Cyberbrethren has posted a new story about a church in St. Louis that canceled services on Sunday morning in order to do service in the community. There is nothing earth shattering in the video except one more completely mistaken idea about what we do on Sunday morning.
In comments you hear one woman suggest that putting a few cookies in a baggie and giving it to someone is more concrete and real than just "praying for them." In another snippet you hear something to the effect that making a difference is what we are here for and not simply going to church.
So what have we learned? Cookies are more powerful than prayer and that Sunday morning makes no difference. Alas, we might take comfort that this congregation was not a Lutheran one -- except that there are Lutheran ones who feel like this might be a good idea and there are Lutherans who might voice their faith in exactly the same way we hear prayer and cookies compared.
I am going to skip over the prayer and cookies thing for now and comment only on the idea that what we do on Sunday morning makes no real difference in this world or for this life -- at least not in comparison to other forms of worship or the good works that we do in the world. It is a sad reality when what we do on Sunday morning as the Church is seen as something which makes no difference. It betrays a false understanding of why we gather, of what the Lord does among us, and of the import of what He does for this mortal life.
I have often heard people complain that nothing changed after worship -- that they were expecting a lightning bolt moment of revelation or understanding or spiritual clarity and all they got was sins forgiven and the pledge of eternal life. I feel so bad for them -- not because they came away empty handed but because what was in their hands was of such little value to them. It is for this reason that folks fall away from the faith and from their lives within the congregation. It is for this reason that people shop churches looking for an experience new and different because they have grown tired and bored with the liturgy and the means of grace. It is for this reason that congregation ditch the liturgy in favor of something inspiring, entertaining, and relevant (at least as the average non-church person might define them).
The problem is not with what the liturgy and the means of grace offer but how we value them. We live in a world less of sin and its death than disorders of which we are not at fault and limits upon our happiness and quality and quantity of life which can be enlarged through spirituality, science, and technology. We live in a world where forgiveness is less important than self-realization, where our identity flows more from getting what we want than changing the values resident in our hearts. We live in a world where a few moments of do gooding fulfills our desire for meaningfulness, relevance, and spirituality -- more than the Word of God proclaimed and taught and the Sacrament of the Altar eaten and drunk in faith. We live in a world where people would quickly exchange the Divine Service of the God who comes to His people to bestow upon them His gifts for the feeling that I made a difference today.
This is a wake up call. Our people are not so sure why they come or should come to Church on Sunday morning. They have been taught by the values of the world around them that cookies are better than prayer and a lunch for a homeless shelter is the rough equivalent of feasting upon the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. They have been taught that good works are the easy things you can do once in a blue moon, without really inconveniencing yourself or your life, and then you can get back to your me-centered life without guilt -- you make a difference and you did enough good to bypass the guilt path for a while.
I am not advocating a choice between Service and service -- they can and must go together and it is in the Service of God's House that we are equipped for the service to the world which God bids us do in His name. I am not suggesting that Sunday morning without this service to neighbor is enough for us to barely get by the minimal expectations or requirements of God. I am not saying that we should not be making lunch at the homeless shelter. I am not saying we need to yell at people for being so shallow as to believe cookies and prayer are roughly equal or that there is something wrong with them because they have coming to worship for so long and they still do not know why they are there.
I am saying we who call ourselves Pastors have much to account for to God and much to do in preaching and teaching so that our people do not fall victim to such fallacies and false ideas. I am saying that we need to speak about and model to our people the value of the Sunday gathering around the Word and Table of the Lord, what we receive there and what that grace is given for. I am saying that we need to equip our people to know what it is they receive in the means of grace on Sunday morning, so that they might accurately value this grace given in Word and Sacrament, and that it might bear the fruit of good works in their lives because it has called them, gathered them in, enlightened them, and sanctified them to be members of Christ's body by baptism and faith.