ONLY GOD CAN MAKE A CHURCH
Visitors who attend worship services often complain about feeling left out. Everybody seems to have a common agenda, but there is something esoteric about it. They wonder why the others who have come don't extend to them a formal greeting. Don't they know we're visitors? The answer is probably not. You are the victim of the illusion that everybody else "belongs" here. The person sitting next to you is most likely to have been a member here for less than ten years, and a good chance for less than five. They don't know who is new because they don't know who is old. Of course that's no reason not to greet them. Everyone has an interesting story, one you will never learn unless you introduce yourself. There's nothing to be afraid of. It might even prod that person into welcoming somebody else next time.
However, the church is not a social club. We are interested in our fellow members, but not for social reasons. We are all part of a body. The worship service is not about the body, it is about the Head. That is why we focus our attention on the chancel area. Here the Head of the Church meets us through the means of grace. Is that a new term to you? Well, the means of grace are the ductwork of the Holy Spirit to bring new life to us; they consist of God's Word and the Sacraments He instituted. As we look forward we can see three chief stations: the altar, the font, and the pulpit. Those are the instruments we use to access the Word and Sacraments. We are the members, so we look forward to the Head, Jesus Christ. Especially, we are here to remember His Incarnation, and the great salvation He brought to us by becoming man. We face the east because the rising sun is a symbol of the Second Coming of Jesus. He promised to return, so we look for Him as the watchers look for the dawn. He will end the night of sin and evil, and begin the morning of eternal life. Our particular church building is fortunate so that it points to the physical east. If we were across the street we would call the west end the east end because that's the way we would face. We don't sit around at tables looking at one another because we aren't here to see one another. We are here to see the Lord. Here we receive what we can find nowhere else. Men can no more make the church than they can make the world. Only God can make a Church.
Nor do we come to look at the pastor. It is true that the pastor has a very visible role in this process of spiritual feeding, but we no more come here to see the pastor than we go to a restaurant to see the waiter. We might stay away because of an obnoxious pastor, or we may be very comfortable with a pastor we're used to, but this is not the pastor's church, this is Christ's Church. We come before the altar because we need Jesus. Remember, we come here to get what we can get nowhere else. We do not get it from the other members. Although the pastor might place it in front of us, it isn't his to give. Jesus is meeting us through the means of grace. We come here for the Word and Sacraments that are gifts of our Savior. We expect to receive forgiveness, life, and salvation. The pastor cannot make the church. Only God can make a Church.
Never say that you do not have time for worship! Some people decide whether or not to attend divine service the same way they decide whether to go to a seminar or a lecture. They are treating divine things as if they were merely human. A seminar or a lecture are merely one person's notes. What we have here is holy. The Supper of Christ is a divine drama upon which the angels gaze in reverent awe. Is that what we cannot find time for? Whatever light, whatever love may reach people through this society, or any other society, is borrowed from Holy Mother Church. The Golden Rule is the doctrine of Jesus. Protection of life, liberty and property are simply ways of implementing the Ten Commandments. Secular attempts at institutionalizing good - such as the famous "human rights" we hear so much about today - are like the moon reflecting the light of the sun, which is a pale imitation, in fact, a very flawed imitation. When secular humanists try to establish human rights without God, that is like trying to get the moon to shine without the sun. It will come to naught because it will not be blessed. Society cannot make a church. Only God can make a Church, and He has. His truth, His compassion, and the victory of His death and resurrection are all in our midst as we gather here. It is true that the actual sacrifice of Jesus took place many years ago, but the atonement He made is for keeps. As we look at the altar we can practically hear St. John the Baptist saying, Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We can also reason, then, that the Lamb has redeemed us as individuals, and cleansed us in the Fountain of Life. He might not make us nice, but He does make us holy.
Now while we might not come here to look at one another, still we're glad that everybody came. We are also like the moon, only we know it. That bright love beams down on us. We cannot help but reflect it. We come to worship the Head, but we do it together as a group, rejoicing in the members as well. We reflect His joy by rejoicing in one another, especially in sharing the gifts we have been given for the common good. We publish a church directory to help members recognize one another. We publicize birthdays and anniversaries, announce when members or relatives are in the hospital, so that as St. Paul encourages us we rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Yes, I know social clubs have something like that, but we go a step further. We urge our members to admonish one another, to privately warn whoever is straying from the path of godliness, moving away from the light into the darkness. The pastor is called to do it in public, but everyone does this in private. We are not to gossip about it, nor to become cold and distant, nor to give anyone the silent treatment, nor worst of all, to send anonymous messages. Nothing is so cowardly and repulsive as anonymous criticism. Rather, we must reclaim all the erring in the Savior's name.
In the past few decades a movement has emerged claiming that the point of worship is to make people feel good. No. We are here to remember the incarnation of the Son of God, to receive forgiveness of sins, to be warned out of impenitence by the preaching of God's Law, to thirst for the Fountain of Life and then, by the Gospel, to drink from it. We baptize the convert and his offspring, we give the Body and Blood of Christ to the faithful that they may be satisfied with His grace. That is why we are here. We also praise His name, offer our petitions, and are encouraged to live according to the doctrine we believe, but primarily we are to be forgiven and restored. Feelings can come into it, but we cannot start with them. We must begin with the human will. Now interacting with the Law and the Gospel is often very moving. I would hope that everyone would be moved by the depth of God's love, and cheered by the height of his victory. Start, however, with the will and the intellect and holiness can grow into the feelings as well. Do these things in the right order, and we can accomplish them all. And the right order is first we receive what is good from God, then we reflect His goodness. AMEN.
~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross