Our lives are so very busy these days. There is so much going on in them, in fact, that it is a good practice to ask ourselves why we do all that we do.
And that will lead us to ask about all the things there are to do at church. What makes church different from other communities and other social organizations? Why get up in the morning for it? Why engage with its ministries? Our time is precious.
As a pastor, I think sometimes that the church is contending in the free market as if it were a business enterprise. There are so many options of things to do for wealthy, advanced societies like ours — good and right options. The ordained and sacred, though, often get lost in this marketplace – we reduce church to just another option. Is this all church is? Is not the church, and what it offers, much more than a mere option – isn’t it really the fount of human flourishing?
The church is the means God uses to give His gifts to His people. Article 19 of our Articles of Religion (the Anglican confession of faith in the back of your prayer book) defines church as: “… a congregation of faithful men (and women), in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments [are] duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.” In other words, the church exists where the Gospel is preached and where the gifts of God in Baptism and The Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion) are given in accordance with Christ’s commands.
This is the locus of what church is — Word and Sacrament, the ordinary means of grace. When we come to church on Sunday, we come acknowledging our need and sin. In return, we receive gifts. We receive His Holy Word as it has been revealed to us in Scripture. We receive the Good News of the forgiveness of sins. We receive His body and blood as we receive table fellowship with Him. As beneficiaries of His grace and mercy, we then open our mouths in praise of Him. There is no other place on earth that such an exchange takes place – “The Great Exchange” says Martin Luther: our sins for His grace.
Substance — God’s substance. That is the business of the church. Substance in worship; seriousness and joy in worship. Substance in mission and evangelism because there is something deeply lacking in the post-Christian West — painfully lacking. (That is to say: there is something deeply lacking in your neighbor’s life. She probably couldn’t even name it.) Substance in our formation in the Faith because we have not yet arrived at the end of our formation; there is always so much more to learn about God. Substance for our children and youth because it is part of our duty as Christian parents — and we only get one shot.
When we at St. Thomas’ narrow our focus down to essentials, we get to the heart of our Faith. Preaching the Gospel, bringing His people to His table — substance. Vitality and depth of worship, exploring the depths of God’s grace together, raising our children and youth on the sustenance of Christ’s love — substance. All things that are of necessity are requisite to this.
God’s substance is our locus and core.