Why church? Why go to church? Why are you here this morning and every other morning? What gets you out of bed and instead of having a lazy breakfast, a potter in the garden or a trip to the footy, why do you come to church?
What is it about this place that is important to you? Some of you have been coming here to this particular church for several decades, most of you have been going to church since you were a small child, why? What is it about church that matters?
We live in a world where truth is questioned, metanarratives like the Christian faith story are not trusted or believed; instead it seems to be a mechanical world in which only scientific or productive narratives hold sway. Every action, thought or idea must have a practical and financial outcome. We are looking for product, return on investment and ownership. We need progress; the key indicator for a successful society is one that is growing by an agreeable percentage point each year. Our businesses must be more successful and earn more, we must produce at the cheapest level possible and sell at the highest level possible. We ignore local communities and exploit foreign workforces to do so. Local, small and connected to a narrative that gives life to community simply has no place in the modern economic kingdoms of large corporations and the governments they control.
Even the church, the institutional church, is on about growth, numbers, systems, programs, key performance indicators and outcomes. No longer are we allowed the time to simply cogitate on life and bring forth wisdom to feed and nurture our local communities.
The success of indigenous communities over the ages, where ever they have been found, has been their connection to place, people and time. They know the place they live in deeply, they understand their interdependence upon each other and they also know that the greatest asset they have is time. 50,000 years is what it took for indigenous communities to learn to live in harmony with place and people. It has taken the mechanistic world a little over 200 years to have a serious impact upon it.
Why church? Why the seemingly use-less-ness of church? Why is it important? And why should it have our full attention and support?
On the road to Emmaus two men are deeply engrossed in the politics of the day. They were personally involved in this story and it has apparently collapsed without producing the outcome they sought – revolution and a new world. They are despondent and closed in on themselves, having lost the narrative giving meaning to their existence. They are joined by another whom they hardly acknowledge, just as we would as we bump into people on the train, the tram on in the corridors of Chadstone shopping centre – aware that they are there but not taking notice of particulars.
Their eyes are closed. Their concern for their own worries prevent them from seeing who is right their in front of them. It is so easy to walk around with eyes closed. Even when we come to church, we can come with eyes closed. We bring with us all the concerns of our daily grind and go through the motions. We are comforted by the presence of familiar faces, familiar music and the familiar liturgy, but are our eyes open? Do we see who is standing next to us and who we owe our very existence to? Do we understand that this not about our concerns and our issues, but about the amazing hesed – unfailing companionship and compassion – of the Christ and that we owe everything to the Godhead who keeps and empowers us – even in the midst of our ordinary lives?
In this story, Jesus becomes the interpreter of the political events, of the events of society and explains what has been playing out in the world around them. And their eyes are still closed. Knowledge and information do not open closed eyes. Recent scientific evidence suggests that people are so impacted by preconceived ideas and prejudices that facts do not change their minds. Here is a case in point. Despite hearing everything about what had happened from the one who was there in a way no one else could, their eyes remain closed.
This is often the case for us, we are so committed to our opinions on, our knowledge about God and faith, and our expectations about life and church that we fail to see what is happening and what is needed; we fail to see why we actually come to church. These men almost get this. They are moved, challenged, enlightened by what Jesus says, but their eyes remain closed. The intellectual and evidential truth of Jesus’ words fail to move them out of their own self-interest – out of their concern for themselves.
Jesus stays with them for dinner and something happens, we are not sure exactly what it is but in the breaking of the bread a light goes on in the head and their eyes are open. In this moment of deep personal encounter with the symbolism of faith they see, as for the very first time, who is at the centre of their lives. Not just their faith but their lives.
Here is a deep recognition of the centrality of the Christ to our identity, existence and being. Their world is refocussed and instead of going on with their ordinary lives centred solely on themselves, they return to Jerusalem, driven by the realisation that their life is no longer their own.
Even though their hearts burned with in them on the road, nothing changed for them. We can be made warm and fuzzy by our attendance at church without being revolutionised by the Christ. It is the deep sacramental realisation that there is no thing else but the church and that our lives are to be completely oriented toward the church, the body of Christ, and its advancement counter-culturally into the world.
They get up immediately, abandon whatever their plans were and go back to Jerusalem and take up the mission of the church. There is no hesitation, no second guessing, no concern for their needs or desires; they return empty handed but open eyed into the church.
· Because there is no other response to the love of God and the indwelling presence of the Christ;
- Because there is no other response to the faithfulness of God to us;
- Because there is no other response to the beauty and mystery of creation;
- Because there is nothing more important than the maintenance and advancement of Christ’s body in the community in which we live.
- This is why we give of ourselves sacrificially in service and financial support.
- This is why we give to the church before we give to ourselves.
- This is why we give up our comfortable beds to be here, because there is no other choice for us.
Because all the other experiences in the world do not open our eyes to the truth about the Christ we encounter like the moment we meet Jesus in the Church, his mystical body alive in the world.