February 23, 2014
The 7th Sunday after the Epiphany
“Church.” “Going to church.” From my upbringing, that word sounded boring and judgmental! I have lots of images and feelings about the experience of “Church.” I’m sure you do too. Some good. Some bad. In reality, it was a chore rather than an experience. Particularly any wonder and awe, contentment and love and creativity: three important elements that flow through the Book of Acts. I know I’m preaching to the choir, but my goal for this sermon is simply to highlight the importance of pursuing an intentional spiritual life within the context of a container or community by which it can be held. But, hold that thought.
I want to introduce you to a game this morning. [Invite the B&B to come forward] Some of you may have heard of it or played it before. It’s called Massively Multiplayer Thumb-Wrestling. It was invented about 12 or so years ago. It goes like this. Unlike the old way of thumb wrestling when you find a partner and try to smash the other person’s thumb down first, this way you find several players to connect with at the same time. [You can also use both of your hands to form a node. Upside down as well.] So, I’m inviting everyone try it. [Find three other partners] If you can stand up, that’s better.
Some thumb wrestling gurus suggests that this game brings up at least 10 pleasurable emotions like joy, curiosity and excitement, to name a few. The data also showed that the top three feelings the game generates is wonder and awe, contentment and love, and creativity. For example, you might have thought how am going to play this crazy game (wonder), and wow, we can do it (awe). And, it might have brought a sense of feeling connected (contentment and love). By the way, research shows us that when we willingly hold another’s hand for at least six seconds, the hormone oxytocin is released (biological-emotional connection). And, in playing the game you might have noticed that it took some doing to build several nodes of hands all across the room at the same time (creativity).
I believe the local church of today needs to be a place that offers several elements, three of which are wonder and awe, contentment and love and creativity. The church itself seems to be a strange entity in society. Of course, it’s been around for centuries, often as the centerpiece of a city or town. That’s why, particularly in Europe, church buildings and cathedrals were and are in the center of the city or on a predominant hill. Today it seems, at least in the US, that churches are often viewed as historical tolerations and/or part of the list of equally tolerating facets that should be in cities, equal to having a library or swimming pool. It’s moved from being a necessity in one’s life or in a community’s life, to one that’s a sometimes painful embarrassing commodity in life. The Greek word for “church” is ekklesia, meaning “a calling out.” We, the church, are said to be the “called-out ones.” I can’t help but think that the “calling” is implying not that we are special or privileged, but that we now have opportunities to listen and be heard like never before to God’s voice. It’s like being at a party and your child calls out to you. And because of your intentional relationship, somehow through all the noise you distinctly hear them calling you. There’s special language, distinct tones, familiar inflections, intentional ways to live. You and I are called out to experience the Christ in each other, and reflect it to the world around us.
However, people view the concept of “Church” in several diferent ways. Often it’s seen as a:
Hospital-a place to heal the sick and brokenhearted
School or Seminary-a place that teaches or pronounces all the “right” doctrines
Midwife-a place to help people get “born again”
Religious Boot Camp-a place to enforce rules and disciplines that create habits
Restaurant-a place to provide spiritual comfort food to the spiritually uncomfortable
Movie Theater-a place to provide periodic entertainment when we’re bored
Social Club-a place to create fun things to do to mingle and connect
Funeral Home-a place to die and morn and comfort others
Museum-a place to remember saints or relics; when there’s no responsibility but to silently admire
Courtroom-a place of judgment, litigation and sentencing
Diabetic’s Home-a place that pricks and hurts in order to draw virtuous blood
Some of these might sound good. But most of them don’t inspire a desire for more of a Christ reality.
Bono, the lead singer in the rock band U2 once said, “Christians are hard to tolerate. I don’t know how Jesus does it?” We can probably say that for churches, as well. How does Jesus still tolerate churches? I wonder… How do Takoma Park-ers see the Catholic Church down the road, or the Presbyterian Church up the street or Seekers Church on Carroll Avenue? (I would imagine that Katie could tell us a lot, or Glen, or Peter, or anyone else who interacts much with our neighbors.) In any case, it would be an interesting survey.
I hope we at Seekers not present ourselves as a place to go to church, but as a chance to experience church. So, I ask… Are we a community that inspires and fosters wonder and awe, contentment and love, and creativity? Are we a place that people feel loved and honored, no matter who they are, or where they come from? Are we a safe place that offers an experience to engage, maybe even wrestle, with our frustrating and frightening unknowns? Are we a place that keeps the edges hot by encouraging people to be a little edgy and daring and really damn curious? Or, do we encourage compliance and tolerance to traditional rules? And, will this calling out experience last? Are we a place that will be around 25 years from now? Let’s face it, nearly all of us will dead by then. Or, are we thinking about how we can creatively invite others to experience a communal committed and challenge-filled life called Seekers Church for the years ahead?
I for one want to intentionally experience Christ in this community, whatever that is. Today marks my public commitment to be a Steward at Seekers Church. (By the way, signing up to preach is not a pre-requisite to becomes a Steward. Ken lovingly hogtied me a long time ago.) My story and personal experience in brief is that I’ve been attending Seekers for about ten years (just before we moved into this building). My spiritual journey or progression into Seekers these past 10 years seems like it went through several stages. I first entered (2025 Mass. Ave.) as a skeptical, but hungry curious inquirer; to a respectful regular attender; to a willing supporter of its efforts; to an avid helper of its needs; to a somewhat fulfilled religiously-saturated, and comfortable member; to now one who knows nothing except to live out my calling to follow Christ in the context of being a Steward at Seekers. Every year in the recommitment season I would either chicken out, or sincerely not sense that becoming a Steward was right for me. Specifically, for the past 5 or 6 years every October, I would listen to my heart and do my due-diligence to pray and evaluate God’s call to commitment here. So, now as I step into this, I’m not sure what I’ve gotten myself into. But it seems right for me at this time. Seekers life seems right for me at this time. Does it for you? Or, are you like I was, too “comfortable” in my religious chair? I’m not at all saying that Steward-dom should be the goal for everyone. I am saying, though, that we need to set our sights on knowing and offering our unique gifts, opening ourselves to deep listening, and being intentional to experience the Christ in each other.
In one of my men’s groups, somebody said to me, “You know there’s a difference between being a collection of committed Christians, and being the Body of Christ. I don’t fully know what that means yet. But Seekers is helping me to experience it.
My hope is that we continue to listen to our inner spiritual desires. And, that Seekers Church will continue to be a place to intentionally experience awe and wonder, contentment and love, and creativity, as well as gentle challenge to expand and be edgy to meet those desires. Let’s pray together.
[Kevin then read from Guerillas of Grace, by Ted Loder, beginning with “Touch Me with the Truth that Burns Like Fire…” The full text of the reading may be found at http://posjhomewood.org/news-081109-g.htm]