May 22, 2013
Dear Mr. Roemer,
I left a message for someone in your group sales office that I'm reasonably certain will go unreturned. As I did last year, I called to speak to someone there regarding the coupons we receive every year from Six Flags that you ask us to hand out to our captive audience of school children and VBS-goers. What I was calling to find out was how many fliers for Bethany Lutheran Church to mail to you to hand out to visitors to your park on one day. I figure if you expect me to advertise for Six Flags, the least you can do is return the favor.
Believe me, I don't expect that to happen. But neither should you expect a congregation of the Lord's Church to be the instrument by which you do your marketing.
Maybe you've been duped by an entertainment-saturated culture into believing that the Church is just another place people go to get entertained, and so, “customers” of churches should be ripe customers for Six Flags. Maybe you've been tricked by the preachers who scratch where ears itch that the Church is little more than a social club of affluent (or wanna-be affluent) people who come to feel better about themselves so they can live better lives now. Maybe you blasphemously see the Church as a means to an end, whereby you can more easily disseminate admission coupons than by coughing up the cash for ads on Coca-Cola cans.
The Bride of the Lord Jesus, the Church is none of those things. Well, not exactly. She is a means to an end, but not where the end is greater revenue for Six Flags (or any of the bazillion companies who want us to try to sell their stuff to the people in our congregations). The end for which the Church exists is the saving of people, the forgiveness of sinners, the reconciling of humanity to God. As such, the Church is the place where God accomplishes these miraculous events.
It is in the Church where God gathers His people to lavish upon them His gifts, where he collects them to preach His good news to them that Jesus has died to take away the penalty for their sinfulness. The Church is the place where God kills sinners in the waters of Holy Baptism and raises from those waters newborn saints. The Church is the place where Jesus sends pastors to speak words of forgiveness to sin-seared consciences. The Church is the place where those of us who know our great need for forgiveness find it in the meal of the Lord's Supper, where Jesus gives to those He gathers His real Body to eat and His real Blood to drink.
Those are holy things.
And they're all gifts.
Imagine how it would cheapen this message and trivialize the gifts of God the Church exists to give out if we coupled the message of forgiveness abundant and free to an advertisement for reduced admission to an amusement park.
Do I have anything against Six Flags? No. In fact, if we find enough discount coupons from Coke cans, I might even bring my family there this summer.
But I'll let your amusement park remain a place for amusement and entertainment, and I ask you to let the Lord's Church be the place for forgiveness and salvation.
Rev. Jeff Hemmer, Pastor
Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church
Fairview Heights, IL