Exodus 36:1-7, 38:22-31 February 11, 2018
As Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and toward the Promised Land, it seemed that he had a problem. Moses was doing all the work. The rest of Israel was along for the ride, soaking up the blessings that God had for them—and complaining when they didn’t think God had provided enough—and ignoring the fact that it was only God’s goodness that kept them alive. Moses struggled with getting Israel to respond to God’s outpouring of love and grace with a heartfelt love for God. He struggled with how to get Israel invested in worshipping God. He struggled with how to make Israel realize that they were God’s chosen people.
God explained to Moses that the way to do that was to ask Israel to contribute to the building of the Tabernacle. That along with the work of the Holy Spirit would make them invested in their worship of God.
We have a similar problem today. We have changed from being a contributing society to being a consumer society. People have become observers and customers, rather than participants and investors. Let me give you some examples of the difference: Investors participate in the activities of the church and contribute to the church’s success; consumers observe what is going on in church to see if the church’s programs are designed for them. Investors know they are a part of something bigger; that the church is there for more than a weekly show. Consumers are there for the feeling they get as the church feeds them. Investors know they are co-owners of the church and that the success of the church depends on their participation. Consumers are customers of the church and are just as happy going to a different church if their needs are not met. Investors are committed for the long haul. They will stay with the church as it goes through its natural cycle of good times and hard times. Consumers come and go as the times change.
There are several reasons for this change. Some of them are the result of changes in society and I believe others are due to changes in the church.
We are a more mobile society. For many people it is no longer possible to attend the church where we grew up, the church where our traditions and our families reside. As we move to new churches, we are reluctant to get involved since we know that we will be moving soon. Mobility means that the loyalty to any one place is weakened and we become satisfied to simply observe.
Today we have many options for church. Within a five mile radius of Andrew Chapel there are at least 18 other churches. Each one has a different personality and a different set of activities and beliefs. If we are not fulfilled or loved at one, we move to another at will.
We have many competing interests. Church is no longer the center of our community. For many it is not even the center of our Sabbath. Worship now competes with sports, leisure time, recovery from an extended work week, and many other activities. Attendance at church is no longer a social priority.
But the church is also responsible. Many churches have focused on numerical growth over spiritual growth. They are oriented on the attractiveness of their facilities and the impact of the “show” of their worship instead of focusing on building relationships with each other and with God. We have turned inward to provide for the comfort—both physical and theological—of our current attendees rather than reaching out to invite new brothers and sisters in Christ and to minister to the least of God’s children. People feel free to move from church to church for a better “show”. Some even become disillusioned about the role of the church and leave altogether to look for their life’s purpose elsewhere.
It’s important to remember that each new person who comes to this church comes as a consumer. They are here to see if Andrew Chapel fits their needs for worship and community. That is natural and is not necessarily a bad thing. Our job as the Andrew Chapel Church Family is to help our guests move from being consumers to being investors. To do that we need to do a few things consistently:
We need to stay invested in God by teaching, preaching, and modeling the whole truth of the Gospel. This means that we need to proclaim both the justice of God and the Grace of God. God’s justice as revealed in the Old and New Testaments gives us the standard for our behavior and shows us how far short we are when we are measured by that standard. But if all we do is proclaim God’s Justice we proclaim a gospel of despair since whatever we do we cannot measure up. On the other hand, God’s grace reminds us that, “God loves us and there’s nothing we can do about it.” And it reminds us that God’s desire is for all people to be saved. God’s grace gives us the good news; but if all we proclaim is Grace, we cheapen the grace to a point that it is meaningless. Only by preaching justice along with grace does grace become a true Gospel.
We need to stay invested in the world by looking into our community and doing our best to bring healing and comfort to those in need. We need to identify and address incidents and systems of social injustice to help our communities become truly good places to live. This is how we let the light of Christ shine into the world through us.
We need to remain more invested in people than we are in facilities and traditions. Each person in our church comes with needs that only God can address. We need be a place where people can come to God with those needs without fear of judgement from others. We need to show God’s love to all who enter our doors, as we remember that judgement and justice belong to God alone.
Finally, we need to provide a place where people can participate with a purpose. All people want to feel that they are making a difference in the world. We need to invite people, both church attendees and non-attendees to help us as we work to nurture each other and as we take the Gospel to the world.
We all have to choose whether we will be merely involved or whether we will invest in God’s Kingdom. As you consider the question, remember John’s Gospel 3:16 (NRSV), “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” God is invested in loving us. Thank God! Amen.