The true marks of the Church and our life within that Church lie not with what we do but with what God has done. We so often forget this as we survey the broken landscape of Christianity and attempt to revitalize the dying congregations and dying structures of denominations. We presume that the marks of our livelihood and relevance lie with us and what we do and how others see us instead of placing them where they belong -- with the actions of God and the Word that makes them known.
We tell people to run to the cross but this is not a call to internalize or symbolize the work of God. We meet the cross where God has placed that cross in our midst through His Word and Sacraments. God will not deal with us apart from the external Word and Sacraments. He has said this; we do not confine Him but He has bound Himself to these means of grace.
The Church is where God calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies her -- where His Word speaks and His sacraments cleanse, absolve, and feed His own, that they may know Him and live under Him in His Kingdom now and forever. The means of grace are the holy things of God set in the midst of those whom He has declared holy. These are the holy things for the holy. Yet as long as treat the Church like a human institution made up of volunteers or people with shared interests or preferences, we will miss the holiness and fail to be the holy. It is the Lord's Church. He is holy and He can only be worshiped by those who worship Him in holiness and truth. He makes this possible. It is not the fruit of our own wills and desires but His act in making the once for all sacrifice accessible to us now through these means of grace.
Worship is in reality handling the holy. God does what is holy but He gives this holiness to us -- not only as the clothing of the baptized but as the things of God that feed and nourish and bring to completion what He began in us in that baptism. What we ought to be asking is not whether the folks who walk into the Church feel welcome but whether or not they meet the Holy One in His Holy Things there. For the truth is that we have become so casual and comfortable and informal about the things of God, that the people not yet of the Kingdom do not discern anything in the ordinary Christian church that suggests there is anything holy there or any holy activity going on or any holy things being bestowed. Have we surrendered the holy in pursuit of the earthly?
We are in a hurry to get it all done and over with so that we can go back to the things really important to us. Being in a hurry is wrong. Sunday morning is not a race against the clock. We meet in the Divine Service the eternal, the holy, and it cannot be rushed. The chronos has been suspended by the kairos. We leave our watches behind and we close our calendars not because these things are not important but because we have met something of greater importance in the place where God comes through Word and Sacrament.
Where is the ache of our hearts? Is it for the moment that will come and go or for the eternal that will always be? In love with the now, we have no desire for that which is to come and will never end. The markers of the Church are not our desires and preferences or even what we have done (or the earthly measures of success) but God's works delivered to us in the informal formality and relaxed dignity that has its focus upon what Christ has done and how the fruits of His redeeming work come to us, transform us, and direct us to the day whose sun will never set.