In the Name...
One Sunday, a little boy was kneeling with his mother before the service started, and he began laughing. “Johnny,” his mother said, “Stop that.” “It’s okay, Mother,” the boy replied, “I just told God a joke and we’re laughing about it.”
Now what are we doing here today? It wasn't to hear that one, that's for sure. But, when you got up this morning did you stop and ask yourself - why am I going to church? I think it's a fair question because there isn't one of us - even me - who doesn't have a thousand things to do which have nothing to do with what we’re doing. In fact, we're probably all familiar with the thousand and one reasons people usually give for not going to church. The building's too old, or too new. Too hot or too cold. The music's too loud or too soft. The service is too long or too short. Or it's hunting season, fishing season, baseball season, football season, whatever. But, what are the positive reasons, the reasons for going? Are we as clear on those?
In religious architecture, a Christian worship building is patterned after a boat, in fact, that's the name given to the area where you are sitting - the nave - from the Latin “navis” - boat. We may have heard that before. And the reason is that theologically the church is a boat, it's a vessel in which we travel from one place to another. But, what kind of boat is it? There's a question.
Well, it's not a chartered pleasure craft. It's not something we hire to tool about aimlessly, dropping anchor here or there for a bit of sightseeing or fishing. It's a passenger vessel belonging to a shipping company and it has a schedule and destination. We buy the ticket, but, we don't set the course. Someone else has planned where we're going. That someone else is God. And the destination is what our Scriptures today called, "the day of the Lord". The day of the Lord. And getting there safely is really the one and only reason for coming to church.
For some years there's been a lot of talk about the decline of churches in America and Europe. Less than ten per cent of the population in Europe attends any kind of church, and even in America it's estimated that only 40% are really connected with a local congregation of some sort. And it's not so much because our culture has more distractions or is more secular - it's because we've forgotten why we have a church. We've forgotten the day of the Lord.
Do you remember the preacher, a few years ago, who said that the world would end that May? And, then, when it didn’t happen, he revised the date to October. Probably the first time that an end-of-the-world prediction was followed by “Have a great summer.”
You liked that one. Good. But, it's true, isn't it? The entire Bible, from the opening words "In the beginning..." points to the End. And that's the only way we can explain the history of the Church. Within the first fifty years it grew from a couple of hundred to a couple of hundred thousand and that despite the fact it was socially unpopular and officially discouraged. But, they went - because they recognized that they were going somewhere. They were going to the day of the Lord.
And that’s what’s behind the vitality of the churches in the so-called Third World. Commenting on the situation in his country, a bishop from that part of the world made this comment, "We have no good government. We have no good economy. We have no good society. But, we have the Church." We have the Church. We have the boat which is going somewhere despite the fact that everything around us is broken and falling apart. We have purpose and direction for our lives when we live surrounded by chaos, civil war, AIDS, Ebola, famine, corruption, and despair.
That is why the term "African missionary" no longer means people who travel to Africa, but, Africans who travel to us, because surrounded as we are by so much that is good we have become satisfied and preoccupied with what we have made. The Church is no longer all we have left to cling to. It's become an activity, one option among many, and we need reminding of the central role it should have in our lives.
There's a story about the great saint Anthony. He was once visited by some people who remarked upon the fact that he didn't have any fine furniture. "Where is your fine furniture?" he asked them. "At home, of course.” they replied, "We don't carry it when we travel." "Then remember," Anthony said, "that every day you live, you are travelling".
This is the spirit which has inspired Christians down the centuries and across the globe. Of course, there have been excesses. We can all cite examples of preachers and groups that try to predict the exact day and even the time of day when the End will come, or try to identify characters and prophecies in Revelation with current world leaders and events. Some of these attempts are laughable, at best. It's understandable though, that some Christians can get carried away because the Bible contains 318 references to Jesus' return so it's fair to say we do know He's coming and even though we shouldn't get carried away with details we should keep that fact in mind.
Indeed, the day of the Lord should be a living reality which informs and impacts everything we say and do every minute of our lives. A great preacher once said he tried to preach each Sunday as if there wouldn't be a next Sunday. So, how would we live today if we thought there wouldn't be a tomorrow? How would we treat others if we thought that tomorrow our conduct would be reviewed?
For Christ will be back - and not as the babe of Bethlehem. He will come as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, riding the clouds of heaven, surrounded by a galaxy of angels, and we will meet him, face to face. That is the destination at the end of this journey. That is why we are here today and it's really the only reason. Do we need any others?
Let us, then, as St. Paul said, encourage one other with these words. "The Lord himself.... will descend from heaven ...and we will be with the Lord forever."
So, welcome aboard the S.S. St. Paul. Let's not miss the boat.
In the Name....