4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:4-5, 9-10
This past Sunday was new member Sunday and as I looked out at our new group of members, I was struck at the diversity of them all. Some came from other ELCA congregations, others from a different Lutheran denomination, and still some others from other Christian denominations or didn’t have any prior church affiliation. Some were there because family members were already members, some had lived in the area their whole lives while others hadn’t lived here very long. For some, it was an entire family joining. Others, just a single individual from a family. No matter what, these people have become part of our congregation, our Christian family, individual stones that build the spiritual house called Trinity Lutheran Church.
I must admit that over the past year I’ve struggled with the concept of church membership. At Trinity, you can be baptized, married, buried, given communion, go to Sunday School, get confirmed, and basically do everything else in the church except vote in a meeting and be on church council as a non-member. Part of me wondered: what’s the point? Why do we worry about counting people and judging that as part of our ministry success? Isn’t worship attendance, dollars given away, ministry done a better measure? Do people really care about the name of the church on the outside of the building? With so many people skeptical of the institutional church, of “religion,” maybe there is a better way to live and be as a group of Lutheran Christians?
And then, as I stood up there last Sunday and installed these new members, I read the above words from 1 Peter. I have always loved these verses and as I read them to our group of new members, as I was reminded that church membership actually does matter. It isn’t about numbers or what you can do and can’t do. In the end, it is about one thing: identity. It is about having a place where you can hear of God’s mighty acts who have brought us out of darkness and into his marvelous light. It is about having a place to call home, filled with people who love you and value as a stone in this spiritual house that God has built. God in Jesus Christ has called us to this place to live boldly and freely in the faith and to be inspired and encouraged by each other to go out into the world to proclaim God’s mighty acts, to love the neighbor, and to serve the poor.
I thought of this as well when the news of the passing of long time member Joyce Hopkins had passed away. I remembered so many people who helped her and cared for her and prayed and visited her these past years after her stroke. I remembered all the people she helped and encouraged in the years prior to the stroke. Mostly, I remembered the love that was shared between her and members and vice versa. And I was reminded that being a part of this special place does matter. It is important.
God has called each of us to Trinity and has formed us into a spiritual house. We are God’s own people, part of a larger church but also uniquely our own. We support and love each other, whether we have been here for six months or sixty years. But most importantly, this is the place where we hear of the mighty acts that God has done in our lives and in the lives of others. Thank you for being a part of this spiritual house, for sharing and using your gifts, and for proclaiming to others the gospel of Jesus Christ.