Sunday, May 10, 2009

Easter 5 - Year B

“I don’t need to go to church,” I was told. “I just worship God in my own way.” Another way I hear this is “I don’t believe in organized religion.”

To that I always want to reply, “Organized religion? Have you SEEN my desk lately? There’s nothing ‘organized’ about it!”

You’ve probably heard that sort of thing before. I hear it all the time. And it used to irk me when I heard it. It doesn't anymore.

I had all sorts of ready-made answers for folks who would say that sort of thing. Good biblical and theological answers as to why you need to go to church to worship God and not just do your own thing.

I would point to the book of Acts where the Holy Spirit gathered all sorts of people together in an intimate community, and say “There! There’s where it says that you need to go to church.”

I would suggest that the early churches assembled in each other’s houses because that’s the way God wanted them to worship. If God didn’t want people to be in church then why does the New Testament spend so much time in helping churches get along with each other?

I would tell them that people need each other in order to grow, that left on our own we’d simply repeat the same old patterns of thought and wouldn’t be challenged in any way. Learning and growth happen best when in conversation with other people.

Then I’d get all theological and say that our God is a church - the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, communing with each other in an intimacy so deep that we confess them to be One God. Three persons, co-equal, co-eternal, circle dancing through the cosmos, calling all who are baptized in that name to join in their everlasting ballet.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? At least I think it does. But my arguments always met glazed eyes because I think people could see behind them. They could see that what I was really doing was pushing my own church agenda - after all I have vested interest in people coming to church - instead of pushing God’s agenda. And God’s agenda doesn’t always include Church.

That may sound like an odd statement, especially from someone who makes a living in church. But you have to see what I mean by the word “church.” I mean “Church” capital C, institutional. Where Church becomes a place of rules and obligations, power structures and hard expectations. I think that’s what people hear when someone like me says that word “Church.” It’s no wonder they want to worship God in their own way.

Pat answers to challenging questions say more about the answerer than the questioner. It’s theological finger wagging, making people feel guilty about what they do or don’t do.

You may remember last fall when I got some stomach bug one Saturday night and Rebekah had to fill in for me. While you folks were here listening to one of Rebekah’s whiz-bang sermons, I had a very different morning that day.

Figuring it wasn’t the H1N1 virus and wasn’t going to give anyone Swine Flu, I went for a walk to the gas station to buy a coffee (mmmm...Gas station coffee...). I put my iPod on and listened to a podcast (I can’t remember what) while I walked.

From the gas station I wandered over to a park, sat on a bench, and watched some leaves blow around in the breeze. It was a cool, autumn day. A little cloudy, with a slight wind coming from the west. My heart tapped the breaks. My breathing quieted.

“So, this is what God meant when God told Moses to ‘Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.”

For me, it was a true Sabbath moment. It was the first time I felt relaxed in a long time. Even more relaxed than lying on a Mexican beach like I did last June.

Those who know me know that I find it hard to relax. I don’t sleep well and I have trouble turning my brain off. My favorite day of the week is Monday, I’ve only just started taking a day off, mainly for family reasons, and I get stressed out planning holidays.

It’s not that I’m wildly productive, or so madly in love with my work that it becomes the “other woman” in my life, or that I have a workaholic macho streak.

It’s just that I have trouble sitting still. I like to keep moving. Maybe it’s adult onset ADD but I’m never happy unless my brain is engaged.

But that day, I was able to calm myself. Having no other agenda that day other than to get healthy, I was to settle down, put my mental feet up, turn off the light switch in my brain, cool the engines for a while. At least for an hour.

I was surprised to find myself, at that park, listening to some unmemorable podcast, that I was able to worship. To be silent. To pray. To connect with God. Outside of the church.

“So, this is what people are doing when not in church on Sunday,” I muttered to myself. “I could get used to this.”

Was this worshipping God in my own way? Maybe. Probably.

But as I wandered back home I watched the cars go by, many of them driven by people wearing ties or nice dresses - church clothes. Families on their way home from worship. I began to wonder if THEY were able to connect with God that morning. And I began to wonder if YOU were able to connect with God while in worship. If YOU were having as worshipful a morning as I was.

Good, proper theology says that the only reason we find ourselves at church on Sunday is because God puts us there. That God’s pulls us by our spiritual ears and plops us down in the pew. And there’s some truth to that.

But I also think people - you, we, - find ourselves here on Sundays because this is where we know we’ll find Jesus, or where Jesus finds us. Jesus is in God’s Word as it is spoken, in the sacraments as they’re distributed.

But, perhaps most importantly, Jesus is in the face of each one of us here. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” We are all connected to each other through Jesus. When one branch is missing, we are diminished. Something is missing. SomeONE is missing.

We are the branches because that’s where the fruit is. We are the ones who bear God’s fruit. And while we little branches extend far beyond the the doors of the church (to mix my metaphors), we are still connected to the one source of nourishment- Jesus, the vine. Jesus in water and word, bread and wine. Jesus in fellowship with other believers. Jesus connecting us to each other, helping us to bear fruit that lasts into eternity.

For most of you, I would guess, worship isn’t something you HAVE to go to. Worship is something you GET to go to. That’s what I realized that day as I was scurrying home (also after realizing that coffee and stomach bugs are a deadly combination).

I realized that church is a gift. That I need you to help me grow. We need each other. There’s no fancy theology behind why church is important for believers, or soon-to-be-believers, or trying-to-believe believers. I think we’re here because we know , deep within our bone-marrow, that this is where God wants us, just for a while, to connect and grow with the encouragement of other, into the fullness of who God wants us to be.

I see our ChristCare small group ministry helping in our call to grow as followers of Jesus. As many of you know, ChristCare is “circles of care with Christ in the center.” ChristCare is built on four pillars: 1. Prayer and Worship, 2. Care and Community, 3. Biblical Equipping (we did a little of this during our Wednesday Lenten services. I call this “bible study you can use.”) 4. Missional Service.

As our ChristCare ministry grows I encourage you to participate in one of our groups, to help you grow in your faith and connect with others. Through these groups, it is my prayer, that you will bear fruit, as you connect to the vine.

May this be so among us. Amen.


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