Last Sunday, while wrapping up our week of vacation, I experienced an interesting study in contrasts.
First, we chose a congregation with which to worship God, not far from the campground we were staying at. Like most people looking for a church, we consulted the websites of several nearby congregations, and found one with a statement of faith that we could resonate with, so we opted to tell our GPS to send us there.
The congregation was surprisingly small. In Canada, we expect this, but in the US, most churches (while still under 100) tend to be a bit larger than what we experienced. The people were friendly and there were lots of young families, so we felt welcomed.
Then came the sermon.
The preacher – who may have been a guest, a member of the church, an intern, or the incumbent, I have no idea – managed to embody an unfortunate trifecta in his preaching: long, boring and repetitive.
He didn’t say anything wrong; his theology was fine and his manner was sincere, but his communication approach made the good news of Jesus seem boring. He was rounding the corner to Point Number Three at the 45-minute mark, not yet having uttered the word “finally”, and we had a bit of a schedule to keep, so we ducked out the door from our back pew, largely undetected.
Contrast that with our next stop, for lunch, which was at the growing American phenomenon known as Buc-ees.
If you’ve never visited one, picture what might be the result of a love affair between a Walmart and a gas station.
Upon entering, you’re greeted boisterously by the staff (still clearly heard over the din of hundreds of people wandering around the place). Trying to take it all in, at one point, our train of thought was interrupted as a staff member announced, “Buc-ee is in the house!” And everyone cheered, and started taking pictures of the company mascot, a beaver, who looked like he would be more at home trying to rouse the fans at a baseball game than posing for photos in the middle of a massive truck stop.
As we walked past, opting not to take up valuable storage in our phones with “Buc-ee and me” selfies, we noticed quite a commotion at the kitchen, which is also prominently placed near the centre of the huge building. Those who were cooking were also engaged in various forms of mutual encouragement and pep-talk, clearly attracting the attention of hungry shoppers. (Try the brisket sandwich if you go.)
As I reflected on the contrast between these two experiences, I caught the irony. Maybe you see it, too: the best news in the world was shared with as little enthusiasm as possible, while consumerism, personified by some dude dressed up like a fuzzy, buck-toothed, oversized rodent, was splayed forth with an almost hysterical call-and-response.
I’m not suggesting that everything we do as the church needs to be like a pep rally. But I am suggesting that if we want to engage the world with what we know is the best news going, we had better act like it’s the best news going.
The atheistic philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “I will believe in your redeemer when your people look more redeemed.” Who do you know that might be convinced to follow Jesus if they saw in you and me a love for God that was undeniable?
“For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14.17, NLT).