OK — time for true confessions. I have to admit something to you. My church does all sorts of things for the community — Easter 4 Kids, Vacation Bible School, Soccer Camp, Christmas 4 Kids, and the list goes on. In fact, as I write this, we just presented our Fall Festival — free food, games, hayrides, pony rides, face painting, cakewalk, music and so much more. It’s a great party. But, I said I had to confess something: We had ulterior motives. We might have kind of tricked some of our guests. It’s not that we didn’t do what we advertised. It’s not that we made them pay or anything. But, the truth is, we didn’t just do that because we love a party (which we do).
We did all that, we did everything we could think of, just to get people to come, to get you, our neighbors to come — all so I could tell you how much God loves you, so you could feel that love of God and want to come back and find out more and keep growing in that love.
We wanted the opportunity for you to see how valuable a healthy relationship with God is for you — and not just for this life, but for forever. We wanted you to see how powerful time in God’s Word and worship is for your life.
In fact, ultimately, we’d love it if everyone we invite eventually becomes a member — making promises to be in the Word and at church regularly, to support the work of the church, to prioritize their "church time." In fact, that’s why I write this column. I want you to become a member. That’s my confession.
But I have a reason for it. I am convinced that membership has its privileges. In fact, I can’t think of anything that would be more beneficial for you than making that commitment to membership. And I say that honestly.
But, it is right about here that some of you are calling "shenanigans!" And I can’t blame you for doubting that statement, because you’ve seen it. You’ve seen when "members" don’t look like they’re really benefitting from it, when they don’t talk like worship is the highlight of their week, when they seem to view church as a chore, or when they don’t act like you’d think church people should act — right?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard some variation on the theme of, "Church is just a place for a bunch of hypocrites and backstabbers to gather and try to tell themselves how great they are, judging everyone else." Have you heard that? Sadly, the truth is, sometimes people who say that have a point.
You see, the problem is, while membership has its privileges, members aren’t perfect. In fact, we’re sinners just like everyone else. We struggle with temptation and sometimes fall. We don’t always treat others as we should. We don’t treat each other as we should. In 1 Corinthians 12, where Paul is talking about the privileges of membership, he brings that up. First, he starts by introducing the picture of the word, "member." It’s the picture of the human body, with all its parts, its members — eyes, ears, hands, feet, and all the rest — different, but each important. Verse 14: "Now, the body is not made up of one part, but of many." We get that. He goes on, "If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not, for that reason, cease to be part of the body. And, if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not, for that reason, cease to be part of the body." And, in verse 21, he says, "The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’"
Do you get what he’s describing? The ridiculousness of a body fighting with itself. It doesn’t make sense. But let’s be real. It happens — in our families (we’re supposed to be that one unit working together), at work (same concept), and even in churches. The jealousy of one part of the body for another ("because I’m not a hand …"), the pride of one "member" against another ("I don’t need you …"). Now, I can honestly say I’m thankful that I see it happening less at Abiding Grace than so many other places. But, we sinners working together are still sinners. If you have had hard feelings with someone else at church … if you have inadvertently acted cliquish, exclusive or discriminatory … if you’ve gotten proud in yourself (looking down on someone else) or jealous of another — realize what that is.
It’s not being what God demands that you be. It’s even hurting other people — some of whom decide not to come back. And, if you are one of those people for whom it is hard to go back to church because of something like that, let me just say "I’m sorry" for us.
We mess up. Please don’t let us get in the way of God’s love that he wants to show you through his body.
In Christ, Pastor Scharf.
The Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington.