Lately, people have been asking “Why the church cannot be full and things be livelier in the service?” So I have been thinking about that issue and many other issues that impact the life of the Church on an ongoing basis. It fits with what happens in the Gospel for this coming Sunday when the people tell Jesus about what a murderous Governor they have in Pontius Pilate and what he did to worshippers in the Temple (Luke 13.1-8).
Jesus asks the crowd, “Are these people worse than other people? Or did they deserve this death as opposed to living a good long life and quietly dying in bed many years from now?” Jesus then questions the crowd about the unsuspecting 18 people who died when the wall tower on the way to Siloam fell apart and fell on them. “Were these people punished more than others who deserved to be punished?”
I think one of the important parts about this whole encounter is the view that people have of death and therefore of life in general and of this life in particular. We as people tend to live like this life is all there is and that there is nothing other than this life. If you carefully consider how Jesus lives, preaches and acts, he does so in the full knowledge that there are things in this life worse than death. Jesus calls on people to stop and recognize that this human life is fragile. We need to know that this life is limited, finite. We need to take in that God came to us in the fragile frame of his Son to call us back to him and we nailed him to a cross for it because our will, our way and this life were more important to us than what lays ahead in the life beyond death.
What we need from God is mercy. Authentic, reliable mercy. Why do we need it? We need mercy because we are frail and prone to sin. We miss the mark and fall short of what it is that God asks of us. We forget who God is and we don’t love our neighbours as ourselves. We have not done those things that ought to have been done and we have done those things that we ought not to have done and there is no health in us; no salvation in us. We need mercy and we need a saviour. We need God’s mercy because God’s judgment is real. That is why we need God’s mercy to be genuine and powerful. We have fallen down and fallen short. We cannot get up. There is not one of us righteous, not even one.
Suffering and pain in your life are not an indication of a bad life. It is an indication that we live in a world that is affected by sin, death, and the grave. We need to know God’s mercy through hearing the Word from Scripture and by participating in confession and absolution. If you want the liturgy to be relevant, ask yourself what you want God to forgive you for. Then ask for it and then live like a person who has received it. If you really want your prayers answered, do you keep asking until you believe that you have an answer? Or is it a one and done for you, thinking that because it didn’t get answered right away? Have you considered that God is working on an answer to your prayer that not only answers it but goes well beyond to help and to bless others in the process?... That the answer that comes back is better than the prayer that was prayed – even if the answer might have been “No”?
Being religious or calling one’s self spiritual does not make you right with God. God does that through his own Son Jesus. Jesus came to make us holy – to set us aside as God’s one people, a holy nation and a royal priesthood who serve him. God shouts in our joy and he whispers in our pain and suffering to cut through the fear, disbelief and despair that happens because we think there is no hope and too many believe that this transitory life is all there is. God calls to us to show us mercy, grace and blessing that we might make a difference in this world. People are dying. People are scared and fed up. It is perhaps time we as God’s Church become the light and the community of mercy and grace that God can make us to be. Maybe it is time to call this city to repentance and belief because God is drawing close to us. Maybe we start with ourselves so that people can see God at work in us. Wouldn’t that make our services more lively?