workings of God’s Sacred Spirit. This happens within the context of communion/community.
This is why church attendance matters to a Christian. It’s so much more important than watching the Bears play the Packers. It’s so much more important than most of the ways many fritter away Sunday mornings. Church is where we become what we’re called to become in and through the Spirit of the Risen Christ.
(From Rolheiser) “An analogy can be helpful here: Imagine a woman, whom we shall call Betzy, who has a heart the size of the Grand Canyon. She is gracious, loving, devoid of prejudice, and with an understanding and empathy wide enough to encompass everything and everybody.
“Because she is so loving, she has a very wide variety of friends and one night she decides to have a party and invite them all. She rents a hall to hold everyone. And her guests begin to arrive. Men, women, and children show up, of every description, ideology, background, temperament, taste, social standing, and religion.
“A curious mix of persons fills the hall. Liberals and conservatives, fundamentalists and feminists, Promise Keepers and New Agers, clerics and anti-clerics, union presidents and bankers, animal rights activists and persons involved in the seal hunt, meat-eaters and militant vegetarians mingle with each other. Present is the president of the local pro-life association, but the president of pro-choice is also there.
“Given the mix, there is a fair amount of tension, but because Betzy is there, because she is in the center of the room, and because they respect who she is and what she stands for, everyone, for that night at least, is polite to one another and is enough engulfed in a certain spirit of tolerance, respect, decency, and charity to stretch them beyond how they would normally feel, think, and act...This is an image of the Christian church (gathered) around Jesus Christ.”
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor