Sunday, March 15, 2009

Thinking Like a Trinitarian--3 Lent B

This sermon was partly in response to the grumbling in the congregation.  There are some who want to spend money on fixing things up and there are those who think the church (really, the pastor) is there to just serve them and then there are the ones who really want to grow in faith and mission.  Normal parish.  We have a core of people who teach Godly Play, but it helps the program to let the "adults" hear a story now and then.

I want to tell you part of the Godly Play story called The Ten Best Ways to Live
The desert is a dangerous place. People do not go into the desert unless they have to. There is no water there, and without water we die. There is no food there. Without food we die. When the wind blows, it changes the shape of the desert. People get lost. Some never come back. In the daytime the sun is so hot that people must wear lots of clothes to protect themselves from the sun and the blowing sand. The sand stings when it hits your skin. The sun scorches you by day. At night it is cold. You need many clothes to keep you warm. The desert is a dangerous place. People only go there if they had to.

The people of God went through the water into freedom. They were free, and Miriam led the dancing!. Now the people are free, they can go anywhere they want to go and do anything they want to do. Where will they go now? What is the best way?

God loved the People so much that God showed them the Ten Best Ways to Live. Sometimes these are called the Ten Commandments. As the people traveled across the desert, they followed fire by night and smoke by day. They began to complain. Some even wanted to go back to Egypt. There was not enough food. There was not enough water. God helped Moses find food and water. Finally they came to the great mountain.

The People came close to the mountain, but they were afraid to touch it. Mount Sinai was covered with fire and smoke. Moses was the only one who had the courage to climb up into the fire and smoke to meet God.

When Moses was on top of the mountain, he came so close to God, and God came so close to him, that he knew what God wanted him to do. God wanted him to write the Ten Best Ways to Live on stones and bring them down the mountain to the People. God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses. Moses gave them to the People and they gave them to us.

They are about how to love God.; how to love people; and how God loves us.

So how can we love God:
  • Don’t serve other gods
  • Make no idols to worship
  • Be serious when you say my name
The next commandment is about how God loves us. Because God rested on the seventh day, God wants us to do something similar. So God tells us to
  • Keep the Sabbath holy
And the last of the ways are how to love people:
  • Honor your mother and father
  • Don’t kill
  • Don’t break your marriage
  • Don’t steal
  • Don’t lie
  • Don’t even want what others have.
These are all hard. God did not say that these are the “ten easy things to do.” They are the Ten Best Ways to Live. They are hard, perhaps even impossible, but we are supposed to try.
There’s another way of looking at loving God, loving people and God loving us. It has to do with worship. In the Alban Institure book “Imagining Church: Seeing Hope in a World of Change”, Gary and Kim Shockley view worship as having three dimensions: from us to God, from God to us and from us to us.

The “from us to God” dimension is about how we do worship. “The clergy, organist, choir and ushers are the cast and God is the audience.” The way we all pray, sing, offer our money, listen to scripture and the sermon—in other words, everything we do when we gather together to worship is directed toward God.

The “God to us” dimension is about what we receive from God in our community of faith. We receive the bread and wine, we listen for God speaking to us in the sermon. “We come to uplifted, motivated, comforted and reminded that God is with us.” Part of worship has to do with who is welcome at the table. Now I know that among us there are different opinions as to when a child should be allowed to receive the sacraments. One Sunday a few years back, I switched churches with a Lutheran (ELCA) pastor. He did the Episcopal service at the church I was serving and I did the Lutheran one at his church. He warned me that children did not normally receive communion until after confirmation, but he said if a child asked and I gave the child communion he wouldn’t object. So when it came time to distribute the bread and wine, one little girl of about 4 or 5 stuck her hands out and so I placed a piece of bread in it. The persons giving the cup, followed me with a chalice of wine and a tray of little cups with grape juice. I was involved with my own part, and didn’t see what went on behind me. After the service was over the little girl’s mother said her daughter was so excited. She told her “I got bread, but no shed.” The lay ministers obviously passed her by. What a shame. The little girl knew exactly what was going on. “God to us” was real to her.  We gather in community to receive something from God and it is our shame when we try to restrict “God to us” because we can't.

The “us to us” dimension not only speaks of how we minister to each other as we worship together, but in our lives. In many modern seeker-oriented churches, people are spectators or observers rather than participants. One of the pastors of one of these large mega-churches has said one of the mistakes they have made is that unless a great deal of care is taken not to just meet people’s need for material things, they will never grow in faith and service. Worship ends up being just entertainment. A community of faith is a place where “us to us” is a good part of the reason why church works. People want to feel welcome and the way that happens is from “us to us.” But part of “us to us” is serving each other and growing in the faith and helping others to do the same.

Now on to just “us.” We, the individuals, who are part of the community of faith. I once heard someone describe the people in a congregation as being either Abrahams, Marthas or Mary Madgalenes. Think about the people around you. The Abrahams are the people of vision—always willing to try something new, ready to go off in a new direction because they know in their hearts that’s what God would like them to do. Who are the Abrahams here? The Marthas are those who are concerned about the smooth running of the church. They are often found on the Buildings and Grounds Committee or serving on the Altar Guild or part of the ECW. The Mary Magdalenes are those who are concerned about the spirituality of the place. Prayer and contemplation and growing in faith are their concerns. Our Daughters of the King is one place where Mary Magdalenes have a home. The Men’s Prayer Breakfast serves a similar need for some of our men. Look at the people around you. Are they Abrahams, Marthas or Mary Magdalenes? Is one of those areas over-represented while you find yourself hard-pressed to find people in one of the others?

All three types are needed for a healthy church community; just as all three parts of the relationships between us and God and us and us; and just as all three parts are needed in the Ten Best Ways to Live. Jesus found at the Temple a community that wasn't functioning in balance.  The story we heard today seems to point to a community that had lost its spirituality.  The connection between "us and God" and "God and us" had broken down. A three-legged stool will stand, but if one of the legs is considerably shorter that the others, it’s pretty hard to sit on it without sliding off.

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