The last shall be first, except when it comes to worship
There are certain events where ticket prices are so out of hand that the average person simply can’t afford to go. Prime concert and sports tickets run sometimes in the thousands, and even base prices for many shows keep those of less than extravagant means out in the cold.
At least we can always find a seat in worship, right?
Maybe, and maybe not. A recent story about a temple in Miami auctioning off on eBay front-row seats for life, to the tune of $1.8 million, raised a few eyebrows and even more questions. The offer, done somewhat tongue-in-cheek, included engraved nameplates on the seats, premium parking spaces and custom-made holy gear for the winners.
While the creators of the auction did not expect anyone to pay such a price, they did acknowledge the offer was legitimate, and that the extra income certainly would be welcome.
Shows such as Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” have parodied the idea of scalping temple seats for high holidays, and this is not far from reality. Reports online have suggested that chairs for high holidays can go for as much as $2,000 apiece in certain areas.
We Christians are not exempt from this sort of elitism within our hallowed walls, however. From services being conducted in languages the general population doesn’t understand to walls and elevated platforms, we have any number of systems in place to keep people separated from those things we deem just a little bit more special than they.
I’ve struggled in a number of churches with the concept of elders or deacons sitting up front, facing the congregation, throughout a worship service. I actually was asked to serve as a deacon at one church where we served, but disagreement about how we served ourselves Communion first before serving everyone else caused me to resign my post.
Sometimes the preferential treatment is even more subtle. Though there is a strong case for keeping ministers uninformed about the weekly giving of individual members, there is a rather legitimate case to be made as well for the pastor to know such things.
The problem is that, once you know person “X” or family “Y” isn’t giving what you think they can or should, you can’t help but let it affect the way you see them and how you interact with them.
Would we bend over backward to keep a very generous giver in our church, more so than the poor couple who drops the equivalent of a few denari in the plate, sacrificial as their modest act may be for them?
Would we pay an extra visit here and there to our best volunteers and those congregants with the most prominent social standing? In most cases, I would argue the answer is that we would, and do.
I’m not exempting myself from this equation. It’s part of human nature to want to preserve that which benefits you or your community the most. However, if we’re not aware of such tendencies, the risk is that we lose perspective on exactly who it is we’re there to serve, and why we come together as faith communities in the first place.
There’s plenty of worship that goes on in our churches, temples and synagogues every week, but it’s not always worship of God. Sometimes it’s of people, or our buildings. Sometimes we’re so proud of our own achievements we are practically worshipping ourselves.
Here’s the question I pose to myself to gauge where I am compared to where I want to be: Would I go as far out of my way to greet and make room for a slovenly dressed, somewhat smelly visitor as we would if a movie star or political dignitary walked through our doors?
Most of us will struggle to answer “yes” to this question. I know I do. Until we can, every time, we’re part of the problem.