|Messiah Lutheran Church||
6201 W Patterson Av
Chicago IL 60634
When asked why former regular church attendees no longer attend church on a regular basis, a common answer they offer is that they simply fell out of the habit. For some reason or other, they decided to skip church one Sunday. One missed Sunday led to two missed Sundays, and then to a month of missed Sundays, and then to several months of missed Sundays, and soon they fell out of the habit of attending worship at all.
The writer of Hebrews warns us against falling out of the habit of regular worship, when he writes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: "Let us not give up meeting tougher, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another --- and all the more as you see the Day approaching." (Hebrews 10:25)
The word "Day" in this verse may be interpreted in two different ways.
Either our own dying day or the Day of our Lord's coming. In either case, "Day" refers to our final Judgment. In other words, we are warned to not get out of the habit of worshipping with God's people, especially when we consider that soon we will appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ and give an account for how we have lived on this earth.
Granted, we are not to judge the hearts of others. We leave that up to God, who alone, knows the heart of man. However, when a church member is no longer in the habit of regular worship attendance, it is a sign that something is amiss. Their failure to remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy is a visible symptom that they are failing to fear, love and trust God above all things in their heart.
Martin Luther in his Preface to the Small Catechism writes "... that if anyone does not seek or desire the Lord's Supper at the very least four times a year, it is to be feared that he despises the Sacrament and is not Christian, just as no one is a Christian who does not believe or hear the Gospel. For Christ did not say, "Omit this" or "Despise this," but "This do, as often as you drink it," etc. He most certainly wants it done and does not want it left undone and despised. "This do," he says.
For a person not to prize highly the Sacrament is tantamount to saying that he has no sin, no flesh, no devil, no world, no death, no danger, no hell. That is to say, he believes in none of these although he is overwhelmed by them and is the devil's possession twice over. On the other hand, he needs no grace, life, paradise, kingdom of heaven, Christ, God, or any good thing. Surely, if he recognized how much evil is in him and how much he needs all the good things he lacks, he would not neglect the Sacrament, which gives help against such evil and bestows so much goodness. He will not need to be forced by law to the Sacrament but will himself come running in a hurry to the Lord's Table, constrained within himself and pressing you to give him the Sacrament."
At Messiah, we've defined an inactive or detached member as anyone who has not attended worship in a year. Unfortunately, we have members on our roles who have failed to even achieve this low standard. This concerns me as pastor of Messiah and should also concern not just our Board of Deacons, but the rest of our members, as well. As 1 Corinthians 12:25 says, "... there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other".
I ask you to prayerfully read the sermon notes that I used for our Rally Day Sunday this past September 7th, entitled, "Where is Your Buddy?" (found in the article printed below), and consider how you might contact our missing church buddies at Messiah, and urge them to get back into the habit of regular worship attendance!
For, when you consider all the benefits received in the Divine Worship service, as God serves us in His Word and Sacraments, and assures us of our forgiveness and salvation in Jesus Christ, along with the mutual edification of the Saints, it should cause all of us to say along with Psalm 122: 1, "I rejoiced with those who said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord!!!'"
May all of our members benefit from the habit of being in regular worship attendance!
Text: Matthew 18:12-14
Perhaps, you can remember attending summer camp and being assigned a Buddy in order to swim, so that when the Life Guard would blow his or her whistle, you had to stop what you were doing, find your buddy and raise your hands up together, to make sure that all would be accounted for, and everyone was safe, not lost, or drowned.
And, in a sense, "Rally Day" might be seen as a "Buddy Check Day", as we re- connect with church buddies that we've been apart during the summer months.
Although, shouldn't every Sunday should be seen as a Buddy Check Day, as week after week, we gather together and make sure that all our members are accounted for, everyone is kept safe in the arms of the Savior, and not lost in their sins or drowning in the trials and temptations of life?
In our text, Jesus illustrates how the Son of Man came to save the lost -- by describing a man who had 100 sheep, and one of them has gone astray. But wasn't this man being irresponsible by leaving the 99 to go after one? But, here's the thing - the 99 were not in any immediate danger, but the lost one was and so needed saving.
Thus, the 99 can represent those in the church whose saving faith is already being spiritually fed through the hearing of God's Word and in receiving the Sacrament in regular worship attendance, while the lost one represents those who are outside of the fold and need to be rescued.
But, it wasn't normal for this sheep to leave the rest! Sheep naturally flock together, since there's safety in numbers, for it's harder for a predator to pick a sheep out of a group than to go after a few strays. Thus, sheep are comforted by having visible contact with other sheep, and become highly agitated when separated from the rest of the flock.
Picture this stray sheep and how afraid and lonely he must have felt apart from the 99, while at the same time, how relived he must have felt when he was found by the shepherd and brought back to the fold. And, similarly, God has made us as His redeemed people, social creatures, that we might flock together - and make it harder for the devil to attack us, as we draw comfort from one another, encourage one another in the faith, pray for each other, and admonish each other.
And, just as a stray sheep becomes highly agitated when separated from the rest of the flock, so God has designed us in such a way that our spiritual health is negatively affected whenever we are separated from the body of Christ and are more vulnerable to the attacks of the devil. Hence, It isn't normal for a Christian to be a detached member of their church. For we are not as strong as we may think we are! We need each other. We need to be connected with other Christians in a local body of believers, such as Messiah.
And just as we can picture the relief of the stray sheep in our text when he was brought back to the fold, can you envision the relief of those who have strayed when they are brought back to the fold?
In addition to serving as a protection mechanism against predators, this flocking and following instinct enables people to care for large numbers of sheep. And, similarly it's easier to take care of church members when they are gathered together on a regular basis in worship to hear God's Word and partake of the Sacrament, and more challenging to take care of church members when they stray.
Of course, we have our sick and shut-ins who can't make it to worship on a regular basis, and so we do our best to see to their care, visiting them with Word and Sacrament, praying with them, and by keeping in touch with them on a regular basis. But inevitably, our shut-ins will say to me whenever I visit with them, how much they miss coming to worship, and always ask me how the members of Messiah are doing! For they miss that connectedness that comes with regularly meeting together on Sundays.
Our text illustrates how Jesus goes after us when we stray, as the Holy Spirit chases us down through the law of God's Word showing us our sin. And if necessary, even will break us that we might repent of our sins, receive forgiveness in Christ, and be carried back to the fold, where we can find healing and nourishment.
But, just as the buddy system - allows the life-guard to better be able to detect who might be missing or in need of help, so in a church - such a buddy system helps me as pastor do a better job in fulfilling my role as the undershepherd of Messiah - as our members keep track of one another - visit with each other, pray for each other, and genuinely care for each another.
My parents set a good example for me when I was growing up by making it a practice to let the pastor know when they wouldn't be in church on a given Sunday, whether it be for a vacation or an illness or for attending a weekend sporting event. And, I realize that some of the Messiah members have told me that they're uncomfortable doing that, thinking that is makes them feel like they're back in school. ..
But my response to that is - I Miss you when you're not in worship! I love you and care about you! My purpose is not to lay a guilt trip on you! Although if the pew fits, wear it! But, as your pastor, it is also my responsibility to remind you to take seriously the third commandment, "Remember the Sabbath Day to Keep it Holy" to which Luther explains, We should fear love and trust God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
As well as to remind you of the confirmation vow you made, when you responded to the question, "Do you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord's Supper faithfully?" By saying before God and before others, "I do, by the grace of God"
Thank God He has given us church buddies such as the one's gathered here today -- to look after each other and hold each accountable that we might be keep the third commandment and be faithful to our confirmation vows, as well as to ensure that we are being cared for spiritually.
But, we gather together not just to see our church buddies, for if that were the case, Messiah might as well be a social club. But above all we gather together to receive our Savior, as He serves us in Word and Sacrament, and assures us that through His sacrificial death on the cross we have been forgiven of the times that we've strayed and have been given eternal salvation - and thus have been made a sheep of His own fold, a lamb of His own flock, a sinner of His own redeeming, as He enfolds us as our Good Shepherd in the arms of His mercy.
Rally Day wouldn't be much a rally if we didn't all rally together -Just as Sunday isn't quite as much of a Sunday when our members don't all gather together, as well. For in our gathering together, we provide a visible witness to each other as well as to our neighbors, of what is most important in our lives.
As Hebrews 10:25 says, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Can you picture our parking lot filled with cars and all our pews filled, as all of our members gather together Sunday after Sunday for worship- and not just on Easter! What a witness that alone would be as we show in a visible way, that worshipping our Savior is a priority in our lives, especially in the increasingly unchurched culture that we live in.
Look around you and take a few moments to do a buddy check - and consider the members whom we have been missing in worship --- and allow Jesus to use you as His instrument in seeking after the lost, to show them that you care! You miss them! You love them just as Christ has loved you! And want them to receive the benefits of regular worship attendance for their spiritual health, as well as to be encouraged and strengthened from the fellowship of the spiritual buddies we have at Messiah.
May this Rally Day as well as each and every Sunday, serve as a Buddy Check Day for us at Messiah. May the Holy Spirit enable us as a church to follow the example of the early church in Acts 2, who met on the first day of the week in devoting themselves to the apostles teaching, and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
And watch, as the same Holy Spirit that dwelt in the early church dwells in us and similarly adds to our numbers those who are being saved, as we reach out to our neighbors with the Good News of Jesus Christ, our Savior, Lord, Shepherd, and Best Buddy of All! Amen
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