Faithful Friday – June 16th

Dear Disciple of Christ,

A few days ago (on Wednesday), the choir presented the story of the life and death of Jesus in music. (It will be presented again this Sunday at the 10:30am service). In the cantata we walked with Jesus as He went from the celebration of Palm Sunday, through the night of betrayal, His crucifixion and then… then we reflected on the event that changed the world; the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. From the looks of it, people in the world (non-disciples of Jesus) don’t quite know what to make of this celebration on the part of Jesus’ disciples. For those who find no value, truth or foundation for life in the Word of God, focusing on some Jewish rabbi from 2,000 years ago makes no sense at all. Hearing that some believe His death has a connection to their life seems foolish. Suggesting His death was sacrificial, for their actions today that are the opposite of God’s will (what Christians call, “sin”), is even offensive. With our “right” to be what we want, do what we want and have no group or individual stand in judgment over us, the idea that some “payment” is due for actions is just not what they want to hear.

But for disciples of Jesus who believe the Word is truth and that Jesus is the source of salvation and grace, this week and last Sunday makes the greatest difference in our lives now and eternally (another concept that seems foreign to those focused only on what they can achieve or experience from birth to death). Disciples are intent on each event, even each phrase of the story to grasp and “chew” on its meaning for them and the world. Each phrase is worthy of meditation and reflection. So we pause to consider the words of Jesus to Mary at the tomb, “Woman, whom do you seek?”

As I have the chance to meet with visitors to our church (at their first worship or in their homes if they’ve left their address), I try to find out as much information as I can about them in their visit. I ask simple things like, “How long have you been in Jacksonville? Where did you come from? What do you do for a living? Do you have any family in town? What is your church background?”  I share these questions so perhaps you can use some in your talking with them after church in fellowship time.  But one of my most crucial questions in the language of New Yorkers is, “What are you doing here?” Translated in Biblical language it is Jesus’ own words to Mary; “Whom do you seek?” 

It’s important to know those things because some visitors are not automatically seeking Jesus. There is so much going on in church that involves interactions between people, and there are so many activities a church community does that it may be they are there for some other reasons. I remember a woman after church saying to me (while I was still in my worship attire – alb, stole, cincture, cross – you know, the clothing of worship), “I’ve been “church shopping”. When I visited some other churches, one gave me a loaf of bread. Another gave me a plant. What are you going to give me?” Did I mention this conversation took place AFTER worship, after the distribution to her and all others the sacred body and blood of Jesus. This was AFTER I had delivered to her and others gathered that day, the great news about Jesus. This was AFTER the worshipers around her had prayed for her, asking that the Lord Himself would bring her Peace (we shared the “peace of the Lord” with her and with others that day). 

So it is fair to ask her why she was there. Really? All she was looking for was a plant or loaf of bread? Sometimes people are even more blatant in their search and will even tell me. I got a call once with a woman ostensibly interested in our faith community. She asked about service times and what the Lutheran service would be like (since she’d not been in one of our churches). After a friendly interchange for a while, before ending her call she got to the “real” reason for her possible visit to our church. “Do you have any eligible men at your church?” Hmmm? Eligible men? Really? But, I guess it’s better than searching in bars but it would likely affect what she “experienced” at worship (and perhaps where she sat). 

I’m not picking on “only” visitors. We have to do some “self” reflection as well. Whom do we seek at church? If we are seeking Jesus, we will likely find Him. We will see reminders of Him in the crosses located all over the sanctuary (every hymnal of ours has them on the outside and inside to make clear this is worship of the One who went to the cross for us). We have a huge cross in the front of our sanctuary lest we forget in whose name we gather. The liturgy itself is resplendent with words about Him and from Him. The meal is His meal delivered to His disciples from the night in which He was betrayed. From the first words of the service (Invocation) to the final (Benediction and dismissal – “Go in peace – serve the Lord”), it’s about Jesus.

And that is most crucial because sometimes we gather with other foci in mind. We come from challenging life situations with our minds scattered in many different directions. We think back on the week that tested our faith, wondering where God was in the midst of our real lives. We come into a community where our relationships are not perfect, where we wonder what that off-hand comment meant from one of our brothers or sisters at church the previous week. We wonder who it is sitting in “our” pew, who must be so new they aren’t aware we sit in the same seat each week. We look around to scan which baby is fussing so much to make it hard for us to concentrate on the words of grace coming from the pastor in the pulpit (instead of offering thanks to God for a young family that is working to have their child experience the very body of Christ in person). 

So it is Jesus’ question to each of us as we gather in worship or go into the world in His name. “Whom do we seek? Whom are we looking for? What are we doing here?” May the good Lord guide each of us so we seek Jesus, the One crucified for our sin and raised from the dead! Amen and Amen!!!

In His service,

Pastor Johnson

Scripture Readings for Friday June 16th

Psalm 100; Exodus 4:27-31; Acts 7:35-43