Pastor’s Pen May 2016
Dear Holy Trinity family,
With the presidential elections coming up, we’re hearing lots about polls and can expect to hear even more. So here’s a faith poll:
· What is the optimal time for God to take a divine vacation?
In other words: when would you be most comfortable with God being “off duty”? When wouldn’t you mind God being out-of-earshot?
You say, “There is no good time!”? I agree!
I sure don’t want God to be taking a vacation! Especially a vacation from caring for me!
So why would we ever take a vacation from God?
You know what I’m getting at. Summer arrives and worship attendance tanks. When I first interviewed at Holy Trinity I was naïve enough to ask if worship numbers increased over the summer, since Manasquan’s population does. The Call Committee members looked sheepishly at each other and confessed, “No. Attendance goes down.” 19 summers of experience since then have sadly proven them right.
Can you guess why? Here are some reasons I’ve heard. If you can add to these, please do!
· “I am/we are taking a break.” I’m sure people would be quick to add, “…taking a break from worship, not from God!” But how we will be refreshed by staying away? Why would we spiritually hold our breath all summer when we can “breathe easy” in worship? (The Holy Spirit is the breath of God, remember! Breathed into us when we hear the Word and dine on the Supper….) Why would we allow our souls to thirst in the dog days of summer when we can draw living water, as our Lord promised, from the inexhaustible well of God’s grace?
· Along the same lines: “I/we need a change of pace.” We all do! But there are ways to acknowledge and enjoy the lazy days of summer (especially at the Shore) other than eliminating worship. If the deep blue sea beckons: can you dock the boat a little early on Saturday and catch 5 p.m. worship? Can you cast off a little later on Sunday and catch 8:45 a.m. worship? Can you float around to your heart’s content – or sunbathe -- all weekend and join us at 7 a.m. on Wednesday instead? Or 7 p.m. on the first Wednesday of the month? After all, we offer options! (If you have a suggestion for another summer worship time or place, please let me know.)
To state the obvious: it wouldn’t go over big with the people we love if we announced, “I’m taking a break from you over the summer. I need a change of pace. The beach calls! The sea calls! The baseball diamond calls!” Why would that be a tough sell? Because we spend time with the people we love. We want to maximize, not minimize time with them. Absence does not make the heart fonder.
How do we “convince” God that we love God without worshiping God? “I can pray as well on the water or the golf course or in my own home as I can at church.” True, if our religion is privatized, just a “God and I” affair. A bedrock premise of Christianity, though, is that we are baptized into the Body of Christ, which is a human and a divine community. Jesus promised He would be present whenever two or more of us gather in His name. He said of the Eucharist, “Do this [all of you, together] to remember Me.” Fishing or golfing or sunbathing buddies can certainly pray together – but how often does that really happen? Yes, a beautiful sunrise or sunset turns our thoughts to God – and we may utter a silent thank you – but that doesn’t take much effort on our part, does it? A fleeting thought takes zero energy and no planning and is nothing compared to the loving effort required to mobilize and be present in worship.
· “Sunday School is over.” Frankly, if knowing about God doesn’t translate into actually knowing God, praising God, loving God, serving God, it doesn’t accomplish much. Martin Luther said, “Even the devil can quote Scripture.” He also said, “The devil can say, ‘There is a God.’ But the devil cannot say, ‘This is my God.’” Worshiping with the family is the most important form of Christian nurture there is for our children. We’re always teaching them– even when we’re silent. What are we teaching them when we take the summer off from worship?
Worship is necessary for the health of the soul. I don’t stop brushing my teeth, eating my vegetables, or looking both ways before I cross the street in the summer. Why would I stop worshiping? I don’t stop obeying traffic laws either. Why would I ignore the Lord’s command to honor the Lord’s Day? Why would I forget the standard of true love that He names? “If you love Me you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15) Besides for the commandment about remembering the Sabbath, the Lord commands us in both Hebrew and Christian Scripture to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” (Deuteronomy 6:5; Luke 10:27) That takes effort and conscious choice and courage/clarity of purpose to swim against the cultural stream. The rewards far outweigh the sacrifices, though!
Not that regularly worshiping is all about God. It’s about us, too! Where else would I turn in June, July or August for the cool relief that comes with forgiveness of my sins (which God gives me in the Sacrament of Holy Communion)? Where else would I turn for reinforcement of my faith, hope and love, than to the Word proclaimed and preached? Where else will I find inspiration, strength, courage, wisdom and joy to do the work God assigns each of us to, all of us to, every day of our lives, even in the summer??
Please don’t be a stranger this summer. Come home to worship. Weekly. Give God thanks for the gift of living at the beautiful Shore where there are so many glorious ways to celebrate summer. Don’t let the gifts distract you from the Giver. He’ll be there waiting for you – no vacations planned!
In Christ, Lord of all seasons,