Other than our saying The Lord’s Prayer together.
Or, our singing the Doxology together.
These are the words we probably say together the most:
We place our trust in God.
God calls us to be the Church;
to celebrate God’s presence;
to love and serve others;
to seek justice and to resist evil.
In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us.
Thanks be to God.
We began our worship this morning with those words.
And, we will end our Annual meeting with them this afternoon.
They are the words we say together each time we celebrate a baptism as a reminder of who we are and an affirmation of what we believe.
But, it’s complicated, isn’t it?
All this God stuff?
Complicated putting into practice what we say we believe.
Complicated taking the hard words of Bible seriously.
Love your enemies.
Extend hospitality to strangers.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
Live peaceably with all.
Overcome evil with good.
Treat others [all others, not some others] as you would like to be treated.
It is complicated being the church and being the church together.
If it were only one half of the equation it would be so much easier.
If it was only about celebrating God’s presence.
Or, only about loving God.
Or, only about God with us now and always.
It would be easier.
If it was only caring for each other, many of whom we have known for some time.
We could manage all that pretty well.
At least most of the time.
And, in fact, we do.
Meals are prepared and shared.
Phone calls and visits are made.
We stand alongside one another both in times of need and times of celebration and joy.
We do our best to strengthen the network and the fabric of our community.
Or, if it were only Sunday mornings…
This beautiful space.
The laughter and energy of our children.
The opportunity to add our prayers to the prayers of others.
All of which helps us to stop for a moment and to reset and re-balance our lives in the midst of the craziness of life as it often is for many of us.
If it were only this much, it would be so much easier.
But, God, it seems, doesn’t seem to know when to leave well enough alone.
Because into the equation, God pulls all these other people into our space.
Those who are hungry.
And, if that were not enough, God then pushes us out the door telling us…
(Commanding us if you believe the imperative voice of the verb)…
To seek justice.
To resist evil.
To serve others.
Whether they look like us or think like us or believe what we believe.
When that happens, it all gets complicated…quickly.
I found myself thinking about all of this and wanting to share my thoughts with you for two reasons. First, today is our Annual Meeting. We will conduct our business decently and in order. We will read and receive reports and information about everything from the Mistletoe Mart to our building homes in Nicaragua. From the restoration of our building to how we open our doors to provide a place for those who would otherwise be sleeping outside. We will review income and expenditures and endowment fund performance and dream about the future. In other words we will acknowledge, at leaset for a moment, that tension with which we live between in here and out there; between being mindful of and caring for our community and meeting the basic human needs of others. We are fortunate. More often than not we are able to balance the in here and the out there pretty well. You are thoughtful and generous and are willing to lean into the discomfort of talking about and wrestling with challenging issues and concerns. But, it is worthwhile, I think, to remember and to acknowledge that tension as we review the past and turn towards tomorrow.
The second reason I wanted to share these thoughts with you is this. To, once again, remind you that the culture in which we live is fundamentally different than the one in which many of us grew up. David Brooks’ Op-ed piece in Tuesday’s New York Times and the feedback it received both from Letters to the Editors and in online responses highlight something of the tension in which we live as Christians and as a community of faith. Brooks begins his Op-ed piece with this:
Over the past few years, there has been a sharp rise in the number of people who are atheist, agnostic or without religious affiliation. A fifth of all adults and a third of the youngest adults fit into this category. (New York Times, Tuesday, February 3, 2015) A number of our children and grandchildren are covered by that statistic.
And, to add to our head shaking, what about this?
- Nearly 40% of the people within a five mile radius of the Bedford Village Green have no religious affiliation.
- And, when asked young adults describe religion as narrow minded, homophobic and anti-intellectual.
- Time and again, not only commentators, but the general public highlight the most narrow and narrow-minded religious perspective and blame religion for much of the violence they see and read about and, in some cases, experience.
All this describes an understanding of religion that not only others don’t believe in, but one I don’t believe in. But it is into that world I am to go. We are to go. Finding ways to express and to live our deepest and best values and to embody what we understand of the promises and possibility of God in a way that opens rather than closes hearts and minds and souls.
Maybe it has always been.
But here we are.
Here you are.
I assume because there is something about this community that adds value to your life and something about who we are and what we do that turns you towards the best of who you imagine yourself to be. The best of who God calls you to be. Now, how do you take all that and live it out in this community of faith and carry it out into the world out there? How do you take…
And, a longing for justice and peace.
All those things which you find here out into the world?
Doing what you can…
Doing what we can…
To turn the world and point others in the direction of God’s Kingdom come?
All this God stuff.