It’s embarrassing how I act during Ohio State football games. Our dog, Zoey, runs up the stairs into our bedroom out of agonizing fear after my first terrifying outburst. It’s sad, really, that I am part of the problem with this massive obsession with sports, including oftentimes incredibly self-centered athletes who are, or one day will be, paid millions, some hundreds of millions of dollars in their career: hundreds of thousands in a single week, for one game. The argument is they’re being paid what they’re worth because of the corporate sponsorships, ticket sales, broadcasting rights, TV and radio spots, and economies for entire cities dependent on those huge crowds.
Then of course that should make us wonder about our public servants: police officers, fire-fighters, paramedics; not to mention teachers, social workers, and we could go on and on. What about their worth to our communities? Certainly they’re more valuable to the general welfare of people’s lives than any player on a field. Nevertheless, that’s the world we live in.
But then, as we gather here in a sanctuary on Sunday morning, in a place set aside for worshiping God, we have to wonder what is the church’s worth, not just for us, but for Baroda, for Bridgman, for Stevensville, St. Joe’s, Buchanan, Benton Harbor, all of Berrien County and beyond. What is St. John’s worth to them? When people drive by on Cleveland Avenue early in the morning on their way to work and they see the front of the church lit up by lights centered on the cross that hangs on the bricks, do they think that must be a nice church for the members who go there? Or do they take notice of the sign beaming with an announcement about a blood drive, and think that’s a church that actually makes an impact on my hometown?
The things we take for granted, the assumptions we make, the subconscious understandings of what a church is supposed to be goes a long way into how our lives are shaped around a community of faith. Are we here just for the official membership of St. John’s? Do we give our offerings so that we can have a pastor, an organist, an administrative assistant, heat and electricity, so that we can have worship on Sunday mornings; and then when needed for our families a place for a baptism, Confirmation, weddings, and funerals? Is our money almost like membership fees so that we’re guaranteed those essential services we need for our spiritual welfare? Or is the church meant to be worth much much more than that? Does St. John’s have a greater impact to make on people beyond these walls?
After all, the standards that Jesus lays out before us in the Gospel this morning are nearly impossible to live up to. I cannot, in good conscience, ask you to give absolutely everything you have to the poor. You have a family to support, your own health to care for, but perhaps that’s where the church comes in: to be the place and the people to provide the greatest ministry possible in following Jesus out into the world. We give the most of what we can together, so that an even greater impact can be made on the hungry with our food pantry donations, those in the trauma rooms at the hospital who desperately need blood to live, those who endure floods in the Carolinas and need our assistance through Lutheran Disaster Response.
In the end, our money, talents, and gifts were never meant to be kept to ourselves, to store up treasures on earth. They are not ours to begin with: it all belongs to God. And so it is with the church: the offerings we bring in, the food we collect, the people we gather for worship, are not to be kept to our own family of St. John’s. We must share them with the world. We give out of our church’s money to camps and foster homes as well as service projects for our youth and families to come together. We can’t keep St. John’s to ourselves. We have too much to offer. We have too much to give to Baroda, Bridgman, Stevensville, to all of Berrien County, and beyond. We can’t stop inside these walls.
If only we could be so obsessed with ministry as many in this country, myself included, are with sports. If only we could be so emotionally entrenched into the very calling of our Lord and Savior when He claimed us out of the waters of baptism to be the living disciples right now, not years ago when we were younger, not another day when we have more time: right now for the sake of our sisters and brothers in Christ here and beyond. If only we could be so overcome with passion in our own mission statement that’s printed on the cover of our bulletin every week: “Building the family of God by spreading the Word of God to all people.” We do it through our money. We do it through our gifts of time and talents. We’re set free to do those very sacrifices because of what Christ did for us. He made us alive together with Him on the cross and out of the empty tomb, and the Holy Spirit will never stop churning inside of us to make sure that Greatest News is never forgotten for all the people we meet in this life. That’s exactly what God had in mind with St. John’s and the church throughout the world. So thanks be to God that we get to be a part of it now and forevermore! Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Dennis Smith, Interim Pastor
Office: Tue - Fri: 9 a.m. - Noon