The role of the prophet is to allow the voice of God to speak through them. . .to let those to whom he or she is sent to know where and how they are failing in the eyes of God and to offer them the opportunity for repentance. Prophets can also bring good news and hope. While Israel was in exile, it was Isaiah and Ezekiel who offered captive Israel hope by assuring their listeners that Israel’s days of captivity were coming to an end, for soon an anointed one would come to free them from their captivity
For the past three weeks we have heard the voice of God spoken through the Old Testament Prophets. First we heard the laments of Hosea, who was bereft due to the unfaithfulness of Gomer his wife. This morning we heard from the opening chapter of Isaiah in which he warns the Kings of Judah of God’s impending wrath due to their lack of sincerity and faithfulness.
It is unfortunate that the prophetic words we have heard the past three weeks have been words of lament, as both prophets decried how Israel has become unfaithful to Yahweh by worshiping other gods. And this morning it has become clear, we can no longer avoid talking about the prophets. Three weeks of repetition aside, with Jesus reminding us that where our treasure is heart are also, there is no doubt this morning’s conversation could not be avoided any longer.
Why Isaiah’s words shout so loudly at us today and we have to take notice is because he attacks the very core of what we tend to be about. . .worship. In this morning’s lesson, Isaiah tells the Kings and people of Judah that their sacrifices are meaningless to God, not because they aren’t doing it right, but because somewhere along the way the purpose of the rituals have become for the sake of ritual and not about being in communion and obedience with God. Isaiah’s contempt for the sacrifices of Judah has challenged me to ask, what would Isaiah say to us if he walked into our community today? Would he praise us, or would he scold us along for the same reason he scolds the Kings of Judah?
The heart of the question Isaiah confronts us with is, “why are we here, and for what purpose does St. Luke’s exist?
Hopefully, the answer that popped into most people’s minds is “to bring all people to God healing embrace.” Yet, even though we say this is what we are about, are we passionate about living into it?
Again, in today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us where our treasure is our hearts is also. Sadly, how we spend our money and how we allocate our budget speak more about our priorities than mission statements.
This week, Tom Schultz, the creator and owner of Group Publishing, challenged all congregations when he declared the problem with the institutional church is that 80-90% of church budgets go towards buildings and administration and not to mission. Mr. Schultz also mentioned that on average, less than 10% of church budgets are allocated towards outreach or mission and usually churches allocate less than 3% for Christian formation and Sunday school.
Our financial realities are not far different from what Mr. Schultz describes. With a budget of just over $200,000, 10% is given to the diocese to meet our assessment, 20% is allotted to utilities and building maintenance for both here and the rectory. Approximately 55% of our budget is spent on payroll with the remainder for everything else.
Now when I first read Mr. Schultz’s article, I have to admit, I was a bit offended. Mr. Schultz argued that the way the church allocates its budgets makes it a poor choice for non-profit donations. This becomes especially true when non-profits like the Red Cross and others are expected to keep their administrative costs below 10% with the rest of their revenues going towards whatever their mission or purpose is.
At first I totally disagreed with Mr. Schultz’s comparing the church with other non-profits. After all, our buildings and staff are a good portion of our ministry. But then, as I got over my own defensiveness, I realized he may have a point. Currently, there are three other Episcopal Churches within three to eight miles of St. Luke’s. All three congregations are currently struggling to support staff and aging buildings. Two of these congregations average less than fifty on a Sunday morning and are unable to afford a quarter-time clergy person. The third is slightly smaller than we are with a full-time clergy person but has a building that has cost them over a quarter-million dollars to maintain the past two years. With this in mind, I have to ask, why no one has broached the possibility of sharing resources, perhaps even merging congregations.
The answer is simple, we like Judah, have lost sight of what God has called us to be. Somehow, through the years, our relationship with God and the Church has become entangled with our buildings and the person who stands behind the altar. As costs have increased and congregations have aged and decreased in size, paying the bills and maintaining what is familiar has taken priority over our mission. . .to prepare the way for the reign of God.
If current research is true, one of the common reasons young people cite for not being part of the institutional church is because they perceive the church as disconnected from its message. Most who write about today’s 20 and 30 something’s consistently state that today’s young adults are looking for connection with God and community, but. . . the communities they seek need to be authentic and live what they claim to believe. The communities they seek need to be welcoming and accepting, open to their thoughts, ideas and the music that speaks to them. The communities they seek are more concerned about social justice than keeping out dated buildings at all costs. Communities they seek are more concerned about how we live our faith in the same way the Good Samaritan does, than worrying about the finer points of liturgy or doctrine.
As I ponder this list, it’s clear, the young of today are asking us to be the church Christ initiated, and the people God continues to call us to be through the prophets.
Over the past ten years the universal church has weathered the perfect storm of change and discontent and somewhere along the way many have lost sight of its mission. Despite all this, the Body of Christ still survives in the same way it has survived the numerous storms of its past. . .by refocusing on its mission and shedding the rest. There is no doubt, this means continued change and adaption to an ever changing world. However, no matter what may befall us in the years to come, the Body of Christ will survive. Because, as St. John wrote, “ the light came into the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.