Wednesday, May 7, 2014

When it feels like you don't have a role in the church


Did you ever wonder why God had His Word written down?  At first, when God began dealing with His people, there were very few who could read.  Moses had been raised to be a king in Egypt, so he had learned the arts of communication, but for most people it was necessary to rely on far better-developed memories than we have today.  The prophets were different.  God made sure that they could read and write.  Thus His Providence arranged for Moses to be educated as a prince.  God had already chosen him to write the Law.  Imagine what it must have been like to be Moses!   He held in his own hands the tablets of God's testimony.  Just as his people needed the Word, so do we, upon whom the end of the ages has come.  Satan constantly grows more clever with his deceptions.  How much we need a reliable source of unpoisoned waters.  His holy fountain is so rich that learned theologians can approach it with genuine thirst, yet the central message of salvation is so simple that unlearned folks can hear it and believe.

Such a wonderful treasure must be approached with care.  Solomon bids us to come to the services of God's house with the proper attitude.  Watch your step as you approach the gate of heaven.   It is a serious thing to come face to face with God.  He told us through the prophet Isaiah, He would give grace to all who tremble at my Word.  We who have been spoiled nearly all of our lives find little that ever makes us tremble, but here we stand before the One who knows the thoughts of our hearts.  This place is holy.   If He who dwells here marked iniquities, we could not stand.   I do not say this to frighten children.  Jesus certainly wants children around Him, but He wants them to be serious.  He wants them to avoid offending the assembled congregation, but He wants them in His house.

Now, what does that mean?  Does God really have a house?  Solomon had the building he built in mind, but it is no longer standing, nor is its successor, the Second Temple.   The Third Temple stands, destroyed and rebuilt in three days, but He is not a house.  God's house is any building where people gather to hear His Word, receive His Sacraments, get their sins forgiven, and profess the Christian faith.  While people are using any building that way, it is the house of God.  Gathered there are His saints, mixed with those who profess but do not believe.  God's kingdom of grace is hidden in the church, so the church is the earthly shadow of God's kingdom, containing true believers whose identity is known only to God, and unbelievers, as Jesus told us in His parable about the wheat and the tares.  The kingdom is invisible, hidden within the shadow institution, but the house of God is visible.  We can count on His Word and Sacraments appearing on a regular schedule, where penitent sinners can receive absolution, where there will be opportunities for collective prayer and thanksgiving, where a pastor will set before us the nutrition of the soul, but Solomon says more.  He warns us that just showing up bodily is not the same thing as worship.

He follows that with a rather harsh verse warning us not to offer the sacrifice of fools.   We need to approach God's house as ordinary people who need His grace.  We must not think of our collective prayer time as a ladder for our egos, to seem more important than the other worshippers.  Pastors are particularly vulnerable to that trap. To worship in an orderly way the pastor has to stand up in front, visible to all and slightly removed from the pack.  How easy it is to confuse his public role with private status, but the pastor who does that is offering the sacrifice of fools.  Perhaps he will become overbearing in his demands, or the other way, lax in Christian discipline.  He may seek popularity rather than steadfastness.  All of these are slippery slopes.  Laymen have a similar temptation, especially those who have public functions to perform.   How difficult it is to sit and listen!  Even children get upset when they miss a chance to ring the bells.  What a loss of prestige!   All of this is evidence of sin.  Those functions have to be performed, and human nature will naturally turn them into ego-boosters.  From there it is a short step to the sacrifice of fools.  Jesus is the only One who can keep us from that.  He made the one sacrifice that was not from folly.   His sacrifice atoned for the sins of the world.  His brought forgiveness, purification from sin, and peace with God.   He leads us by His sacrifice into God's house where we might receive His benefits.    The devil would like to distract us by making our own role seem more important, but Solomon's advice is that we simply listen.

True humility is a gift!  Jesus obeyed Mary and Joseph, honored a fallible emperor, and chose ordinary men as His disciples.  All of God's instruments are ordinary.  Your Bible may not be beautiful, or well-bound, but it is God's Word.  Your pastor is human, probably not all that handsome, not what most would call an important person, but He is God's representative to forgive your sins, encourage you, and feed your soul.  And the lay performers, even though they perform their functions by human right, the musicians, the ushers, the acolytes, etc., are probably not drawn from the ranks of the rich and famous, but in God's house they represent the church.  Children especially remember this -- when the ushers scold you and tell you to sit down, they are doing God's work.  And this external building, while it is only a pile of bricks, we have consecrated it for holy purposes, therefore we should hold it sacred.  We should only enter it when dressed modestly and respectfully. Remember, you are coming into the presence of Him who knows the thoughts of your heart. Let Him know how much this audience means to you by dressing for it.

When we listen, what should we hear?  We must hear the Law and the Gospel.  These are the meat and potatoes of Christian preaching, not so much knowledge for the head as nutrition for the soul.  The Law curbs our evil intentions, and reminds us that we are only righteous because of God's gift.  The Gospel tells us that God willingly gave this gift in His Son, therefore we can be certain of His mercy.   If the pastor does not preach both of these messages, or if he mixes them up by telling you that faith is a gift if you decide to have it, then either get another pastor or get another church.  How do you know that your pastor is preaching the Law and the Gospel?  First, if you don't listen, you'll never know.  If you do listen, then the Law will lead you to say in your heart, Enter not into judgment with Thy servant.  Then, the Gospel will assure you that Jesus died and rose again for you, because of that God pardons your offenses, declares you righteous, and gives you His Holy Spirit.

We dare not enter God's house with the consumer's attitude, looking for a good deal.  We come as beggars to a place where free food is being distributed.  We do not come to buy - that would be the sacrifice of fools, but to freely take.   We come to listen to the King of Kings.   AMEN.

by: Rev. Lloyd Gross

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