I couldn’t hold it in anymore.
My confession was triggered by an ad being placed in local newspapers to invite people to our weekly Wednesday worship service at 5:30 p.m.
At the bottom of the ad were the name of our church and my name.
That’s when I asked Karen to call the newspapers and delete “The Reverend” in front of “Dr” as I spilled my guts.
“You see,” I told Karen, “I’ve never felt worthy of the title Reverend. It just seems too much for me. Mirrors don’t lie. I try pero I’m just scratching the surface of my relationship with Jesus and have such a long way to go. The title embarrasses me because I’m just not worthy of being called Reverend. Actually, that’s why I got a doctorate as soon as I could after ordination. I’ve always felt I could handle being called ‘Dr. Kopp’ a lot more than ‘Rev. Kopp’ because the former is about academic accomplishment that is measured by humans and the latter is about character and fidelity measured by God.”
So there you have it because I don’t.
Getting back to the trigger, we have three worship services on the corner of Lincoln and Main. While they are all different in style, the substance is the same. It’s all about Jesus in all of them which is how it should be in churches that advertise themselves as Christian.
The Wednesday evening service is a little different.
The ad that prompted my confession explains the opportunity:
Our family of faith on the corner of Lincoln and Main in Belvidere would like to invite you to the table of Holy Communion on Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m.
No one will ask for your name, address, telephone number, money, or talk to you about anything.
There is no sermon or “meet and greet” and you will not be approached by anyone before or after the sacrament.
This is a completely safe place for you to go to the table of Holy Communion after a solo song, reading of Holy Scripture, and prayer.
We know many people have been turned off by church.
Too many churches are religiously tribal, exclusive, condescending, ‘holier than thou’ and insult our Lord’s high priestly prayer in John 17. But don’t blame Jesus for some churches that could use a lot more Jesus in them!
Join us at the table in a safe and loving place where religion is shelved for a relationship with Father God, Savior Son Jesus, and sustaining Holy Spirit.
The only qualification for receiving the sacrament on the corner of Lincoln and Main is a love for Jesus and thirst to get closer to Him.
Blessings and Love!”
The truth is many folks for good and bad and other reasons have felt abandoned by God because of churches that have done a bad job of being His ambassadors because of their denominational pride, internal squabbles, shooting their wounded, idolatries masquerading as fidelities, and other stuff mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 15 and 23.
David felt abandoned every now and then by his mentor Saul, son Absalom, and even God.
Psalm 60 expresses those feelings and David’s trust in God when facing life’s challenges.
Sometimes we feel abandoned by God and those that say they are Godly: “God, it feels like You have rejected us…You seem so angry with us and it feels like You’ve abandoned us…Everything is a mess…The country is falling apart…I’m falling apart…Please, for Your sake, God, rescue us!”
Sooner or later, usually sooner than later, and definitely in the end, we join David in the ultimate victory of God and the Godly and live triumphantly in the meantime: “God will lead us out of this mess…God will deliver us from our enemies and take care of us.”
I think of Dick Sheppard and St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church on Trafalgar Square in London, England.
Dick Sheppard was born into the church on September 2, 1880 in Windsor, England. He was the younger son of Edgar Sheppard who served as the resident canon to the Queen of Windsor. He went to Marlborough College and studied at Cambridge.
But then he threw the whole thing out and went to work in the slums of London. During this time, he struggled with the question of whether the institutional church was the best vehicle for helping the downtrodden of the world.
Finally, he decided it was God’s call for him to work within the structure of the Church of England. He finished his preparation for the parish ministry. At the age of 34, he was called to the most prestigious church in London – St. Martin-in-the-Fields on Trafalgar Square in 1914.
During his first sermon at St. Martin’s, he preached about his dream for the church: “I stood on the west steps, and saw what this church could be to the life of the people. There passed me, into its warm inside, hundreds and hundreds of all sorts of people, going up to the temple of their Lord, with all their difficulties, trials and sorrows. I saw it full of people dropping in at all hours of the day and night. It was never dark. It was lighted all night and all day and often tired bits of humanity swept in. And I said to them as they passed, ‘Where are you going?’ And they said only one thing: ‘This is our home. This is where we are going to hear the love of Jesus Christ.’ It was all reverent and full of love and they never pushed me behind a pillar because I was poor.”
Day after day and night after night, Dick Sheppard prayed and worked to make the dream come true.
It wasn’t easy.
He hurried about the poor houses with the gospel message of comfort, hope, and eternal life.
He became frustrated by the image of a church caring more for institutional security and survival than the needs of people.
He often said “that the church often failed because it loved the souls of people but not people themselves.”
He fought the pack of bishops and said the only thing that separated people from Jesus was the English church.
He upset the well-heeled of the church; because when they came to occupy their familiar pews, they found them filled with prostitutes, drunks, cons, and all kinds of n’er-do-wells.
The whole idea of reserved pews became a thing of the past.
Parts of the church were turned into overnight lodging for people with nowhere else to go.
Every person living near St. Martin’s was contacted just to let them know St. Martin’s loved them.
Sheppard personally called in the prostitutes to let them know there were some men that could love them not for what they could do for pleasure but because they were real and special and valued.
Laughter was heard in the halls of the church.
Joy radiated from faces.
Biographer Richard Ellis Roberts wrote in 1942: “St. Martin’s became the church of soldiers and the down-and-outs…the church of the classes and masses…the church of fellowship and privacy…the church for the cheerful and the church for the desperate…the church for the healthy and the sick…the young and the old…It was the church in which the congregation was no more shocked at hearing the minister pray for the street-walkers than pray for school teachers, for crooks than for clergy, for blackguards than for bishops…no more shocked than when the vicar laughed and told a funny story in the pulpit. It became a refuge for the unhappy, and the home of the homeless. In short, it was a Christian church.”
Yet during his whole ministry at St. Martin’s, Sheppard was plagued by ill health. Not only was he plagued by people that longed for the way things never were or maybe were but are no more and did not share his dream of an open and inviting and inclusive and welcoming and servant and unconditionally loving church, he was also an asthmatic who cried every day, “Give me this day my daily breath.”
Only a few weeks before his death, his wife left him. He begged her to come back, but she wouldn’t. He died the next day
Before he died, Dick Sheppard would have to be carried into the pulpit through overflowing crowds that sat even at the chancel steps.
And on the day that Dick Sheppard died at the tender age of 57, he got up at four in the morning to take a pair of soft warm gloves to a man whose hands had been burned at work; and in those days before labor unions, it meant a man had to report to work or lose his job. He preached three times. He remembered to send a bouquet of flowers to a friend on his birthday. And after the evening service, he called on a dying man.
The next day, over 100,000 people – poor and prosperous along with princes and prostitutes – waited for his casket.
Yet as he died, Dick Sheppard felt there was so much more to be done.
He felt there was more to do to include everybody, all of God’s children, in the church.
He believed saying you love Jesus and people are not enough.
He believed loving Jesus is no excuse for complacency or contentment or clubbiness or self-righteousness.
He believed loving Jesus is about loving everybody – including yourself – because God in Jesus loves the world.
God in Jesus as Holy Spirit in time would never fence the table from anybody that wanted to dine with Him.
God in Jesus as Holy Spirit would always walk the extra mile and spend the extra dollar to care for others.
God in Jesus as Holy Spirit would never play favorites by color, class, or culture.
God in Jesus as Holy Spirit would always give grace, mercy, and forgiveness wrapped in agape.
God in Jesus as Holy Spirit would always invite, welcome, include, and love.
And when people have really invited Jesus into their heads, hearts, and guts, they do the same things.
No need for response, regard, or reward.
Loving like Him to prove being in love with Him.