In the Sundays after the 9/11 tragedy, my church experienced a 20 percent jump in attendance. Three months later, our new attendees were gone; attendance slipped back to pre-9/11 levels.
Why? Some speculated that the new folks came to church and the boring worship, hackneyed sermons, and cold congregations reminded them why they had stopped attending in the first place! I theorized that people came to church in their distress seeking comfort, consolation, and care only to be encountered by Jesus. Sure, sometimes Jesus comes to us with healing and compassion. But often he comes with judgment, summons, critique, and command.
Take today’s Gospel lesson. There had to be lots of hurting people around Jesus that day. The burdens of leadership and teaching can be heavy. But Jesus offered them stinging criticism, making sharp separation between his ways and theirs.
Sometimes we come to church and receive comfort and affirmation. But what we mainly receive is the living Christ in all of his sometimes prickly, demanding, sovereign glory.
A member of my congregation emerged one Sunday saying, “I have had a terrible week with my diagnosis and my son’s continued problems. I was at the end of my rope, looking for help with my burdens.”
“I hope that you received compassionate help in today’s service,” I said.
“No, I didn’t,” she replied. “I came here seeking Jesus’ aid and instead Jesus had the nerve to give me an assignment!”
As you attend worship today, take care! Jesus may offer you more of himself than you asked for. He may speak a word to you that you have been avoiding all week. He may have more faith in your ability to be a faithful disciple than you have in yourself.
Lord, give me the grace to hear when you speak to me and then the courage to do your will. Amen.
The texts remind us that human decisions, relationships, communities must be rooted in the reality of God. In his vision recorded in Revelation, John sees all communities, all nations, shouting before God’s throne that salvation comes only from God. The story of the crossing of the Jordan in Joshua 3 illustrates this principle: apart from Yahweh’s grace, Israel’s life could not be sustained. Paul does not deny an authority due him because of his previous relations with the Thessalonians. At the same time, he can reverse the image and speak of himself as an orphan when separated from these people (2:17). The possibility of mutuality emerges out of a clear acceptance of the authority of the gospel. The scribes and Pharisees are singled out in Matthew 23 for aunting their positions and for engaging in pious activity so as to be praised and courted by others. Their craving of honorific titles illustrates their failure to acknowledge the empowerment of Jesus as teacher and God as Father.
• Read Joshua 3:7-17. What miracles have you seen God perform lately in your life? in the life of a friend?
• Read Revelation 7:9-17. How do you reconcile a God of judgment with the writer’s statement that “God will settle for nothing less than a standing-room-only heaven”?
• Read 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13. How is the word of God at work in you?
• Read Matthew 23:1-12. When have you been humbled in being faithful to Jesus’ call on your life? Is being humbled a sign of true servanthood?
Respond by posting a prayer.