Party Time

                In 1796, my first ancestor to come to North America, Jacob Mueller, left the Mueller Castle in Prussia at the age of 20 and went to Canada.  He was the son of the King of Prussia and as such, he was required to lead the Prussian army.  At this time that was quite a prestigious task.  Prussia all had but conquered Europe at that time and being the leader of the Prussian army was to rule a good portion of the civilized world.  Jacob had no interest, however, and did not have the taste for war that his father had.  So, he and his brother took their inheritance and left.  Over the years, Jacob made numerous attempts to reconcile to his father through letters but they went ignored.  The King as such had a sense of entitlement.  How dare anyone, let alone his own son, disobey him.  So, they never reconciled and not only did they lose the opportunity to share their lives, but their extended family members and descendants would never have the chance to interact with one another.

One does not have to go far to find messages of entitlement.  All we need to do is open the newspaper, log on to the internet, turn on the TV, or look up at a billboard to see just how darn special we are.  Every day we are bombarded with messages that puff up our ego telling us how much we deserve only the very best.  Go ahead and buy that car that you can’t afford because you’re worth it.  Get that $30,000 watch because you deserve the very best.  Or one of my favorites, buy this shampoo and then “don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.”  After a while these messages sit on our brain and get us to actually believing them.  We start to get needs and wants confused and before you know it, we are disappointed when although we have plenty, we don’t have best there is.

The worst part about all of this is that we lose sight of what the word “entitled” really means.  We see a person who is hungry and in the food line at the shelter or the person who is on food stamps and we tell ourselves that those lazy people have a sense of entitlement – entitlement to our tax dollars.  Food is a need.  Water is a need.  A roof over your head, a warm place on a cold day and a cool place on a hot day are needs not wants, not something resulting from a false sense of entitlement.  So we end up using the same word in different contexts and argue over one another’s heads.

I would love to believe that this is only something that happens in the secular realm, but we all know that’s not true.  God forbid that it should happen amongst us, the people of God.  A few years back at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Pennsylvania the church had been growing and the need for a new building was beginning to become apparent among some folks in the congregation.  There were already three services and with 800 people, they were to their max.

Their senior pastor, Gary, was called to be district superintendent for their denomination and so he left and a young pastor, Randy, was hired to “lead the church into the future”.  They had hired Randy to be a visionary and affect change within the church and so he started to do so.  It didn’t take him long to see the need for a new building to meet their growth.  He started the conversation up again within the congregation and was quickly met with resistance.    Randy suggested they have a congregational meeting to discuss the issue amicably and upon this suggestion, was told by Sam, the former council moderator, that if he even brought it up for discussion he would be met with fierce resistance.  You see, Sam felt that the Church of the Good Shepherd existed for its own people and should just focus on shepherding the existing flock and meeting their needs.  At the time, there was about 30% of the congregation who supported Sam’s position.

Randy went ahead and called a congregation meeting anyway.  The meeting was ugly from the start.  People were yelling and getting frustrated at one another and eventually the moderator got up and walked out.  So, Sam feeling it was his place to step in and run the meeting as former moderator wasted no time in taking the microphone and turning to Randy and saying, “I warned you that if you did this things would not be good.  So, I also want to inform you since you did not heed my advice that we have gathered the required consent to bring a no-confidence vote against you right now.”  Sam called the vote and to many people’s surprise, the vote passed and Randy was no longer their pastor.

Randy left and the fighting and backbiting continued for months until many people lost faith in the idea of church and left.  The remainder of the people split and went to different churches and in a matter of months, I church of 800 vanished into non-existence.  It is easy to hear this story and just sort of shrug our shoulders because such things happen all the time.  There are plenty of churches out there and plenty more are being created, so what?  It is easy to say so what if we think that church exists solely for those people inside the church’s walls.  The so what is that if we really believe that church is a place to do the things that Jesus taught us to in the world, then that day that the Church of the Good Shepherd ceased to exist was a very sad day indeed.  Think of all of the lives that were supposed to be touched out in the community that would never be touched.

We live in a day that most call Post-Christendom.  This is a time when people don’t feel that they have to go to church just because it is the thing to do.  They need a reason.  And so this conversation about the emerging or emergent church occurs but many from the old guard (for lack of a better term) maintain their sense of entitlement because they have been around and put so much time into the church that they should be able to direct the conversation or decide if a conversation should even take place.  I think this is what Jesus was talking about.   Just like the older brother, so many of us are missing the party.  We are missing the point that we are ALL the prodigal and we are ALL the older brother and we ALL need to learn to be like the father.

Imagine if just right here in Hanover township each church just donated $50.  Not $50 per member. $50 per church.  Imagine if each church would have just half of their membership out volunteering in the community.  Imagine if each member would just donate one food item per month.  Imagine if people who have certain skills and knowledge would just take one hour a week to teach those skills to others in the community.   We would be on the cover of the Wall Street Journal.  I can just see the headline now, Chicago Suburban Community churches partner together and eradicate hunger and poverty in their communities.

But, this could never happen.  Churches setting aside their ideologies to do what Jesus taught them to do?  Haha, it’s more likely that the Cubs will come back and win the World Series this year.  How could we even start such a thing?  How can we get all of the churches to a point when we can all get together and have a party and celebrate the truly important things?  Well, maybe it starts here. Maybe we have to get decorating and get those invitations out.

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