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Marking Off Our Territory, Or Hey! That's My Pew!
Preparing for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost: Two Days before Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Psalm 81:1, 10-16
Old Testament: Jeremiah 12:1-13
Epistle: 1 Peter 4:7-11
Psalter: Psalm 112
Old Testament: Proverbs 18:6-12
Epistle: 1 Peter 4:7-11
Creator God, you call us to love and serve you with body, mind, and spirit through loving your creation and our sisters and brothers. Open our hearts in compassion and receive our petitions this day on behalf of the needs of the church and the world. Amen.
Be hospitable to one another without complaining (1 Peter 4:9).
We human beings are an interesting lot. Like so many species in the animal kingdom, we are very territorial. In some instances that is probably not a bad thing, but when a certain kind of inhospitable territorialism infects the church, it undermines the gospel invitation to all persons.
One of the places where inhospitable territorialism can be seen most clearly is in worship on Sunday morning. Most folks enter the sanctuary for worship and sit in their same familiar place week after week. Some persons prefer the back, others the front, and others in between. I have been told that the reason people do this is that the more visually oriented persons like to sit in the back so they can see everything, while those who favor their listening faculty sit close to the front. The individuals who are more balanced sit in the middle.
There is no doubt some truth to that, but that still doesn’t explain why most people sit in the exact same spot Sunday after Sunday. I don’t know whether it’s an evolutionary thing, but territory is important to most of us, even in worship. As a pastor, I don’t mind that most people are in the same pew spot Sunday after Sunday, as long as they are OK to give up that spot to a visitor on Sunday morning.
Years ago in a previous church I served, our worship service attendance was at approximately 80% capacity Sunday after Sunday, which meant, for all practical purposes, it was full. I attempted to enlist folks in the congregation to move at least a couple of pews forward to save some room for visitors who ventured in late so they could sit in the back and not feel conspicuous having to walk all the way to the front of the sanctuary. Some complied, others balked. One man actually told me that the pew he sat in was purchased by him years ago when the sanctuary was being built. It was, therefore, his pew. He wasn’t moving for nothing nor no one.
Sadly, people just like dogs mark off their territory. It’s just that we are not as crude in how we do it. After that discussion I decided that perhaps some Christians are indeed just as vulgar, if not more so, in marking off their territory. All are welcome to enter the sanctuary as long as they know where their place is not—in the seats self-reserved by the established “customers.” At least, dogs have an excuse. They have no other way to claim their space. Human beings, and Christians in particular, should know better. If there is a “territory” to be claimed, it is kingdom ‘territory” and it is God who has already staked his claim in Jesus Christ. His followers have no authority to draw boundaries that interfere with the invitation God gives to everyone.
Years ago a bank had as its credit card slogan, “membership has its privileges.” Well, in the church of Jesus Christ, membership does not have its privileges; rather membership has its responsibilities. And by membership I do not mean having one’s name formally on the roll. By membership I mean being a disciple of Jesus Christ, and therefore part of the Body of Christ, the church, God’s Beachhead in this world. In the church, God seeks to enlarge God's kingdom “territory,” not restrict it.
In the Body of Christ there is no place for inhospitable territorialism.
PRAYER: Loving God, open our ears to hear your word and draw us closer to you, that the whole world may be one with you as you are one with us in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.