“Church is church when it is Christ-centered, communal and confessional,” the Rev. Dwight D. Andrews said at the 9:15 a.m. Tuesday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. His sermon title was “When the Church is Church…” and the Scripture reading was Luke 12:13-21, the rich man who tears down his barns to store his abundance.
Recently a Yale alumni magazine had an article titled “When the Church is Not the Church.” It reflected on young people who are not affiliated with church and don’t see God as part of their lives. They gather in groups that resemble church to talk about important things and encourage each other, but there is no God talk, no preaching.
“At the same time,” Andrews said, “the churches are struggling to renew themselves, to be more vibrant.”
For many people, church is irrelevant. They see no reason to participate. Many people feel they can do good work and not necessarily have God in it, he said.
“They feel good about themselves with going to God,” he said. “They rely on their own abundance that doesn’t need God.”
The Scripture reading begins with a man asking Jesus to tell his brother to give him his share of the inheritance. The rich man in Jesus’ parable had so much stuff he tore down his old barns and built new ones, then told his soul not to worry because he had enough stuff.
“Isn’t that today’s world? We hoard our stuff and we have to figure out how to put it all in our house. Greed has become our religion,” he said. “We understand why kids kill over gym shoes because we have put a high value on things; we have to acquire [things] at any cost. Acquisition doesn’t have God in it. It has become a god and it is choking us. Our kids are great consumers; they can acquire anything with the push of a finger.”
People come to churches looking for purpose.
“The middle class needs Jesus, the rich need Jesus, the poor need Jesus,” Andrews said. “Why is it that the poor are joyful in the Lord, but they don’t have anything? They give thanks to God and they have nothing.”
Andrews illustrated his point by telling a story about an aunt who lived near Atlanta. He and his wife went to visit her and had a hard time finding the town and then had a hard time finding her house. Her house number was out of order and when he asked her why, she said, “I like number 78 and everybody knows I live here.” Her wooden shack had open floor boards, but her hospitality showed the abundance of her spirit.
“As I drove home, I said to my wife, I want to know what she knows, how to be grateful, grateful to God for everything you need, to be grateful more and more for life,” he said.
When the church is the church, it is communal and confessional and Christ-centered, Andrews said.
“You can’t be a Christian in a prayer closet. You have to hope and struggle and touch and be in relationship with your neighbor. You have to be in community. You have to be humble enough to ask for forgiveness of your sins,” he said. “The rich man did not realize that there was someone greater than he was. Most humanists believe they have no sin and can think their way forward. There is someone greater: God.”
The church has to be Christ-centered.
“Church has to have Jesus. We can’t intellectualize our way to faith,” he said. “We should be unapologetic about following Jesus, but not arrogant. We have to know who we serve.”
The church is also the church when we pass on the blessings we have received. Andrews told a story about Mrs. Jones, who went to heaven and met St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. He welcomed her, but told her she had to pass a test to get in. He told her to spell “Iran.” She did and got her wings. Then St. Peter asked her to mind the Gates while he ran some errands. The next person to come was Mr. Jones. He was excited to spend eternity with Mrs. Jones in heaven. She told him he would have to pass a test. He said fine and she said, “Spell Czechoslovakia.”
“Even saintly Mrs. Jones did not want to pass on the blessings,” Andrews said. “Our challenge is to openly, joyfully follow Christ, to do it together and knowing we are imperfect to ask forgiveness. God is good all the time. Christ forms and enables us. We are Christ-centered, confessional and communal. God is good all the time.”
The Rev. Scott Maxwell presided. Nancy Ackley, co-host with her husband Curt at the UCC Mayflower House, read the Scripture. The Motet Choir sang “Holy God We Praise Thy Name,” arranged by John Ferguson. The choir was directed by Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music. The Harold F. Reed Sr., Memorial Chaplaincy and the Daney-Holden Chaplaincy Fund provide support for this week’s services.