"They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common." (Acts 2: 42-44)
By BISHOP ROBERT HAYES Jr.
In this age when all things sacred and holy often are secondary to personal cravings and whims, it’s refreshing to see businesses remain that honor the Sabbath Day by closing their doors. Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby is one of a few retail stores and restaurants that close on Sunday, choosing to honor God rather than commerce.
Some of you are old enough to remember the Blue Laws of the 1960s, restricting commercial activities on Sundays. According to the official statement, "While such laws originated to encourage attendance at Christian churches, the intent is to promote the secular values of health, safety, recreation, and general well-being through a common day of rest." (Supreme Court decision in McGowan v. Maryland, 1961).
At the time I did not make the connection about what buying cars, pots and pans, selected grocery items, office supplies, and housewares had to do with glorifying God’s work. Sections in stores were roped off, preventing customers from buying certain items, and that’s the way it was. My peers and I never really questioned the practice back then.
But now, reflecting on then, I’ve stumbled upon a question that deserves some thought. It might shock you that I’m even asking, but I must.
How many of our churches are closed on Sunday?
Take a deep breath before you condemn my nerve in asking this. Let me set the stage as to why. Certainly I don’t mean in a literal sense that our churches are closed on the Lord’s Day.
Rather, I wonder how many of our churches go through the motions of worship each week without considering that being open implies certain requirements.
For instance, when the doors open each Sunday at your place of worship, is the environment welcoming? Is the presence of the Holy Spirit invited into that space?
Are you personally open to coming to church in an attitude of worship, seeking to experience God or hear what God has to say to you?
Are you and others who regularly worship at your church open to welcoming new people, to making strangers know you genuinely are happy that they are there?
I am dismayed to hear stories every week about churches that never acknowledge visitors in their midst, neither asking them their names nor inviting them back.
Are you open to leave discord and disagreements outside the doors of your church? Realize that the last place people want to encounter conflict is inside the church.
Are you personally open to participating, learning, volunteering, teaching a class, sharing a word of encouragement or hope?
Again I ask: Are our churches open or closed on Sunday?
The history of the first-century church, as recorded in Acts, tells us that each time those Christians gathered they were devoted to the teaching by the apostles and to fellowship with each other. They broke bread and prayed together. They were attuned to the "wonders and signs" the apostles performed.
They held all matters in common.
Having everything in common doesn’t mean those earliest Christians agreed on all matters. But their minds and hearts were committed to serving the Risen Lord, and all else was secondary.
The last Bible verse in that chapter says it all: "And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved"! (Acts 2:47)
In our churches today, we are deeply engaged in devising strategic plans to make and grow disciples and to halt the decline in the number of United Methodists. We undertake great programs and activities that keep us busy. We spend a lot of resources on making houses of worship comfortable and appealing. We vision a future where people of all ages will find sacred spaces where they feel called to belong. Considering all these efforts, it appears that we truly are doing God’s work.
I declare this as fact: None of these will succeed if our churches are closed on Sunday.
Growing the church begins and ends with you and me! If we don’t live out the United Methodist motto of "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors," we might as well close.
The next time you step into your house of worship on Sunday, look around from this perspective that I have placed before you.
See if your church is open. And if you see it is not the case, ask the Holy Spirit to help YOU start to change that! (No Blue Laws stand in your way!)
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