Shouldn’t I Say Something?

Further thoughts on when and how to engage in meaningful conversation about stuff that matters with someone who you love.  Our scriptures for the day included Proverbs 27:5-6 and Colossians 3:1-17.

 

Perhaps you were here last week, and you heard me preach against publicly shaming other people for what you perceive to be moral failures on their part. I said that we were called to imitate Jesus, who resisted the invitations he constantly received to pile on and point fingers at those who had fallen.

That sermon made sense, at least to some of you. I know that because a few of you said things like, “Thanks for the reminder, Dave,” or “I need to go home and think about my own dirty laundry before I go looking through someone else’s…” I am glad for such feedback.

However, the message was incomplete. Sometimes, you have to say something. Sometimes, you see someone engaged in a behavior, a relationship, that is just wrong. Perhaps it is causing harm or pain to someone else. Maybe it’s self-destructive. At any rate, I don’t want anyone to think, “But wait – did Pastor Dave say we weren’t supposed to say anything?

No, that’s not what I said – or at least, not what I meant to say. As our reading from Proverbs implies, sometimes friendship requires difficult conversation. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is to stop pretending that everything is ok and to go ahead and name what is wrong and bring it into the light.

How do we do that? There are many models in scripture; I’d like to look at Colossians 3 as one guide for having difficult conversations.

The first thing that we want to consider is the fact that this part of the Bible is attributed to the Apostle Paul – a man who by all accounts had an incredible track record for irritating other people. He was accused of being a hot-head with a quick temper. I might suggest that at least some of what is written here in Colossians 3 is written after some serious self-reflection.

When it’s time to say something, Paul writes, we need to start by remembering who and where we are. We belong to Christ. We are located with him, or in him. Our primary identity, says Paul, is that of “Christian.” He reminds us to live into our baptisms each and every moment.

OK, that sounds good, but how do we do that? Well, we clean house. We put to death the things that are not right within us. We get rid of pride, lies, anger, and greed. We need to do some serious self-reflection: if I feel compelled to talk with you about something that you are doing, it had best not be because I am envious of you. For instance, if I am secretly jealous of how much money you have, I’m probably not the person who ought to sit down and talk with you about the importance of tithing. Someone else’s attempt to engage you in conversation about the way that you treat your wife ought not to be related to the ways that that person is feeling intensely lonely. Do you see: if the only reason I want to talk with you about some supposed “sin” in your life is because I’m jealous of you for it, or because I need to feel superior to you because of it – then I’m no friend of yours.

I can only approach you in the humility that is born of knowing that I, like you, am a forgiven sinner. I have died to any notion of my own moral superiority. I can only approach you as one who has stripped away all pretense.

But Paul goes on to say that I dare not approach you naked (a bit of advice for which we can all be grateful this morning). No, he says, after I allow all of my own delusions and self-righteousness and self-importance to be stripped away; after I own all of my own baggage, then I am free to put on what Christ gives to me: I can be clothed in compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.

I’d like to say just a few words about one of those words, “compassion”. It’s a compound word that comes from two roots: pata, meaning “to suffer”, and cum, meaning “with”. We approach each other in compassion.

I think what that means is that unless you have received a specific call from God to be a prophet sent to publicly unmask someone else’s sin, then that’s not your job. The normative thing is for you and I to suffer with those who struggle, not to point out all the places where they are screwed up. Instead, I look to you and I think, “Wow, that must hurt to carry that kind of load… I wonder what has happened to bring you to the point where this was the best choice you could make…

Is your friend in a broken sexual relationship, or hiding in a web of lies, or somehow being engulfed by the darkness? If so, you do not have the right to saunter into that person’s life and turn on the big old Truth Light, point your fingers, and say, “You’re welcome” just before you walk out of the room.

No, you are called to have compassion – to suffer with that person. To look for the pain in her life and to enter into the pain. When you’ve done that, then you can speak the truth in love.

When you’ve come to that person in a profound awareness not only of your deep sinfulness but this other person’s ambiguity, confusion, or pain, then you are prepared to love like Christ and to forgive like Christ.

And when we’ve gotten that far, then, according to verse 16, we can teach and admonish one another in all wisdom. In fact, Paul says, you probably don’t have the right to address a brother or sister’s brokenness unless you are able to sing together.

And, for the record, I know what this sounds like. This sounds like old Pastor Dave is about to get all “Kum ba Yah” on you. This sounds corny. It sounds fake.

I get it. And if you see a child being harmed, or someone being attacked, or some grave danger, then you need to step in and stop that from happening. Sometimes, there’s no time for singing.

But can we, who bear the name of the body of Christ, seek to love each other enough to be friends? Can we care enough more about each other than we care about being right, or about winning the argument?

This morning, we are going to commission the Cross Trainers ministry staff. Let me direct a few words to them by way of example.

TruthInLoveYou guys know that you are about to embark on a full summer program. There will be a number of long, hot days ahead. If you do not know this now, you will by this time next week: sinfulness is not limited to specific age categories. These little angels who will fill our building tomorrow? They can be tough. They can be mean. They can be terribly obnoxious.

And whenever it strikes you just how tough, mean, and obnoxious they can be, your first temptation will be to show them how tough, mean and obnoxious you can be. You’ll say to yourself, “OK, self, it’s time to show them who’s boss.” You will want to take charge. You will want to unleash the power of your voice, your intellect, your presence on them. You will want to lay down the law.

But I’m here to ask you to work a little harder when that happens, and don’t worry so much about laying down the law as about laying down the love.

Your goal this summer is not to run a precision camp populated only by impeccably behaved children who will sit quietly in classrooms because they are afraid of you.

Your goal is to help some beautiful and flawed little children learn something about what it means to fall in love with Jesus. The only real hope that any of these kids have of surviving some of the horrors through which our world has already put them is if they get a glimpse of Jesus.

Some of the kids you’ll meet have an amazingly great grasp on that already. But a lot of them? They’ve never seen Jesus. They’ve never begun to even imagine someone like Jesus… But they’ll see you.

So right now, this morning, in the quietness of this room… Right now, before those kids irritate you, or offend you, or disappoint you in some way – I want to ask you to decide to love them. Love them anyway. Love those kids. Love that neighbor. Approach them as God in Christ has approached you.

It’s been said that people care what you know when they know that you care. Brennan Manning once said, “How I treat a brother or sister from day to day, how I react to the sin-scarred wino on the street, how I respond to interruptions from people I dislike, how I deal with normal people in their normal confusion on a normal day may be a better indication of my reverence for life than the antiabortion sticker on the bumper of my car.”

Don’t bumper-sticker people. Love them.

Some day – hopefully, a long time from now – you’ll be invited to come into a room and look at a few photos of me. Then you’ll take me out to a field somewhere and throw dirt in my face and come back to this building and eat cheesy potatoes and talk about how it’s too bad that I had to die like that.

And if I did it right, then there will be at least a couple people here who will come sort of grudgingly. If you get them talking, they might say something like, “You know, I didn’t agree with that guy. In fact, I thought he was a real knucklehead some times. But you know what? I think that he loved me.”

If the person you seek to correct is sure that you love them as Christ has loved you, then you have a chance to be heard as you come alongside them. If people are convinced that you love them, we might just have less screaming and more singing. Singing! Thanks be to God for that. Amen.

What About THEM?!?!

The second Sunday in June God’s people in Crafton Heights sat with Luke 13:1-9 and Isaiah 55:1-11 as we considered what Jesus did when people wanted him to publicly denounce those people who were somehow considered more sinful than the rest of “our team”.

 

Ripley'sWhen I was a kid, one of my favorite diversions was Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. These cartoons and books provided me with hours of entertainment, as each panel portrayed some incredible or horrific depiction of humanity. Many in our culture have found their own curiosity stoked by the tabloid papers, or by “news feeds” that point to salacious details about some celebrity’s life. And of course, there is now an entire industry based on “reality entertainment”, and our culture has been exposed to more information about the lives of people like the Duggar Family and the Jenner and Kardashian families than I ever wanted to know.

I mean, seriously. I have friends who are being hunted down in South Sudan because they talk about Jesus; in the amount of time you’ll spend in worship this morning, close to 25 children under the age of five around the world will die, largely from preventable causes like diarrhea, malaria, or pneumonia; there are dozens of kids in this neighborhood who are crying out for mentors and authentic relationships… All this is true, and yet so many of my acquaintances will say, “Yes, but did you see what THAT dude did?”

I can’t tell you how many messages I’ve gotten from fellow pastors and “concerned Christians” who want to know what I’m going to preach about Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner. My honest and weary response has been, “I’m not interested in preaching about that in the slightest.”

However, for some reason this text from Luke 13 has crept into my heart and consciousness in the past few weeks. So I’m not going to preach about any celebrity, but I would like to talk about Jesus for a few moments.

Pontius Pilate, unknown artist, Italian 16th century

Pontius Pilate, unknown artist, Italian 16th century

Apparently, the Roman Governor in Palestine, whose name was Pontius Pilate, had brutally murdered a few folks from Galilee while they were in the act of worshiping God. One of the things that “everybody knew” back in that time was that if you are bad, bad things happen to you; and if you are good, good things happen to you. I think that’s what Facebook users today call “Karma”. Folks in that time came to believe that you get what you deserve.

It’s not a huge leap to go from thinking, “if you are bad, bad things will happen” to thinking, “well, if something bad happened to you, you must be a bad person”. “What did HE do to deserve this?” can be transformed into “Oooooh, I wonder WHAT he did to deserve THIS?” very quickly.

So Jesus’ hearers grab a headline and say, “Wow, those people from Galilee must have been pretty awful, huh? I mean, what happened there was terrible, Jesus. What did THEY do?”

Jesus and the Pharisees

Jesus and the Pharisees

And Jesus pointed to the next headline in their news feed and said, “Yeah, what about those folks killed in the earthquake? They must have been pretty bad people too, right?” And as his crowd begins to shake their heads, he interrupts himself, saying, “No! That’s now how it works. Life is uncertain. You are going to die. The question is, what will you do between now and when you die?”

Do you remember that time when a bunch of people came to Jesus in a hurry to get him to point out how sinful and evil someone else was, and Jesus was like, “Totally! I mean, that guy is going to BURN! God is so angry with him!” Do you remember that time?

No, of course you don’t, because it never happened. Every time someone came to Jesus in a huff about someone else, Jesus instructed people to take a good look at their own lives. Whether it was the man who was born blind or the woman who was caught in the act of adultery or the crooked tax collector named Zacchaeus or the “sinful woman” who poured out her oil on Jesus…in every case, Jesus refuses to shame them publicly. If you can find a place in the Gospels where Jesus piles on someone for some moral failing, please show it to me, because I can’t.

In our reading for today, Jesus tells his hearers, “Listen, don’t you worry about THEM. Instead, you worry about you. You have some serious repenting to do.”

Repent. Isn’t that a churchy word? I mean, seriously, who else uses that word any more? You hear the word “repent” and you figure you’re going to get a sermon on how you ought to feel badly about what you did, or sorry for what you said. When we say “repent” these days, we pretty much nod our heads and say, “oh, yes, sure. I’m sorry. I slipped up there. I repent.”

But when the prophets, and John the Baptist, and Jesus used the word “repent”, they meant it to be a fundamental turning. The Greek word, metanoia, means to change direction, it is a total change of mindset and practice. It means that we are converted from one way of living to a different way.

IMG_0546If you drive by Cumberland Street you’ll see that I have a new look on my front porch. It’s the second time I’ve rebuilt that porch. When I did it ten or twelve years ago, I did it wrong. It was not sealed properly, and so no matter what I did, the boards shed paint in big, ugly strips. Every year, I’d feel bad about how ugly it looked, and repaint it. And every year, the porch got uglier – because the structure was bad.

So this year, I didn’t repaint. I repented. I took down what was poorly-made and replaced it with something better. I had to fundamentally alter the reality of the porch in order to make it functional. When I treat you poorly, or scoff at someone else, or dishonor God’s intentions for the world and then say, “Oh, yeah, my bad…”, and then shrug and walk away – that’s repainting. Repenting is when I ask the carpenter from Nazareth to change my framework so I’m not likely to cause that kind of harm in the future. The prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus – they didn’t want us to feel badly about the ways we’d messed up. They wanted us to become so dissatisfied with the unhealthy ways in which we were living that we asked God to help us re-align our lives from the inside out. That is repentance.

And Jesus elaborates his call for repentance with a parable about a man who had a fig tree that was not productive. His gardener talked him into giving it a little more time. Now, while sometimes it’s difficult to assign specific meaning to parables, I think that there are several clues here that stand out.

The landowner stands for God the Father, the one who created and tends to and rules over all things.

  The Vinedresser and the Fig Tree, 1886-1894, James Tissot

The Vinedresser and the Fig Tree, 1886-1894, James Tissot

Throughout scripture, the prophets and teachers often compared the people of God or the nation of Israel to a fig tree. When Jesus told a Jewish audience about a wealthy and powerful man who owned a fig tree, they would have assumed right away that this was a story about God and his relationship to his people.

Now, about this fig tree. Where was it? In a vineyard. What do you expect to find in a vineyard? Vines. Not trees. Yet for some reason, it pleased the landowner to plant a fig tree in the middle of his vineyard.

It’s important to remember that this man’s identity is not bound up in growing figs. He doesn’t have to have a fig tree; he wants to have a fig tree.

People of God, you, and me, and the church…we are not God’s job. We are not some duty to which he attends each day because he feels obliged. God has caused this world, these people, this church to be here because he wanted us to be here. For some reason, God the Father finds joy and satisfaction in the idea of you and of me. That’s important to remember because sometimes we talk about grace and love as if it’s an idea that came to God after we got into the story a little bit. No – it’s there from the very start. This? This is here because God thought it would be cool.

But the problem is, things are not the way that the owner intended. There are no figs on the fig tree. There is no joy, no fruit. And so he decides to get rid of it. He calls the gardener – the vinedresser – to remove the tree.

And in this parable, the Vinedresser is clearly God the Son, Jesus of Nazareth. How can I be so sure of this? I know because of what the vinedresser says: “Leave it alone, sir. Let me take care of it.”

“Leave it alone.” “Let it be.” In Greek, the word is aphes. It means, fundamentally, “forgive.” “Forgive this fig tree for not bearing fruit. Let me tend to it, nurture it, and enrich it.” That’s what the vinedresser says, right?

And the reason I know that Jesus is the vinedresser is because eleven chapters later, when he is hanging on the cross, suffocating and bleeding out because of all the terrible things that religious people did to him in the name of God, Jesus lifted up his head and spoke to his Father and said, “Father, aphes – forgive them, for they know not what they do.” It’s the same exact word said by the same exact person for the same exact reason.

Most of the time, most of the world and indeed most of us live under the perception that we are doing all right. Oh, don’t get me wrong – we’re not perfect – not by any stretch, but at least we’re not nearly as bad as those people. They disgust me. I mean, I may have my quirks, but I’m not as twisted as them.

And then Jesus shows up, reminding me that my own little world is so fragile, my own heart is so twisted, my own morality is so narrow and self serving…and then he reminds me that I am headed for death, too, no matter how much better I am than those people.

And then Jesus – this same Jesus, this beautiful Jesus, offers to come to me in my unfruitfulness, in my sinfulness, in my death, and he says, “I will become death for you. In fact, I will nurture you, I will tend you, I will feed you in my own death.”

Robert Capon has written more powerfully about this than I could ever hope to, so let me simply give you some of his words here:

The Vinedresser who on the cross said “aphes” to his Lord and Father comes to us with his own body dug deep by nails and spears, and his own being made dung by his death, and he sends our roots resurrection. He does not come to see if we are good: he comes to disturb the caked conventions by which we pretend to be good. He does not come to see if we are sorry: he knows our repentance isn’t worth the hot air we put into it. He does not come to count anything…he comes only to forgive. For free. For nothing. On no basis, because like the fig tree, we are too far gone to have a basis…We are saved gratis, by grace. We do nothing and we deserve nothing; it is all, absolutely and without qualification, one huge, hilarious gift.

All because there is indeed a Vinedresser. I can love Jesus…I don’t know about his Father. The only thing I can say about God the Father is that he’s lucky to have such a lovable Son. Sometimes I think that if I had to go by his track record instead of just taking Jesus’ word for his good character, I wouldn’t give him the time of day. And I don’t know about the Holy Spirit either. So much hot air has been let off in his name that if Jesus hadn’t said he was sending him, I’d write him off too. But Jesus I can love. He does everything, I do nothing; I just trust him. It is a nifty arrangement, and for a deadbeat like me, it is the only one that can possibly work. As long as I am in him, I bear fruit. As long as his death feeds my roots, I will never be cut down.[1]

Do you see what I mean? When that Vinedresser, that Jesus, comes to me and says that I am rooted in him, I can’t stop to look at the tabloids or the Entertainment Network and try to judge those people.

Am I saying that God does not care about them, who they are, what they say, what they do? No – I’m not saying that at all.

What I am saying is that I am bound to follow Jesus’ lead and that I will not pile on anyone publicly. Does God have a word for the Jenners, the Kardashians, the Duggars? You can bet that he does. Only they are not here. I’m not their pastor. I’m not their friend. There is no point in talking about them this morning. Do you have questions about your life? Do you want to come and talk with me about where God is speaking to your heart? Would you like to explore what repentance and conversion and bearing fruit looks like for you? Man, I am all over that. Come in. Let’s talk. About you. Not them.

For some reason, the Father delights in you, and the Son died to nurture you, and the Spirit lives in you. Live into your God-ordained purpose of bearing fruit in a world that is starving. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1]  Robert Farrar Capon, The Parables of Grace (Eerdmans, 1988, p98).

After the Fireworks

Sunday, May 31 many of our sisters and brothers in faith were contemplating the mysteries of Trinity Sunday.  At Crafton Heights, we held on to the notion of Pentecost a little longer, and I wondered what life was like for folks after the big displays of God’s power.  Our scriptures included I Kings 19:9-18 and Acts 2:42-47

Think about a time you were in the middle of something – doing a job or working on a project, the only thing you wanted was to stop doing that thing. Have you ever felt as though what you really wanted was to quit whatever you were doing, but for whatever reason, you just couldn’t?

If that’s the case, then you can really identify with the story of Elijah. We’ve only read a portion of his story this morning, but let me tell you that he is THE prophet of God in the Old Testament. There are no books that bear his name, but Elijah is the one to whom people are looking when they want to know what the Messiah will be like. Elijah is HUGE in the Old Testament.

Elijah on Horeb, by Sieger Köder (German, 1925-2015)

Elijah on Horeb, by Sieger Köder (German, 1925-2015)

In our reading, we meet Elijah as he’s fresh from the biggest victory of his prophetic career – and that’s saying something. He’s been at Mount Carmel, where he’s challenged the pagan-worshipping leaders of Israel to a prophetic duel. There were 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah who were defeated by the power of the Lord. Elijah presided at a mass conversion of the Israelites back to the way of the Lord. God’s power was displayed in a mighty fashion. It was amazing.

And then the Queen of Israel finds out about it, and she sends Elijah a death threat. He throws up his hands and heads for the wilderness. He tries to quit his job as a prophet – he asks God to take his life. He’s burnt out. Take a look at Elijah here – he sounds like he is dealing with a classic case of depression.

He brings his complaint to God, and he seems to forget everything that’s just happened. “I alone am left,” he says. He overlooks the mass conversions, the incredible demonstrations of God’s power. “They want to kill me,” he says.

And God says to him, “I’m coming. Go out and stand before me.” But Elijah doesn’t do it! He stays hiding in the cave. And God unleashes some incredible fireworks – there is rock-splitting wind, there’s an earthquake, there’s a tremendous fire. But what does Elijah do? Nothing! He’s still hiding in the cave. The fireworks don’t impress him. “I’ve seen it,” he says. “I know the tricks. I just want to quit. I’m all alone, and I want to die.”

After the fireworks, there’s a silence and a calm — and that’s enough to draw Elijah from the cave. But look at him. He’s still hiding – wrapping himself in his scarf, hiding his face. He’s still miserable – he repeats the exact same speech to the Lord. He’s unchanged by the very appearance of God!

Have you ever been depressed and someone has tried to cheer you up? Someone has tried to talk you out of it? Doesn’t work very well, does it? Look at what God does with Elijah. He listens to the little speech. He doesn’t argue with the Prophet. But he doesn’t let him quit, either. He gives Elijah a new mission – to anoint the kings of Aram and Judah. He gives Elijah a new partner – Elisha. He promises that there are at least 7000 faithful servants who have not bowed and worshipped the idols. Now you could say that God not only doesn’t let Elijah quit – he puts him on a committee! But I prefer to say that God shows Elijah his place among the people of God. He reminds him of the fact that he belongs to God – and to God’s people.

Now, if we flip ahead to the New Testament reading, you’ll see that there are fireworks here, too. Last week we spent the Sabbath remembering all that happened on the day of Pentecost. There were tongues of flame resting on the heads of the followers of Jesus. People were given the gift of speaking in new languages. Peter preaches a powerful sermon, and more than 3000 people are converted that day. And Luke could have stopped the story there, but he didn’t.

We Are All One in Jesus Christ, by Soichi Watanabe, (Japanese, 2009)

We Are All One in Jesus Christ, by Soichi Watanabe, (Japanese, 2009)

Luke goes on to tell us that after the fireworks, those who believed in Jesus were regularly gathering for teaching, fellowship, shared meals, and prayer. And what happened is that God used this time after the fireworks to change the church. What had been a group of a couple of dozen followers of Jesus who were scared to death slowly changed into a community of vigorous believers who found their identity as being the People of God. They came together for teaching, fellowship, shared meals, and prayer — and found that God had transformed them into the Body of Christ. After the fireworks of Pentecost had gone off, that Body continued to be together. They continued in faithfulness, even when in the days after that outpouring of the Spirit their leaders are arrested and jailed. They continued to meet together, to dwell together, and share life together.

So what? What is the application for those of us who are seeking to be faithful Christians two thousand years later?

Is it just me, or did many of you come into this room because of, or after, the fireworks? I know, you weren’t up on the mountain and you didn’t live through the windstorm or the earthquake or the firestorm; I know you didn’t all of a sudden start speaking in other languages. But you’ve seen fireworks, all right.

Some of you are here because you had a baby, once upon a time, and you figured that God’s hand was in that and you ought to figure out what it was all about. Some of you are here because a marriage started, and you wanted to start if off right. Others of you got here because a marriage ended, and you were looking for God’s presence in the midst of that firestorm. I think it’s safe to say that there are a lot of us who are here because of the fireworks.

The question is this: are you in the room, or are you in the family of God? Are you a part of the furniture, or are you a part of the body of Christ?

For a while, we’ve been easing out of the “high holy days” of Lent and Easter. Pentecost marked the last big holiday in the church for a long time. From here on in, we’re in “ordinary time”. Time that is given to us to discover what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ as we go through the ordinariness of our lives. I would suggest this morning that one of the core truths of scripture is that consistent investment with and involvement in the body of Christ is essential for faithful living.

What does that mean? Well, it means that being here is important. That it’s important for us to be together in worship, as we are now; it’s important for us to be together in study, as we were during FaithBuilders and as many of us are at other points in the week; it’s important for us to be together in the business and administration of the congregation in venues such as the Preschool Board or the Congregational Life committee.

Now, beloved, I know that these things are true:

I know that your living room sofa is far more comfortable than these pews ever will be. And I’m pretty sure that your TV room is a lot cooler than this old building is right now. You can get a better preacher by turning on the television or checking out YouTube. Our music here isn’t bad, but let’s be honest. If it’s sheer talent and performance you’re after, you’d be better off visiting iTunes.

Some years ago, I left this building and was convinced that we had just witnessed a profound worship event. Everything just clicked, if you know what I mean. There was special music. The sermon was good. Prayer time was open and honest. There was a crowd here. You know the kind of service I mean… So a friend of mine was unable to be here. I gave him the recording and said, “wow, you really missed something special. Check this out.” The next day he called me back and I asked him what he thought. His first reaction was, “the soloist was very flat on the special music, and the choir was out of synch. Also, you mumbled quite a bit on the sermon. And it was too long.”

I was convinced it was a worship service that changed lives. I still believe that. But he wasn’t here to experience it. He didn’t see the face of the soloist as she led us in worship. He couldn’t see the faces of the people listening to the choir. He didn’t see the Jr. High students paying attention to the sermon. He had the recording, but he wasn’t in worship.

There’s something about being together with a group of believers that makes all the difference in the world. You could find more comfortable seats, better preaching, and more quality music in other places, but you’d miss something essential to faithful living — you’d miss being able to participate in this part of the body of Christ.

“Uh, Hello, Dave! You’re preaching to the choir, now. Take a look, Pastor. We are here.”

Yes, you are, but now you take a look. I’m not really preaching to the whole choir, am I? There are some empty seats. There are people missing.

And the world – and our culture – says, “Hey, it’s their choice. They know how to get here. I’m not going to be pushy or nagging.” The culture would say to us, “You know, they were here last week. Can’t expect too much. After all, summer is just beginning…or it’s softball season… or I’ve got people coming in from out of town…”

Yet the Word of God tells us that we are one body. That we belong to Christ, and that we belong to each other. Who is not here this morning? Why aren’t they here? And do you realize that we are diminished by their absence?

Oh, it’s not about the numbers. Sure, our numbers would be higher if everyone was here. But it’s much more important than that. Scripture tells us that people who belong to Christ and to each other spend time together doing things like teaching, and fellowshipping, and sharing meals, and praying. And if a significant number of us start behaving as though our presence or absence here is insignificant, then we’ll lose our ability to really behave as the body of Christ. And if that happens, then we’ll find that we are not effective in the ministry to which the Lord calls us. And if that happens, we will find that we succumb to the same depression and alienation that threatened Elijah’s ministry.

So what am I asking you to do, my friends? Two simple things. First, I want to encourage you to be here in worship each week. If you’re not traveling and you’re not ill, then you ought to be here. Because worship is different than anything else in your life. Going out to brunch or playing in a sports league or getting a head start on your shopping are all things that you do. Worship is where you find out who you are. The culture will tell you that it’s one item on the menu of choices that you’ll make this week. And I’m telling you that if you lose your connection with the Body of Christ, none of your other connections will have much relevance or impact. So will you be here – not for me only, but for you, and for those other members of the body in which you share.

The second thing I’d like you to do is to look for the people who aren’t here, and tell them that you miss them. I’m not asking you to call people and harangue them for not showing up. I’m not asking you to play detective and try to find out why they’ve missed the last two weeks. I’m simply asking you to reach out to one of your fellow disciples and say, “Gee, I missed you at worship today. Are you all right? You’re in my thoughts.” In fact, why not take a peek around during the offertory and see who’s here. Then pull out your phone and send a text to someone saying, “I’m here, and I don’t see you here. I wish you were here.”

Tell them that you miss them. Because we do, you know. We are called to an incredible mission. We are given a great responsibility. And we can’t do it without everyone being represented. It is one we share as the body of Christ in this place at this time. Right now, you might not even know why you miss that person; but I pray you’ll have a chance to discover her gift or his ministry as they have the opportunity to share it here, with the rest of the disciples whom God has called in this place. Be here. And look for those who aren’t. Amen.