Easter 6A: Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:7-18; I Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Montgomery, AL
Sunday, May 21, 2017
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer
The trend in church attendance, not just at St. John’s but nationwide, has begun to make a significant shift downward. Whereas regular church attendance was once defined by going to church every Sunday, many Americans who claim to attend church regularly now go about once a month. I’m not sure I can pinpoint the exact reasons for this trend, but there is some research that suggests that an increasing number of entertainment and recreational industries are competing for our leisure time. These leisure opportunities are an increasing threat to church attendance. I wish I could say that was not true. But I am aware that summer time is just around the corner and St. John’s will see a significant decline in the number of people in the pews and offerings in the plate. Go to any vestry or finance meeting and you will hear talk of how the summer months are our poorest generating months. You may notice that we don’t offer but one Sunday school class in the summer, mainly because when we have in the past very few attended.
Though we take a bit of a hiatus from programming in the summertime, we’re still here. We have Vacation Bible School and an art camp in July for the children. We continue to offer weekday Eucharist on Tuesday mornings and Thursdays at noon. We will ordain Worth Stuart to the diaconate on June 3, celebrate Daniel’s time with a reception and games and fun on June 18 as well as Jamie Osburne’s start with us on July 2. Our summer women’s book club, SpiritLit, will read and discuss three books in June, July, and August. We will continue with our in-gatherings: collecting paper products for Children’s Harbor the rest of May and June, Christmas Shoeboxes in July, and stocking up school supplies for Floyd Elementary in August. Not to mention gathering as the body of Christ every Sunday to worship, pray, and celebrate the Holy Eucharist together. There is plenty going on around here—this place is full of life, vitality, and energy even in the slow months of summer. Believe it or not—the Holy Spirit is still here.
I get it. It’s not the lake or the beach or even the golf course or the tennis court. It’s no Disney World or European vacation. It is certainly frustrating that the four grand slam tennis tournaments all play their finals on Sunday and typically when I am at church so that I can’t even watch them on tv. During the school year there is homework to do and that always seems to get put off until Sunday. Or travel sports that keep children and families on the road and even if you get home on Saturday, there are all those things you wanted to get done over the weekend that keep us from going to church. Once when I was a youth minister, I had a dad tell me he rides his children everyday about school and extracurricular activities, he wasn’t going to ride them about church attendance too. Leisure, school, sports, work they are all important but sometimes I think those things become idolatrous to us.
I’ve driven around Montgomery. I’ve seen the immaculate golf courses and beautiful country clubs. I’ve shopped at the mall and Target. I’ve dined at the restaurants and been to the movies. I’ve gone to concerts at MPAC and performances at the Davis Theater. I’ve attended several of the many balls thrown by various social groups. I’ve seen how extremely entertained we are and as I went throughout the city and saw all these things, I realized that whereas the Athenians might not have known the gods they were worshipping, we can clearly identify ours—the gods of entertainment and leisure, the gods of education and work, the gods of power and money.
There is nothing wrong with leisure time and the way we spend it, or being focused on excelling at school or work or sports. The problem is when we prioritize those things they become obstacles to grace. Though being outside and communing with nature is fun, that little white ball you are chasing around is not a deity. God cannot be formed by art or imagination. Our attempts at fulfillment are futile when they are focused around our own pursuits be they leisure, school, or work. Granted, the church has more grace then the school or the workplace; God loves you, always. But what it means to live, move, and have our being is not discovered through our own selfish pursuits. Living, moving, and having being is found only in God.
Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” This is not a threat it is simply a reality. Jesus’s commandment is that we love one another as he loved us. Though we can love one another at school, work, at the lake, and maybe on the golf course being drawn together into the church is a greater expression of love because we come together in this place as the body of Christ—an intentional community who hears the word, prays for one another’s concerns, and breaks bread together. When we come to this place each week we come in love with one another, drawn to the rail together only after offering the peace of God to neighbor, friend, and enemy alike. We come because where two or three are gathered in his name, Jesus is with us. We come because even though we might rather be someplace else, deep inside us we are drawn to living water, to the place of refreshment, to the community and the communion that will strengthen and nourish us to do Christ’s work of redemption in the world.
There are a myriad of obstacles to our understanding of who we are as God’s children. Yet, God forgives us our ignorance and calls us to repent and return to him because he loves us and desires only our joy. His judgment of us is not one of condemnation, but one of resurrection, a new way of being in this world. This is why Jesus assures us that the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will be with us forever. It is this Spirit of truth that we can receive—we need only to accept his invitation into the Father through our relationship with Jesus Christ. Go to church, not because when you don’t the devil will get you; but because when you do you will find yourself falling deeper in love with God and one another. Amen.