I read an article over the weekend on the Aquila Report that disturbed me. The article warned of a disturbing trend that we will see in our churches in 2015:
“What is this one trend? It’s that your most committed people will attend worship services less frequently than ever in 2015. [Emphasis added.]
“What does this mean? Simply that people who use[d] to attend 4 times a month may only attend 3 times a month. Members who used to come twice a month will only come once a month.”
Maybe you don’t think that is a big deal. Well that disturbs me too.
The three main reasons given for missing church on a regular basis are kid’s sports, travel for work, and internet “church.” I would have expected to read that maybe children’s illnesses were the number one reason. There are some instances where we just can’t make it to church and we are sad to miss. But the study referred to in this article reveals a trend that even the most committed people just don’t think we need to be there every week.
Maybe we have a distorted view of our needs. Maybe there are those that think they have enough in the tank for every other Sunday. They even serve at some capacity, so they are “doing their part.” Check it off the list.
I can tell you one thing. No matter how many Sundays we step through those doors, I doubt the pastor is going to say, “What are you doing here? You don’t need to be here! Isn’t there a game you could be at or wouldn’t you be more useful to others somewhere else? Don’t you have some home renovations you could be doing?” I can go out on a limb and say that none of us play hooky because we really didn’t need to be there. And it isn’t just a need. We are called.
I was thinking about this article while I was sitting under the preached Word this Sunday. The sermon text was Matt. 3:11-17, the baptism of Jesus. Jesus travels about 70 miles from Galilee to show up and be baptized to hear John the Baptist pretty much ask, “Why are you here?” Of coarse, John had been announcing his impending arrival beforehand, but even he is shocked to see the Christ willingly joining the others to receive his baptism.
He had no sin. He needed no repentance. He was right with God.
There is much worth sharing from my pastor’s sermon, but I couldn’t help but meditate on his comment about how willingly Jesus responded to the call to fulfill his mission “now” (v.15). And do you know what else is disturbing? The illustration my pastor used as he painted a picture of the Sinless Savior, the Suffering Servant, the Chosen One, Beloved Son entering the water for baptism is disturbing.
Have you ever heard the expression, “Don’t toss out the baby with the bath water”? It comes from back in the day when everyone shared the same bath water. The oldest would wash off his filth from all his labors, then the next born, and the next…you can imagine the color of the water by the time it’s baby’s turn. You might not even see him in all that grime and accidentally throw him out with the bath water.
That’s the picture our pastor gave us of the Jordan, full of the filth of the sin of all those who have come for baptism. That is the water Jesus entered for baptism. In baptism, the spotless Holy One associated himself with all those filthy sinners, with all of us, his church. And he inaugurated his work on our behalf. Willingly. He makes us clean. Amazingly, as John the Baptist was horrified at the prospect, Jesus responded that it was fitting, now, in this moment, to fulfill all righteousness.
And the heavens were opened.
As Pastor Vandelden reflected on the magnificence of God’s character being displayed in the willing obedience of the Son, I thought about how we are blessed and honored to come to the covenant renewal ceremony every week and be given Christ in Word and sacrament. Vandelden pointed out that the Father also looks on us through his own good pleasure in and through the Son. As the Father rejoiced in the Son and is well pleased, he “will rejoice over you with gladness” (Zech. 3:17). What a joy it was to hear God’s Word preached. What an honor is to gather and worship the Triune God with his covenant community.
Sometimes I’m convinced that the spiritual warfare is the thickest in the Byrd house on Sunday mornings. It doesn’t matter how early I rise, how lovely the music I play is to set the mood, or how wonderful the breakfast may be, we all seem to run into a special kind of crazy trying to all be accounted for in the car by precisely 8:30 AM. By that time I have cracked enough to challenge my worth to walk through those doors to meet with holy people and approach the living God in worship. I am reminded that because of Christ, I may come. I am called to come. And although we may be traveling in a Traverse that is now conglomerated with five different attitude problems, I am so thankful that the Son was willing.
*Originally published on January 20, 2015.