Do you need anything at the grocery store?
Mary Ward does most of the grocery shopping in our household and will periodically ask me that question. I’ll think of what we have on hand, things I might have a little craving for or some item I have used up, and tell her. Like most households we keep a little list somewhere in the kitchen so we can keep up with what we need to get the next time we are at the grocery store.
Sometimes I just like to go there myself. It’s fun (certainly more fun that having to do it on a regular basis) to walk up and down the aisles and see what is there that I might like to have. Though usually when I go, I’m just looking for a few things in particular and try to zero in on those items and get out as quickly as possible. I’m a big fan of the self-serve checkout where I can zip my two or three items over the hologram, push my money into that receiver, and be on my way.
It feels good to have completed the trip to the grocery store. I have gotten what I need from it. And I know it’s always there when I need more. If I don’t need anything, I don’t go. Why in the world would I go to the grocery store unless I had a need to get something? It’s there for my convenience, to supply my needs.
Sometimes we approach church like a grocery store. It’s there with all those items we need. It’s got encouragement on aisle one, intellectual stimulation over on aisle three, scripture and tradition in the frozen section, great specials on baptisms and weddings and funerals, not a bad wine selection, those staples that we need to pick up and bring home with us. And ours is state-of-the art: it’s elegant and has great lighting and you can’t believe the music they’re piping in. We’re very proud of it. That’s MY grocery store. I wouldn’t think of shopping anywhere else.
“I wanted to come but my kids had soccer.” “That sounded real interesting but I’m so busy.” “I need to get back to church; I’ve just gotten out of the habit.” “Those pews are too hard.” “Those Lenten programs sound great but the kids have all that homework and it’s just hard to get downtown.” “None of those Sunday School classes is quite what I’m looking for right now.” “Looks like they’ve got plenty of money to me.”
Admit it. It’s a grocery store and not much more. You’ll come when you run out of something. You’ll drive by and take some pride in how beautiful it is. It’s nice knowing it’s there when someone is dying or needing to get baptized or married, or if you’re in a crisis and need some wise counsel. But it’s a grocery store all the same. You like it that our products are of such high quality. But you’re not coming unless you need something, a little spiritual pick-me-up from time to time. We might even tell others they need to shop at our grocery store because it’s the best in town. But, still, it’s a grocery store more or less. Good management and friendly clerks. They’ll help you find whatever you need.
We tend to forget that the church needs us as much as we need it. We are members of the community of faith, not merely shoppers. We come together to gain a mutual blessing. We share our journeys. We hang in there with each other through thick and thin. We see each other at our best and worst. We celebrate together. We laugh together. We mourn together. We weep together. We come to receive communion and then are deepened in such a way that we transform the world.
We come to church, not to get something, but to give something. We come to give to each other and to God himself. Worship is an offering, not just receiving. We uphold the community as much as it upholds us. That empty seat that you would have been occupying sends a big message of discouragement to others. We come to church to add encouragement for others, not just to get it when we need it.
In truth we really are THE grocery store. We’ve got the food you can’t live without. Salvation isn’t an individual thing. It’s a communal thing. If you think you’ve got it doing your own thing on your own timetable, you’re mistaken. Salvation is within the community of faith. Wholeness is something offered to us as we participate in faith, not as we pick it off the shelf and take it with us.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.