August 30, 2015
“Vanity of Vanities” the Teacher says.
All is vanity.
Generations come and go.
People come and go.
Days, weeks, and before we know it, even years,
Roll by one into the next.
In two days it will be September!
Where did the summer go?
What will make us say to ourselves,
Pay attention before yet another day is gone!”?
Ecclesiastes, part of the Old Testament
Known as ‘wisdom’ literature,
is told from the perspective of a wise old person,
Known as the “teacher.”
The teacher looks back over his or her life,
And shares some things he/she has learned.
One of the things this wise teacher has learned,
Is that time passes quickly..too quickly
Spending that time mindlessly …
striving after things that won’t last – riches, pleasure, success, and even wisdom
according to the teacher,
Is like chasing after the wind. (Lutheran Study Bible)
One of the things that stops me from chasing after the wind…
One of the things that derails me, stops me up short,,
Pulls me back from a life just chugging along day after day…
One of the things that re-centers me
Going to church on Sunday is so weird,
That it reminds me that I have chosen a life which is different.
I have decided not to chase after wind…
but to place myself in the path of the wind of the Spirit.
Today is the third in our sermon series about questions
Which may seem obvious…
We talked about why read the Bible;
Last we we talked about ‘why pray’?
And today we talk about “why bother with church?”
Of course a lot of people don’t any more.
We’ve been hearing a lot about the Nones lately..
The nones are those who when asked in surveys,
What their religious affiliation is, answer ‘none.”
Those who answer “none” are the most rapidly growing group in the US –
The nones haven’t given up on faith, necessarily;
Many say that they have just given up on the institution of church.
They’ve been hurt or bored or burned out or offended or disenchanted.
Many of us at one time or another have been
Hurt or bored or burned out or offended or disenchanted with the church.
So what makes us stick with it?
Perhaps we’ve discovered that there’s a problem
with trying to be a Christian on our own…
The problem is, of course, we really can’t…
As Philip Yancey says, “Christianity is not a purely intellectual, internal faith.
It can only be lived in community.” (Why Bother, 23)
We can read about Christianity on our own;
We can perhaps be very spiritual people on our own;
But from the beginning, Christianity was about a community.
Which (our passage from Romans says),
Loved, served, hoped, suffered, and prayed together.
And it’s never been easy.
And it’s never been perfect.
This unusual lifestyle has characterized Christians from the very beginning.
First century skeptic Celsus dismissed Christianity as a
“silly religion fit only for the uneducated, slaves, and women.” (Seeking Sunday, 126)
Here are some reasons this woman chooses to hang out with the Christians:
- I stick with church because I have only to say the word and you will pray for my mother whom you’ve never met, Sally’s Aunt Gertrude who lives in Indiana and even the neighbor’s cat down the street. This is weird. I don’t know anyone else who will do that.
- Most of us prefer to eat with people who are like us, who share the same background, values, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, beliefs or tastes” (Evans, 150)…but I hang out with you because without batting an eyelash you will come to this table, rubbing elbows and sharing a meal with someone you had no idea you’d be eating with today! Where else would you share this level of intimacy with someone so different from you, but in church?
- In front of this group of people you are willing to say publicly…with all the rest of us of course …that you acknowledge your humanity; your sin – you lie, cheat, steal, lust, covet, and break all the rest of the commandments…and stand in need of God’s grace. You are a trusting group of people!
- You will sing songs you don’t like even if they have 4 or 5 verses! This too is weird. And this is a reason I love you…the church.
- You will deliver casseroles to sick people; make quilts for Lutheran World Relief; write letters to congress on behalf of the poor; and teach 4th graders something about God when you think they aren’t really listening. This is church and this is kind of weird too.
This is church and none of this is vanity of vanities;
None of this is chasing after wind;
And none of this can be done alone.
The bishop-elect of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, tells a story of church.
It was the 1940’s and a young Episcopal woman
invited her boyfriend to come to church with her.
Both of them were African Americans,
and the membership of the church they visited in segregated North Carolina was entirely white,
except for this woman.
The young man waited in the pew while the congregation went forward to receive holy communion.
He watched carefully because he noticed that everyone in the congregation was drinking from the same cup
And He had never seen black people and white people drink from the same water fountains,
Much less from the same cup.
The priest was distributing the wine, to the folks at the rail, one after another, and then he came to the young black woman, and he didn’t pause or stop…he said the words and she drank and then he moved on.
At that very moment, the young man decided that
any church where black and white drank from the same cup
had discovered something powerful,
something he wanted to be a part of
and something the world needed.
That couple was Bishop Curry’s parents. (www.m.youtube.com/watch?v=USOMZpCoheBC)
The church has the power to be what the world needs.
This is church at its best.
Loving, serving, hoping, suffering, and praying together.
It doesn’t always go that way.
God took a risk on people,
(starting with Peter) in building the church.
But God also promised that not even
the gates of Hades could prevail over it.
Barbara Brown Taylor says,
“This is the church. Here she is.
Lovely, irregular, sometimes sick and sometimes well.
This is the body like no other that God has shaped and placed in the world.
Jesus lives here; this is His soul’s address.
There is a lot to be thankful for, all things considered.
She has taken a beating, the church.
Every day she meets the gates of hell and she prevails.
Every day she serves, stumbles, injures and repairs.
That she has healed is an underrated miracle.
That she gives birth is beyond reckoning.
Maybe it’s time to make peace with her, embrace her, flawed as she is.” (Altar in the World)