Ruling Elder Joann Cross
October 8, 2017, Psalm 19, Matthew 21:33-46
The children did a great job of introducing my topic for this morning. So let me tell you how this serendipity came about. Last Sunday I asked Harriet if she would give the children’s sermon, because I was struggling with the rest of the service. She said sure if I helped figure out what she could read. After church Carmen came up to me and said that the topic of the day seemed to fit really well with a song the children had been learning.
Together we concluded that the children needed to share that song during the time with the children. And suddenly I knew how to say what has been percolating in my mind since I agreed to lead this Sunday’s service. Although I don’t always interpret God’s guidance appropriately, I do believe that he has a hand in directing me as to what to say. I leave it up to you to figure out amongst my poor words the message God has for each of us.
So who is the church? The church is the people. Amen! The church is not the building, although the building is important to the people. A church building is designed to direct our attention toward heaven – upwards. The building is designed to allow the people to do a variety of things that fulfill at least part of the fact we are saved, we have work to do and that work needs a place and a focus to facilitate it. Our building serves that function. From the Community Breakfast to the Preschool to the Service Club, to the Narcotics Anonymous meetings to the Samaritan Counseling Center to the new Wednesday night discussion group organized by the Baptist Temple next door and the Oakwood church. All of these things nourish and nurture the work of the congregation. But being human we also tend to take credit for doing those works. We believe that the building is who we are and become possessive about it.
There once was a member of this church, long before I joined who as I understand it nearly single handed supported the church for many years and helped fund the development of much of the space we enjoy today. However, that individual then proceeded to insist that the church operate the way he wanted it to. In many different ways, you and I all become possessive about the building and blur the lines between respect for the function of the building and possession.
The church is not the steeple. The steeple apparently belongs to the bats which are creatures of God’s making. Do you know that bats can eat up to 10 insects per minute and that areas with significant bat populations actually have 32% fewer mosquitos than those that do not? Yet we have gone to great lengths to remove them and keep them out. We argue that bats carry rabies. But the truth is that in reality, bats contract rabies far less than other animals. Less than 1/2 of 1% of all bats may contract the disease. So, yes, some bats have rabies as do dogs and other mammals, but the rest are “just trying to survive”. Are you afraid of bats? Does that mean you should get rid of them? Maybe, but I would suggest that we can be cautious, and likely suggest in the kindest possible way that the bats move elsewhere and not interfere in our lives, but to destroy them is to disrespect the judgement of God who made them. To the extent that both bats and we have roles in God’s creation, we must learn to live together.
Now substitute the name of any other ethnic group or non-Christian religious group or another Christian religious group or even another group of Presbyterians who follow a different tradition than we do for the word “bat.” Is this what we are doing today in today’s world and in this place?
The church is not a resting place. The church is not where we go to leave the world’s troubles behind and “veg out” for an hour on Sunday. The church is a place where we come to learn, to ask questions, to argue philosophy and the Bible and theology and yes, even politics. It is safe and non-judgmental. We don’t have to agree, but we do have to be open to the spirit. Not one of us has all of the answers. Not one of us has the truth. We are all seekers. And as we understand that and believe that, we will begin to see the church as a reenergizing force in the world and a place we go to reconnect with our God and recommit to doing his work.
Many of us think of Sunday as a change from the work we do the rest of the week. Some of us view the Sunday service as a job to be carried out because it is what we are supposed to do. Some of us sit through the service anticipating the fellowship afterwards (and the great food – thanks Deacons). Some of us view Sunday as an obligation or as something we’ve earned because we pledge. Some of us even view Sunday worship as something that our parents once guilted us into and now is a habit too difficult and painful to break.
But the Church, particularly the church on Sunday, is a regrouping and reminder of the actions we need to be taking every day and every minute in some way.
The church is the people. But this does not answer the question posed by the title of this sermon. Whose Church is it anyway? If we are all the church is it ours? We act like it is. We run it like we run our business and like we run the charities we support and we run it like we run our lives. But, in fact, it is God’s Church entrusted to our care.
What do I want for dinner today? I don’t feel like cooking let’s go out to eat. Why doesn’t the Church have more Children’s programs since I have children and I pay my pledge? Why doesn’t the church have more activities for older people to participate in? I’ve been here a long time and I’ve supported this church for a long time. Why don’t they have more activities for me?
I want someplace to send my children to learn about God like I did, but I can’t commit to helping right now. I can’t serve on Session because I ______ on Tuesday nights; Fill in the blank.
Oh wait, that’s what Tom is doing for the pledge campaign. But in his case, he’s looking at why we DO commit, NOT why we don’t!
So whose Church is it anyway? I believe it is God’s. Whether you envision God as Buddha, or Mohammad or Jesus or Yahweh doesn’t really matter. What matters is we belong to God. Not just you and me, but everyone throughout the world and history belongs to God. And in every waking moment we all ask or should ask what does God want me to do? How can I serve him? Sometime we don’t like the answer others come up with. Sometimes we don’t like the answer we come up with, but that is how we acknowledge the great debt we owe to God for his faithfulness to us.
So, in conclusion, what do I see as our duty?
I believe God wants us to shelter the homeless whether they are Syrian refugees fleeing from oppression and war or Mexicans looking for a way to support their families or Puerto Rican refugees fleeing from a monumental disaster, death and a temporary (we hope) return to living in the 19th Century.
I believe God needs our talents to help the hungry in our country and elsewhere. He wants us to share our wealth whether it be dollars or knowledge or time or talent with the hungry in all places.
I believe God wants us to manage his building to maximize its potential for good regardless of the nationality or color or belief of those who need a message of support and evidence of a belief in the fundamental goodness of all people.
I believe God does not care about the gender of the people we love nor does he care about the political affiliation of his children.
I believe God wants only for his people to be everything they can be and to continually strive to be better than they are today.
What do you believe God wants from us? Fill in the blank.