For any who might be interested, this is the message I delivered at our local gathering of Jesus’ followers this past Sunday.
This is so the Israelites will bring to God the sacrifices that they’re in the habit of sacrificing out in the open fields. Leviticus 17:5a (MSG)
We are creatures of habit. In fact, we’re selfish creatures of habit. We want things the way we want them, and in a largely consumer-driven economy, we’re used to getting what we want, when we want it, how we want it served. I found out recently that our local body of Jesus followers is eliminating the worship service which Wendy and I have faithfully attended the past several years. It’s become our worship home and an integral part of this leg of our faith journey. We’ve built community there. We’ve connected to God and others there. We’ve grown spiritually and matured there. We’ve served God and others there. Now, our service is being eliminated and two services will be offered at two different times in its place.
The news creates a heady mixture of emotions in me. Frustration and anger are easily identified emotions on the surface, but as I trace the emotions to their roots I find grief and the pain that comes from feeling slighted. I don’t think that this is a bad decision. In fact, I can see that it’s likely to be a good decision long-term for our church as a whole. Nevertheless, like a child I tend to react negatively when decisions are made inconsiderate of how it affects me or makes me feel. We are selfish creatures of habit in a consumer driven society. I’m used to having my feelings and expectations considered in surveys, discussed in focus groups, and catered to in products and services. When something is taken away from us irregardless of our feelings, we tend to get annoyed. Just last night Wendy complained to me about her facial scrub which was recently removed from the market by the people at Neutrogena and replaced with something she doesn’t like. We like what we like and we don’t want someone taking it away.
Even as I process these feelings I am fully aware that a change of course, whether freely chosen or forced upon me, leads to a change in scenery, a new perspective of the landscape, and new vistas which open up on the horizon. I will grieve what I leave behind, but am grateful for the rich seeds of faith this stretch of the journey has planted in me. Those seeds will continue to germinate and bear fruit in the months and years to come. A new course creates new opportunities, new challenges, and offers new promise. That’s exciting.
I think about these things this morning as I imagine the people of Israel who’ve lived their entire lives with no religious structure but those they developed on their own. Their lives in Egypt offered them an open market of gods and idols, sacrifices and practices to choose from. They had gotten used to worshipping whichever god they chose to worship in their tents, in their fields, or among their flocks. They were used to worshipping whichever god they wanted whenever and however they wanted. Now, Moses had forcefully delivered God’s religious rule book and it demanded that they only offer sacrifices to the one true God, whose name was so holy it could not be uttered, at one specified place in the prescribed fashion. I’m sure there was a large and angry outcry from among the people. We are, after all, selfish creatures of habit.
Today, I am at once grieving the loss that change brings and excited for the opportunity which it promises.