photo credit: Ginny Gibbs
Our Motives Matter…It is Not Just the Motion
We have all heard the expression, “going through the motion.” This can be applied to many a thing…from participation in a sporting event, to involvement in extracurricular activities, to our willingness to broaden our educational horizons. And, yes, it could be applied to our participation, or lack there of, in church and spiritual matters. It is one thing not being at church on a consistent basis, as we all have reasons why we can’t always be present. However, it is another thing altogether why we would allow ourselves to lapse or the continual building up of our relationship with the Creator and God’s Son, Jesus the Redeemer.
Years ago, when I was a very young and still ‘wet behind the ears’ priest, stationed in the wilds of Wichita, Kansas, I saw first hand how this issue of going through the motion played out. Mind you, these are only my perceptions and how I felt at what I saw at that time. The church at which I ministered was a smaller type church, though the parish family was rather large, that is for a Roman Catholic parish in Kansas. This parish was the only church staffed by a group of priests belonging to a religious order. Still, for someone who was new to the whole world of priesthood and ministry, there were times I left that church rather disappointed and emotionally on the boarder of being angry. The school was filled…and that was good. But, the majority of the students did not belong to the parish, so they did not worship at the church, as they were not of that particular denomination. That was okay, certainly. Yet, we wished very much for the parents to get involved in the school, so their children felt a greater sense of ‘belonging’ to the place. I had better luck finding snow in July! It was, to say the least, a rather tough sell.
Back to the church itself…the sanctuary was elevated, 2 or 3 steps higher than the rest of the church floor. So, when I was up there celebrating the Liturgy, I had a pretty good view of what people were doing in their pews. Sort of hard to miss some of the action,
that is for sure: people balancing their check books, occasionally I would see and hear some one clipping their finger nails, that is, I hope it only their finger nails, of course, the occasional ‘napping parishioner,’ whose breathing became louder and had to be poked in the side by their spouse! These sorts of things are bound to happen. People are people are people…we all have traits that run parallel to one another’s. And, of course, the biggest disappointment for me: when people would begin leaving right after they had come forward to receive the body and blood of Christ at Holy Communion. They’d march up to the sanctuary, respond with an Amen that was less than convincing and proceed right out the front doors, into the parking lot and to Denny’s down the street for a
Grand Slam breakfast! I have to admit, in my heart, I would rather they had gone to
Denny’s to begin with…the impression I had was they desired physical nourishment more than spiritual nourishment. Then again, I would never ‘not welcome’ some one into
God’s house…it is not my role to judge what is in their heart. Thus, all were welcomed and all were invited to be part of the feast and part of the celebration. The rest, well, that was in their hands! I could not force anyone to worship then and that holds just as true today. My prayer is always that we worship with full hearts and souls, exposed to the glory of God and God’s divine grace and blessings!
In order to encourage the folks to ‘stay to the end,’ to be part of the Liturgy until the last word has been sung, on occasion, I would distribute Holy Communion from the back of the church. Right there, in front of the doors, underneath the exit sign. The first time I did this, people were some what shocked, amused and generally confused. They assumed it was just another change handed down from Rome. One time, I took it up a notch.
After my sermon, I went to the back of the church and taped the front doors shut with a large X going across. I explained that the tape was not to be broken except by me, as this was a new Liturgical exercise! They bought it! No one left the church…everyone stayed in side until the last note was played and the last word was sung of the recessional hymn!
Then, when it felt awkward enough, as we all stood there, in silence, as if waiting for the shopping mall to open, I broke the tape and people were allowed out. I was glad there were no fire marshals in attendance, as I’m sure some sort of fire code was breached in that little demonstration!
The point, of course, that I was trying to make was we need to be fully involved in building a stronger and healthier relationship with God. Just being there, in church, ‘going through the motion,’ is not enough. There has to be, there must be interaction, along with our sisters and brothers who have also gathered to celebrate!
I can’t say for sure, because no one really knows Jesus well enough, certainly not I, but perhaps the reason why he was angry at the money lenders and animal traders who had taken up in the temple was because they were NOT really interested in serving God, rather the interest was in the monetary gains they could make. Actually, the money lenders and animal traders were there to provide a service. The great feast of Passover was soon upon them. Thus, many strangers and visitors were to be in town and they would need to have their money changed and they would need to purchase animals for their sacrificial offerings at the temple. So, you see, these merchants did have a purpose. But, apparently, in Jesus’ eyes and in His heart, it appeared they were not so much interested in furthering these peoples’ faith, but rather in how they could make a buck! They were going through the motion with their efforts of service, as their intent really was not on God, but on material gain and wealth!
This is what Jesus is asking of us…where is our intent? Where is our desire to get to know Him better? He is inquiring of us to look into ourselves and determine if our actions are sincere and genuine, or are they, heaven forbid, just mere motion lacking depth, conviction and sincerity.
Again, I am not here to judge anyone, lest I be judged myself and I truly mean this.
But, my concern is based on what Jesus said, that His father’s temple is not a ‘marketplace,’ but rather a place of worship, a most holy and sacred place. I feel the same way about St. Nicholas…about this very special place that I love, that we all love, very much. Certainly, I’m always on board to enjoy our gatherings; to see smiles and light and not despair and a look that conveys I’d rather be somewhere else! And please, it is not my intention to cast guilt upon anyone…guilt is wasted energy that could be better used at building up as opposed to tearing down!
Lent is the perfect time for all of us to evaluate just where we are with regards to our relationship with God and our intimate connection with Jesus the Christ. We are invited to make a special effort in looking deeper within ourselves and see what needs to be done to draw us closer, ever closer to the Divine while we are still very much part of the here and now!
You won’t see put any tape across our doors and I’m not going to distribute Holy Communion from the back of the church. No. Blessedly, we do not have that problem here that I encountered at my very first parish assignment over 20 years ago. We are a much different and I do dare to say, much deeper and genuinely committed group of believers. I am humbled by the love and dedication of this place and of the people who truly make up this community of St. Nicholas. BUT, we can all stand to build up our relationships, one another and most of all, with the Creator! And, God is always, always there, and here, and all around, just waiting for us to listen…and to act…to listen even more…and be engaged even more…
He is speaking to us…
Let’s just quiet down some and listen…
Then, let’s get to work and build ourselves an even better and “more alive” church…
3rd Sunday Lent, B Cycle St. Nicholas March 11, 2012. Ex. 20: 1-17; Psalm 19; 1Cor. 1: 18-25; John 2: 13-22