By Ross Engel –
Growing up in the greater Chicagoland area, one didn’t measure distance by miles. Distance was always measured in the amount of time it took to get somewhere. For example, when my wife and I were dating, I never would have said, “We live about 70 miles away from each other.” Instead, I would’ve said something like, “We live an hour away from each other.” Traffic and road types were always factored into the amount of time it took to get somewhere, since ten miles on one road might go by faster than five miles on another.
Applying that same way of thinking, I can say: “I live 50 minutes away from the beach. It takes me 25 minutes to get downtown. In about 35 minutes, I can be parked and in the stadium for a baseball or football game. My congregation is ten minutes away.” Miles are reduced to the amount of time it takes to get from point A to point B.
I share this with you because lately I’ve been frustrated about the way we spend our time, especially our time in the car. It is my experience that the average person commutes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to get to work every day. They do this five days a week for anywhere from an hour to two hours a day in the car—going to work and coming home, all to collect a paycheck. On top of that, parents are willing to spend hours in the car each week, shuttling their kids from one sporting event to the next, driving all over God’s green earth to yell at a ball.
Now, I have nothing against people traveling to get to their place of employment. People have to eat and bills need to be paid. Most people really do try their best to minimize how far they have to drive to get to work each day. No one really likes a long commute. I don’t mind that people are willing to spend hours in the car to support their kids’ athletic endeavors, either (though at times, I think we’d all agree that youth sports are getting more and more ridiculous with all their expectations).
I’ve been frustrated because it’s become more and more common that people are willing to drive significant distances for a paycheck or for a sport but are unwilling to drive a similar distance on Sunday morning to receive our Lord’s gifts in the Divine Service.
“Pastor, we’d really love to come to your church, but you know, we live 30 minutes away now and that drive is just killer, so we’re going to go to the MethoBaptiPentiCrossTal Church that’s just around the corner. We know they’re not preaching what we believe, but they’re closer to us. Maybe in time we’ll even be able to get over the fact that they use Doritos and Pepsi for the Sacrament of the Altar and only Baptize people with repurposed Yak saliva.”
Drive an hour for a paycheck? Drive an hour to sit in the bleachers in the rain for a sport? Absolutely!
Drive that same distance to receive the forgiveness of sins? To hear the Word of God preached in its fullness? To be fed and nourished with the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation? No thanks, we’ll take our chances with something closer.
Sometimes the way that we prioritize our time just doesn’t add up!
We are living in a world where priorities are way out of whack. We are living in a time ”…when [people] will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). All too often, the myths and lies that people chase after are the inviting calls of fitting in with the world. The sultry encouragement to make a job the number one priority in life or to find identity in one’s career. We get tripped up by the lie that our kids will be better adjusted and more successful in life if we cart them all over creation to play a sport. We buy into the myths and lies and end up prioritizing things that have no lasting significance and we wear ourselves out chasing a never achievable goal. All the while, pushing the reception of God’s gifts further and further down our list of priorities.
But in spite of these trying times, there are still many who, in the midst of the famine, are hungering and thirsting for God’s Word and who yearn to receive God’s gifts of life and salvation. There are many who know where to be fed and are willing to travel whatever distance and time it takes so that they would be nourished on the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
In Amos 8, God speaks through the prophet and says, “’Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord God, ‘When I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, But rather for hearing the words of the Lord.’”
In the midst of the famine, people of God, go to where you will be truly fed. Don’t be afraid to travel extra minutes or miles to get fed with the Bread of Life, the nourishment that will sustain you through all your days. And brother pastors, treasure, cherish, and feed the flock entrusted to your care! Deliver the goods to the flock 200-proof, and don’t be surprised when people stagger through your doors, malnourished and underfed, exhausted from searching, aching to be filled with the banquet feast that the Lord prepares in your midst and delivers through His Divine Service.
Rejoice and be glad! For some things truly are worth the drive time!