This past week, as I was greeting individuals at the entrance of our Church who were coming to a funeral of a parishioner, I came across a woman who introduced herself to me. She immediately asked me who I was. I informed her I was "Father Jim." She then shared her name and told me that she was a parishioner of St. Mark. Now, I must admit, though I do not do well with names, I am quite aware of my parishioners’ FACES, and for her to ask me who I was raised my curiosity, since I have been Pastor of St. Mark for the past five years and very present to my community. She immediately continued to inform me that she "was an active member of St. Mark’s," and I interrupted her and asked her: "Which Saint Mark's?" She replied THIS St. Mark’s and wanted to know where the Pastor, Father Poole, was? I informed her that Father Poole has not been Pastor at our Church for quite some time, and I believe now is with Our Lord in Heaven! She replied, "Well, no one tells me anything!" HA!
Or how about the man I ran into at a recent restaurant. I was informed that this man happened to be a member of our church, however, was not coming to Church. As I made sure that our paths crossed at the restaurant, I greeted him warmly and shared with him that I missed his presence in our Church. He replied that he hopes to return; however, he is still struggling with the "run in" that he had with a Pastor who hadn't been at our Church for over 10 years.
Both of these REAL experiences once again challenge us to ask ourselves the questions: Why do we do what we do? Why do we allow others to affect us so? Why do we go to Church? and What does Church mean to you? I am here to tell you that I, or any other minister for that matter, is NOT going to be the one who gets you into HEAVEN. No, YOU (and I) are going to have realize that it will be the results of our OWN actions that will ultimately determine whether we will be in the SMOKING SECTION (Hell) or Non Smoking Section (Heaven). My advice to you today? Make your choice now, for ETERNITY is a LONG TIME.
My brothers and sisters, not only during LENT, but during our ENTIRE LIFE, we must imitate the lives of Jesus. Jesus is described as the "man for others." His whole life was for others. His love for His Father and His obedience to His Father's will was always and everywhere expressed in HIS giving of Himself for others. Read His famous teaching on the Mount of Beatitudes. Each of the Beatitudes calls us to be for others.
If GOD is anything, HE is merciful. Are we merciful? How readily do we forgive others? Do we put conditions on our forgiveness of others? Do we require certain things of them first before we will forgive them? GOD DOESN'T, WHY SHOULD WE?
Who did Jesus eat with? SINNERS! Who did Jesus care for? SINNERS! With whom did Jesus associate? SINNERS! Our churches were not built only for the convenience of saints. Our churches, like hospitals, are built to house and care for the sick and infirm. Churches, like hospitals, are places that we enter in order to find spiritual healing and wholeness for our souls.
WE ATTEND CHURCH on the weekends (and hopefully daily) because we NEED healing and wholeness. We attend CHURCH because we are sinners who need GOD’s help in Christ’s tender, loving mercies. We come to CHURCH NOT because we are hypocrites but because we are being HONEST WITH OURSELVES and HONEST TO GOD. You cannot be a hypocrite and at the same time face the truth about yourself.
I AM HERE TO TELL YOU (in case no one tells you anything): don't allow another, whether a Priest, Minister, Family Member, etc., to KEEP YOU AWAY from the presence of JESUS, located in our CHURCH. You are responsible for YOUR SOUL. Take that responsibility seriously, as GOD will take serious His accountability for you.