I ran into someone late last week and it happened again. The person began to apologize to me for missing church. Sometimes it feels good that people at least acknowledge that their participation in the life of the church is lacking. But the role of truant officer isn’t all that exciting frankly. To begin with there’s not much originality in the confessions. There’s the lake thing, the busy schedule thing, the football thing, the school’s so hard with all the pressures on the children thing, the beach thing, the I’m just so tired by Sunday morning thing…. I don’t hear much that I haven’t heard before or experienced myself. I’ve tried different responses: Hey, we don’t take roll but we miss you; It’s ok, I know it’s a busy time for you; There’s always next Sunday. Occasionally I’ve even tried something flippant like: Maybe joining the Temple would fit better in your schedule.
This time I responded differently. Instead of telling her it was okay or that I understood or being sarcastic with her, I asked her what it was that she was really missing. She said: “I just feel so much better when I come. It’s inspiring. I learn so much in the classes. When I’m not there I feel like something big is happening without me.” Yeah!
When Jesus showed up a couple of millennia ago, everyone seemed to think heaven was about getting a reward later on for good behavior. If they did such and such, then God would provide so and so. Jesus repeatedly tells those people that the kingdom of heaven is in the midst of them. Heaven isn’t later so much as it is right now. Humanity had fallen into making the kingdom of heaven more about them and their choices. Jesus reminded them heaven is more about what God provides and that God provides that right now. Then Jesus spends his whole ministry inviting people into the kingdom while he emphasizes the present reality of that kingdom.
We make some big mistakes trying to be Christians. We think God is some truant officer checking to see if we’re showing up. We think being faithful is about gaining some reward. We think the big pay off in life is way down the road. We think in terms of reward and punishment while God clearly operates in the realm of gift giving. I think the woman I ran into last week was tapping into that gift-giving nature of God as she identified that she was missing a lot by not participating.
God invites. And invites. And invites. God will never stop inviting. The kingdom is now, right now, wherever you are. Will you participate or shirk? There is no cosmic truant office, only a loving God who invites you into the kingdom of gifts. The Church invites. And invites. And invites. St. John’s doesn’t pass a sheet down the pews for you to sign in when you’re there. We don’t call you Monday and ask where you were if you don’t come. But the community misses your participation when you disappear. And probably you miss the offerings too.
On September 13 we start a fresh new year of classes and programs. Everybody starts new. If you came every week, or have never attending a class ever in your life, things start new again. August is like Spring Training: anything is possible this next season.
There are some wonderful offerings for adults and children and youth. The Good News of the empowering love of God is proclaimed in our various classes and worship opportunities from the time our children are born until we die. It’s all right here for us all right now.
as Jesus proclaims that heaven is right here in the midst of us, God doesn’t force heaven on anyone. God just invites us to participate. If we think heaven is just some reward later on for us if we’re better than some others, then we’re living in hell right now, the hell of not enjoying the numerous gifts all around us.
We won’t tell you you’re going to hell if you don’t come to Sunday School and Church. But the reality is that when we don’t participate in kingdom offerings we are in a kind of hell. We’re needlessly cut off from that which is good and true and life-giving.
Here we go again with the invitation. We really mean it. Will you come and let your life be changed? Worship and classes at St. John’s aren’t the only places you’ll find the kingdom. But they are two very good places. You’re missing something big when you’re not here.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
On January 24, 2016 we will hold our Annual Meeting where 7 members of the parish will be elected to the Vestry. The Nominating Committee, chaired by the Senior Warden (Fred Tyson) and consisting of the 7 members rotating off the Vestry (Nancy Buzard, Melissa Carter, Suzi Edwards, Mary-Nelms Parsons, Radney Ramsey, and Fairlie Rinehart) is now asking for the names of people you think would serve the parish well. Those suggested names will be considered and the Nominating Committee will present a final slate to the parish in October. To serve on the Vestry, one must be a Confirmed member of the parish and support the parish with a pledge. You may make a suggestion by contacting Fred Tyson (email@example.com) or any member of the Nominating Committee.
Sunday Morning Adult Classes meet 9:15-10:15 September 13 – October 25
Living the Good News
Led by Avis Gunter and Buddy Ingram, meeting in the Small Dining Room
The Labyrinth as a Spiritual Practice
Led by Emmi Harrell, meeting in the Conference Room on the 1st floor
A two week class
Foundations of the Earth
Led by Daniel Strandlund, meeting in the Library
Falling Upward – A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life
Based on the book by Richard Rohr
Led by Robert Wisnewski, meeting in the Archives Room on the 2nd floor