by Greg Alms
My kids do not go to the bank. They have direct deposit and mobile banking and, in a pinch, an ATM machine. It’s easy. It’s fast.
Myself, I like to go to the bank. I know the tellers. They say “Hi!” to me and “How are you today?” They may ask about my family or things at the church. I usually see someone I know in the lobby. We greet one another. I may do serious pastoral work there in the bank parking lot. Of course, it takes longer. Going to the bank on foot or by car, filling out a deposit slip, waiting in line: all of this is not as quick or convenient as a smart phone.
What is quick and easy rules much of our common life. It is easier to send an email, better still a text. There is no messy face to face meeting or talking. Digital data is delivered at amazing speeds. But there is a cost to all this efficiency. The cost is in connection to people. What takes less effort gives less reward. You will never know that teller at the bank who unfailingly gives you a great smile and makes your day a little brighter. You will not be there to lift the burden of a widowed man who seems lost or to be with someone who is in great need.
The temptation to do the quick and easy thing is also present at church. The promise of digital ministry and smartphones and apps is very alluring to us Christians. I get regular emails and Facebooks ads that promise to revolutionize my ministry with the latest online giving tool or Power Point presentation. We want things to be immediate and painless. But we must be on guard against such easy thinking. There is a reason the church gathers as a body, face to face side by side by side one another in the same building. We are created as flesh and blood people. We are not digital ghosts who transmit data. We are men and women who eat and cry and hurt and laugh. God does not just save our spirits; He saves us as He created us, flesh and blood people with the promise of the bodily resurrection on the Last Day.
It is these actual people who gather in congregations and pray together and confess sins and kneel at altar for Christ’s body and blood and hear sermons that are long and maybe hard to follow sometimes but that give us Jesus. It’s hard work, being there in church. It’s not fast. It’s not clean. But it is a team sport. That gathering together is the center and heart of what the church does. It is the church. God calls us together to receive His gifts. Jesus is there in that assembly, in those human words, in that bread we can taste. We really do receive God’s forgiveness there. Our voices blend together in song. Christ really comes to us in the way He promises. The saints really do carry one another’s burdens.
Don’t get me wrong. Cell phones are not evil. Facebook is not bad. You are probably reading this article online. There are great blessings God gives through digital means. But let’s not go looking for the hurried and easy all the time. Show up at church. Listen. Sing. Receive. Be forgiven. Pray. Give. Console your brothers and sisters. For in such mundane things is the church of Christ.
The Rev. Paul Gregory Alms is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Catawba, N.C.