Church — the Non-Essential

People around word and sacrament

Although over 75 percent of adults believe in some sort of spirituality, some sort of higher being, probably less than 40 percent are active in a local congregation. Where we came from in Colorado, the percentage of non-active people was well over 90 percent.

This is well and good when everything is going fine. Moses warned the children of Israel that, when things got too good in the Promised Land, they would forget God. We see this throughout the books of Joshua and Judges, as well as the other historical books of the Old Testament. So, until a few months ago, people stayed away from church in droves simply because everything was going good.

What do we hear immediately when things go bad? “Pastor, will you pray for us?” Well, sure I will, that is something I am honored to do. Why, however, do you think that God will bless you when you have turned your back on Him? When you are surprised, you cry out, “Oh my God!” but your god is the latest fashion, the big screen TV, or one of the teams in the NFL.

On one hand, the powers that be have asked churches to step up and pray for this nation. If these leaders bothered to show up on a Sunday morning they would hear we pray for this nation essentially every time we gather to receive the good gifts from God. We pray for the president, the governor and legislature of this state, for all who make, judge, and enforce our law. The churches I have been honored to serve also hear weekly prayers for those who serve in the Armed Forces, and the families who are concerned as this nation still has enemies, both foreign and domestic. Being on the fringes of military chaplaincy, I also pray for the chaplains who serve God by serving His people in secular places.

Now we have the lifting of the stay-at-home order in Minnesota. May our Lord bless this state with health and prosperity as we are able, in an intelligent fashion, to go and come as we please. The liquor stores are open, as are the hardware stores, florists, and even abortion clinics. Churches are lumped with bars and restaurants, deemed non-essential, kept from opening for another couple of weeks.

If the church is non-essential, why would those who otherwise cannot be bothered about God seek prayers and the comfort of Christ when their worlds collapse. The faithful Christians, the ones who come week in and week out, who sit through sermons and hymns and Bible Class, who practice for the days of famine and pestilence, are on to something.

Those who believe that Christ Jesus, our Lord, is their only hope for salvation from sin, death, and the power of the devil, have a different perspective on life. “I’m But a Stranger Here, Heaven is My Home,” is not merely a fun hymn to sing (harmonizing the melody is very satisfying), but a firm statement of belief. We don’t belong here. The devil, the world, and even our own sinful flesh conspire to ruin all of God’s creation. Although we enjoy living, being called to Abraham’s bosom sounds mighty comforting.

I am going to disagree with the political idea that church is unessential. It is the most essential thing we have to give us hope. It is the most essential thing we have to put the pestilence into perspective. It is the most essential thing we have for suicide prevention, mental health, loneliness, isolation, and all the other consequences of this pandemic.

Church is essential, for in church, as we gather for the Divine Service, we are given life everlasting for the sake of Christ Jesus, our Lord. We see that God loves us enough to sacrifice His Son so that we might be forgiven. We come to know of His grace, that He loved us long before we ever loved Him, long before He resurrected us from eternal death.

Although many believe that church is non-essential, rather than turning our backs on this world, we strive to pray for and to help our neighbors. We still look for ways to bring the comfort of God’s love to this sin sickened world, even when the world rejects the message of His mercy. It is not my place, in frustration, to condemn those who do not see church as essential to everlasting punishment. Rather, it is my place to pray for them, to ask God to enlighten them so that they have a change of heart, that they repent and hold firmly to Him.

Meanwhile, even when we are allowed to open, we will do everything in our power to keep our people safe. The Elders have been talking of things we can do to minimize contact, utilizing the vast wasteland of the front pews to provide room for social distancing, keeping people at a proper distance so to minimize the chance of spreading this disease. After all, if we are to reflect God’s love to this sin-sick world, we need to practice some intelligence.

I contend that church is essential. I contend that we need to be together, maybe in smaller groups spread throughout the sanctuary, maybe different times and days of the week, but in the presence of Christ Jesus to receive from Him the blessings of forgiveness and life everlasting.

So, pray for the president, the governor and legislature of this state, for all who make, administer, and enforce our laws. May God grant them wisdom to do that which is right rather than that which is expedient. And may this essential church continue to serve God by serving our neighbors.