In many previous generations and still in some places today, Christians might be surprised that a pastor has to write in this way. But recently I had to remind the congregations I serve that there is something more important than charity.
Read on to see what I meant…
Anglicare is deeply loved as our own Anglican social welfare arm with whom we and many other churches partner; for its counselling, emergency relief, aged care, hospital and prison chaplaincy, advocacy for the poor and marginalized, and so much more, in Christ’s name.
And MS is close to our hearts since one of our own much-loved congregation members, only in his 40s, has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Indeed many fitness lovers (and wannabes) delight in Wollongong’s Australia Day Aquathon, whose major charity partner is Anglicare, and the cyclists love that ride from Sydney to the Gong!
But I’m saying today there’s something more important than charity and fundraising events! It’s the gathering of God’s people in the church of Christ.
Amazingly, Ephesians 3:10 says the church is the place God’s wisdom is displayed to the world. And it’s well known Hebrews 10:24-25 says Christians should never give up assembling, but meet to encourage one another in Christ, to spur one another on toward love and good deeds!
And so as a matter of principle, I cannot in good conscience promote an alternative event that occurs at the same time as church in the Cathedral I serve – even a worthy fundraising and fitness event. That means in January 2014, my intention is – regretfully – not to promote the Aquathon at all at St Michael’s – because this time, it occurs on a Sunday.
I am not a strict ‘Sabbatarian’ – though I believe the 4th command to Israel still has wisdom for us.
But I do think Sunday is the Lord’s Day (see Revelation 1:10, also Acts 20:7, 1 Cor 16:2). It belongs to Jesus in some sense – especially as the “first day of the week” – upon which he rose (Luke 24:1, John 20:1,19). It’s that resurrection that declares publicly Jesus is Lord. And that means he is your Lord and mine – 100% master – including Lord of your time.
I realise that some will say, “Oh, that day I will go to evening congregation”. But experience knows not every one does; and if they do, they’re often tired.
Instead we owe it to Christ and his people to give the best of our day to him, whatever time we assemble at church, to be fresh, and to make that assembly our first priority.
And perhaps the biblical concept of rest fits in there somewhere too!
I recognise that individuals can make their own choice – according to conscience – about what activities they undertake on a Sunday, and in particular, whether they participate in the Aquathon (or the Sydney to Gong ride). But we will not promote them at St Michael’s when they occur on a Sunday during church times.
Participating in such events can be a way of connecting with the wider community. However if your community connection all hangs on one of these fundraisers, then it’s pretty tenuous. And sometimes the Bible says we’ll make an impact on the community by being different, not the same as everyone else.
Certainly as an alternative, I encourage people who might otherwise have participated in the Aquathon, as competitor or supporter, to consider making a donation directly to Anglicare anyway.
So as pastor of St Michael’s I say that assembling with Christ and his people each week is of first importance – a higher priority than sport or even fundraising. And I’m glad to say I’ve only had support from Parish Councillors and pastoral staff with whom I checked my views. Likewise, the local Anglicare manager said to me, “If participating in the Aquathon means you’d miss church that Sunday, then you should give the Aquathon a miss this year.”