January 5, 2021

We Should Be Better Than This

I am in my 22nd year serving Calvary UCC in Reading, PA, and over those years our congregation has had the privilege of serving as a Ministry Sight for 11 seminarians from Lancaster Theological Seminary. All were gifted in different ways, and they gave me hope for the future of the church. I am always proud of local clergy gathering to see them, knowing that we had a small part in their development for ministry. I look forward to doing more of that in the future.

I was struck by a comment by one of them early on – and it has stayed with me for many years. This student said that, in all of her years in the church, she had never been in a church where people didn’t, at some point in a board meeting, yell over a disagreement. I was, honestly, kind of shocked at this statement – aren’t we supposed to be better than that? Aren’t we supposed to model a better way of dealing with each other? This kind of agreement has its negative aspects – sometimes groups/organizations can be so concerned about proper/polite behavior that they don’t allow people to speak their minds. Or, there can be individuals who control everything that happens, leaving no room for conversation or dissenting opinions. This, I am glad to say, has not been the case for us. 

One of the things I have done in every congregation I have served is this: at the first meeting of our board, I pull out a chair and make sure it stays empty during the meeting. I explain that this chair has been reserved for Jesus (kind of like Elijah at the Seder). I tell those present that everything we say – everything we decide – needs to be done as if Jesus were at the table. This reminder of our mission can be daunting – people being people, we can sometimes lose our cool. When this has happened, I would just put my arm up on the back of the chair to remind everyone who could be sitting there. We might, Hebrews tells us, be entertaining angels – why not Jesus too?

We are by no means a perfect church, and we have had our disagreements along the way. We lost about a dozen members when we voted to become Open & Affirming 7 years ago, and their absence is still a hurt we are trying to heal. We have had our money problems and we have struggled over our mission, just like every other church. In spite of all of our challenges, we have been able to keep that constant reminder at the center of everything we do – our job as the church is to try to figure out what Jesus needs from us, and then we need to try to do those things. It isn’t easy – but it is worth the struggle. 

I have maintained for years that one of the reasons the church is struggling is that we often don’t behave “better” (I don’t write that in a judgmental way) than those who are not lovers of God. We have often given in to our lesser angels. The church has, for too long, allowed bad behavior to control the conversation – we have turned a blind eye to the way evil has flourished in our faith communities. We have allowed money, rather than God, to control our agenda. The church should be better than it is, and only we can make that happen. I often think of the photo I saw years ago of someone dressed like Jesus sitting in the front pew of a church, sleeping through the sermon. In everything we do, we need to ask the very simple question: What would Jesus think about this? If we are honest, it will make a world of difference in everything we do, because, really, we should be better than this.

Prayer – We are not perfect, Holy God, but we serve You the best we can. Help us to keep Jesus at the center of all we do in the church, and in our lives. Amen.

Today’s image is like the one I mentioned above – just a reminder.