Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Today’s text

Mark 8:35

Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.


A great deal of ink has been spilled during the past 35 years about why churches are failing. I remember one particularly honest op-ed article written by an Arizona pastor 22 or 23 years ago. The headline, which he chose, was “Entertainment evangelism.”

He argued that congregations must engage people through music and various forms of entertainment because traditional church liturgies fail to attract people or to excite imaginations about the power of God and the truth of the gospel. Through forms of entertainment congregations can draw a crowd and share the message of Jesus.

A firestorm of reader criticism followed the appearance of the article, but many agreed with the writer’s argument that the church must be far more attractional, more contemporary in music and approach.

The focus was on speaking to and meeting the needs of worshipers through media they understood and would not dismiss. Congregations willing to do this will grow and remain significant in their communities, he said. Those who do not, well … their fate is sealed.

Looking at the ministry that occupies much of my days, I see that meeting needs is a large part of my day. But the needs I most typically meet are those to be found at the hospital beds and hidden behind the anxious faces that walk through my office door, seeking hope, consolation and a word of guidance about God’s presence amid the confusion of living.

Those are needs I believe Christ calls the fellowship of the church to address. But catering to the needs of consumer culture for amusement is as antithetical to the gospel call of Christ today as when I first read that article in the late 1980s.

Consumers come to church wanting to be amused, entertained. They come with an implicit demand (sometimes explicit) that their needs must be met or they will go away … to someplace that better meets their needs, however defined.

One sometimes hears echoes of this refrain when people leave one congregation for another, and there can, of course, be good reasons for leaving.

Attending to human needs for community and care amid the difficulties of life was central to Jesus’ ministry of revealing God’s kingdom.

But as often as not the consumerism rife in our society moves us to look at our congregations as one more place whose value is established by how well it serves me: Does it make me comfortable, does it suit my views and desires, does its teaching and celebrations touch my heart?

Consumers totally miss the call of Jesus. Consequently, a deep need in their soul goes unmet: the need to find oneself by giving oneself away to the mission of Jesus.

Life is found in surrender to the cause of God’s loving kingdom, the cause to which Jesus surrendered.

This paradox is the center of Jesus teaching. In losing ourselves, we find ourselves, in giving ourselves for the sake of God’s love we receive the self we truly are, in forgiving we find forgiveness and in dying we discover eternal life.

Gracious God, show me this day where I might give myself, my heart and mind, my soul and strength, that in giving myself away I may discover what it means to live.

Pr. David L. Miller