The preacher last Sunday talked about Jesus as the bread of life – though he didn’t entirely explain what he meant by Jesus as the bread of life. He went from talking about signs to talking about bread to talking about Jesus as the bread of life. Because he ended up talking about evangelism, I think his point was about Jesus as the source of life’s meaning. The sermon was engaging, entertaining, and friendly, but it didn’t really take me anywhere. It didn’t carry me to the throne of grace. It didn’t set me before the cross. It didn’t carry me from myself into love of God and neighbor. It was more like a pat on the hand and a gentle reminder that Jesus is important.
It was okay. It was good to be in worship. I was baptized in this building as an infant. This was where my father had been catechized and confirmed. Here we worshipped whenever we were home with our extended family. From here my grandfather was buried and from here we laid my grandmother to rest. At my grandfather’s funeral I held my young cousin, Jim, in my arms to comfort him – and last year, from this pulpit, I spoke at his own funeral. This year I preached his father’s funeral, my uncle Dan.
I have history here, and history preaches. It reminds me of the steadfast love of God whose arms reach across generations. I have known this altar, these pews, this pulpit for a long time – and God has known us. Standing in line for communion is full of the feeling of connection.
Things have changed over the years, of course. These are living communities. The transept where we sat in hidden isolation for my Grandfather’s funeral is now open. A new altar has been made and brought forward to be the table around which we gather. They have moved the altar rail down to the main level and created a richer space for the baptismal font. But the old reredos is there with its curtained entrance for the pastors (a secret and mysterious passage to young children), and the stained glass windows still shine – though those on the west side are now lighted artificially as the building grew on its small city block.
It used to be necessary to send one of us grandchildren ahead to pick up my grandmother and get her to church early so she could get her pew, on the aisle, two-thirds of the way up on the right side. Woe to us if anyone was already in her seat. Now, however, we sit further back and to the left. We are 8:30 people and have been since ever I can remember.
The message this building and its memories proclaim is important.
Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
We need to hear, as the psalmist prays:
You set the earth on its foundations,
so that it shall never be shaken.
And it is important to experience worship as warm and friendly, hospitable to all. As Paul reminds us:
Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
But I need more than a friendly worship experience. I need more than the reminder of the presence of God and the importance of Jesus. I need to hear Jesus. I need that word that comes at me like a curveball that makes me jump out of the way. I need that word that shakes the ground and makes me see differently. I need more than comfort; I need the promise and summons of the kingdom. I need to be overwhelmed by the grace that compels me to live that grace
Is not my word like fire, says the Lord,
and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?