John 10:1-10 and Acts 2:42-47
Fourth Sunday of Easter
May 11, 2014
First Christian Church
It’s Springtime and that means that it’s time for the spring pledge drive on public radio. Now, I love listening to Minnesota Public Radio and I’ve been a supporter for about a decade. I get that public radio and television in the United States is not funded totally by the government, but mostly by donations from listeners. But every time I hear that the pledge drive is coming, I get sullen. I’m sad because I know that the this pledge drive is going to take away from hearing some of my favorite programs. I love listening to Morning Edition in the morning and All Things Considered in the evening. During a pledge drive, there is a high chance that I will have my news program interuppted time and time again by people asking for money and telling me all the fabulous thank you gifts I could get, If I just called 1-800-227-2811. After hearing this over and over, I start finding another radio station that isn’t having a pledge drive.
But even though pledge drives bother me, I know why it is done. I love the great reporting at both the local and national level. I love all the interesting shows. I know that the money I donate goes to support good things.
In churches we have something that similar, yet different- the stewardship drive. Every year we have people talk about what the church means to them and each year people choose to give a certain amount of money per year to support the church. I have wondered at times if we gave people gifts when they pledge- maybe they get a free mug or tote bag.
More than once, pastors have thought about how stewardship to the church and a public radio pledge drive are similar. But are they the same? Is church the same as listening to Nina Totenberg?
Why does church matter? Why is that we come to this building every Sunday morning and spend a few hours there? Why do people not only give their money, but also give their time to this community? What makes church so special? Do we need church?
The second chapter of Acts is one of the best known in Scripture. The chapter begins with Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit comes down on the disciples of Jesus. Peter gets the courage to tell the story of Jesus which led to 3000 persons joining the disciples in this new thing called the church.
Towards the end of the chapter we see this passage, one of my favorite. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.” This passage is one of community and it is in many ways it is the defination of what church is all about. No, I am not going to tell you to sell everything and live in a commune somewhere. As far as I know, no other faith community ever did things like this. But it does tell you what church should be. The church is a place where we learn together on what it means to be Christians through Sunday School and Bible Studies. The church is a place where we break bread and engage in fellowship or potluck. A church is a place where we don’t see our obessions as just for us, but they are to be used for God’s service. It is a place where we help those in our community who need help.
Why does church matter? A few years ago, a pastor in the Chicago suburbs wrote a column that sparked a bit of controversy. She wrote an article called “Spiritual But Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me.” As you can guess from the title, Lillian Daniel has a problem with a type of person that doesn’t go to church, but can see God in sunsets. I’d like to share a shortened version of the article.
On airplanes, I dread the conversation with the person who finds out I am a minister and wants to use the flight time to explain to me that he is “spiritual but not religious.” Such a person will always share this as if it is some kind of daring insight, unique to him, bold in its rebellion against the religious status quo.
Next thing you know, he’s telling me that he finds God in the sunsets. These people always find God in the sunsets. And in walks on the beach. Sometimes I think these people never leave the beach or the mountains, what with all the communing with God they do on hilltops, hiking trails and . . . did I mention the beach at sunset yet?
Like people who go to church don’t see God in the sunset! Like we are these monastic little hermits who never leave the church building. How lucky we are to have these geniuses inform us that God is in nature. As if we don’t hear that in the psalms, the creation stories and throughout our deep tradition.
Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn’t interest me. There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.
Thank you for sharing, spiritual but not religious sunset person. You are now comfortably in the norm for self-centered American culture, right smack in the bland majority of people who find ancient religions dull but find themselves uniquely fascinating. Can I switch seats now and sit next to someone who has been shaped by a mighty cloud of witnesses instead? Can I spend my time talking to someone brave enough to encounter God in a real human community? Because when this flight gets choppy, that’s who I want by my side, holding my hand, saying a prayer and simply putting up with me, just like we try to do in church.
Church matters because it is the only way we can understand this crazy thing called faith. It is a place where we can be called out if we are out of bounds. It is a place where we learn from each other and help each other in our belief in Jesus. It tells us that we are not the center of the universe, but we are called to be sent out and work in Christ name to bring healing and wholeness in this world.
I want to end with a story of someone that I learned a lot from. Her name is Dorothy and she died a few weeks ago at age 92. When I started at First Christian in 2008, I came in contact with Dorothy. She wasn’t able to get to church on regular basis anymore, but she did come to the Thursday meeting Handcrafters, a group of women who come together to make various crafts. Dorothy was leading an effort to make prayer shawls for people. She wanted to get the shawls delivered to persons who needed a gentle touch in their lives. It was an effort, but we were able to get the Elders involved in delivering the shawls. But these women all in their 80s and 90s, made caps for the homeless and every new baby got a prayer shawl as well.
What I learned from Dorothy is that you might retire from work, but you don’t retire from doing God’s mission. And I learned that mission isn’t a solitary activity. Mission is a time where the community comes together to do something to the glory of God.
This is why church matters. We are not a holy version of the Rotary Club. We are people who gather together to learn from each other about Jesus and is sent into the world to announce God’s kingdom.
Hopefully this fall, we will be having a stewardship drive. No, we won’t be giving out tote bags if you pledge. But I hope you will be reminded that this church is a place that the outside world can see God at work and will join us in being church together.
If you look in my office, there is a prayer shawl sitting in my chair. I had forgotten that Dorothy had given me a shawl of my own. I was looking in the closet one day and saw the bag the shawl was in. With her recent passing in my mind, I took it with me to church. It’s a reminder to me of a saint who taught me that being a disciple has no age limit.
What does church mean to you?
Thanks be to God. Amen.
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