Summary: We have a tendency to get lost in activities, especially church activities. The church that is worthy of getting lost in focuses on Christ, serves people, and calls for specific new commitments.
The other night I caught a TV show that featured people showing off the peculiar talents of their pets. One man brought a tiny little dog and proceeded to wind up its tail, sort of cranking the tail, much as you used to have to wind up a mechanical toy. Then he let go and the poor puppy ran round and round and round, chasing its tail, maybe 20, 25 times, but of course never catching it. The dog absolutely got lost in the pursuit of something he would never catch, and which, if he were to catch it, he wouldn’t know what to do with it!
Human beings may be, as the Scripture tells us, the very crown of God’s creation, made a little less than the angels. But we are also among the silliest, most incredibly trivial, most amazingly wasteful, of all God’s creation. We too have the ability to get so obsessed with some activity, so caught up in some passion, that we get lost in it. We can’t find our way out; we just get lost in it.
Recently I read about the "pearlies" in London. The pearlies are people who have created elaborate costumes for themselves, sowing thousands upon thousands of tiny pearls on their clothing, so that they can strut their stuff around the streets of London on various holidays. The typical pearlie, it is said, has invested months of work and a huge amount of money just to create one fantastic pearl-studded coat. People get lost in pursuits like that.
When I was a boy I got involved in stamp collecting. The hobby got a boost in the 1940’s because President Roosevelt was an avid stamp collector and used the hobby as a means of escape from the burdens of his office. Well, the bug bit me when I was about nine years old. It wasn’t long until my after-school hours were spent in poring over tiny bits of paper, trying to puzzle out those funny languages. My allowance was invested in answering stamp ads in Boy’s Life magazine. Mr. Faulkner, I think stamp collecting may have been the only Scouting merit badge I ever earned. Time I was supposed to be spending on homework or on music practice I was using on mounds of postage stamps. My father would find me late at night, well after bedtime, trying to organize the crazy things. Creating something which probably nobody but me would ever see, which would mean nothing to no one but me, and which would contribute very little to my world. I remember him saying, "You are getting lost in this stamp collection!" "You are getting lost..."
That is part of our humanness, getting lost. We get lost in things. We get involved in some pursuit, and it gets out of proportion. We forget how to balance that activity with everything else in our lives. Whether it is participating in sports or decorating the house, whether it is reading mystery novels or punching computer games, some of us get lost. We get lost in the trivial, the peripheral; we get started in something just because it is enjoyable, but soon it takes us over. We get lost.
Even church is like that. Some of us get lost in church. Some of us make church a place to keep busy, a pursuit to follow, a beehive of activity. And if church is nothing but go, go, go, and do, do, do, you soon get lost in it. You forget what it is all about, busy though you are, and you lose the real meaning of it.
I have often quoted, but will do so again, a parody of the nursery rhyme that describes us all too well. Getting lost in the busy-ness of church was aptly described by the wit who chanted, "Mary had a little lamb; it would have been a sheep. But it became a Baptist, and died for lack of sleep"! We get lost, even in church.
Now the Bible does not ask us to get lost in church. It asks us, if we are going to get lost, to get lost in wonder, love, and praise. The Bible asks us to see things in perspective, to remember what church is really all about, and then to focus not on activity, not on triviality, but on purpose.
I want to speak with you today about churchmanship. I want to encourage us to pay attention to the purpose of the church; I want to assess whether our particular expression of the church is worthy; and I want to challenge us to get lost in this church - not in a trivial, obsessive way, but in a caring, effective way. To get lost in wonder, love, and praise.
First, what is the church and why do we have it?