I honestly want to say ‘thank you’ for being here this morning; and I mean this as something more than just an agreeable, nice, polite thing to say, which I hope will come clear by the end of this sermon. I’ve said on more than one occasion that Sunday mornings – to me – are just a miracle. When I get here on Sunday mornings, there’s no one here except for the few of us whose job it is to be here. But then, suddenly – there you are! It’s a miracle. Not one of us actually has to be here. The church is a completely voluntary organization. But you’re here.
Look around, at all these people, at all of us, you could be anywhere else; but here you are. Sometimes, I find myself wondering, what it is that has brought you here this morning? Why are you here? What are doing in church on Sunday morning? What are you looking for or hoping for?
If you knew beforehand that we’d be gathered to hear Jesus say to us, ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple’ – would you still have thought it was a good idea to come to church? Is that what any of us wants to hear? It’s not terribly polite or nice.
By: Amelia McDaniel, Lay Associate for Christian Formation
I recently heard the writer Kristen Schell speak at a conference. She may not be on your radar, but I’m pretty sure if you heard her speak you would want to be her friend.
She wrote a book titled The Turquoise Table and she has sparked a quiet movement. She may also likely be the topic of many a homeowner association meeting. You see the book is based on Schell’s experiences after she placed a large picnic table painted a bright shade of turquoise in her front yard in Austin, TX. She did it because she was pretty sure it was what God wanted her to do. She had been rumbling with how to serve God. But she was stuck. She was a stay at home mom. She felt a call to mission, but that did not seem a possibility for her with a large family rooted in Austin. And then she had a picnic table delivered to her house for a backyard barbeque and she knew what she was supposed to do.
After the barbeque, she painted it a lovely shade of turquoise and put it smack in her front yard. One morning she took her cup of coffee and her laptop out there and started working. Pretty soon what she had hoped would happen did. She started to meet her neighbors. At first it was a casual hello as someone walked by with the dog. But in time her turquoise table became a meeting point for people in the neighborhood. People started connecting. They sat down together, really got to know each other. Everyone was welcome. Real connections were formed.
This time of the year, churches large and small are all suddenly feeling under the gun to get it together. The new ‘program year’ is just around the corner so we all want to be ready for things like signing up children for Sunday School and having our calendar of events ready to go. We all want to be able to show you what we do and how you can be a part of it too. We all are working to recruit volunteers to fill out ministry groups. We all want to do a better and better job of giving people new to our churches just what they need so they won’t go shopping for a new church someplace else next Sunday. And for sure, all of us churches are working on how we can make our annual giving programs the most successful and best ever.
If this all makes you feel like vines are climbing up on you and threatening to pull you down into the overgrown brambles and be lost in the undergrowth, well you’re not alone. And it’s not just churches. All kinds of organizations are working on the same things too. And honestly, plenty of them do a much better job than churches in stating their mission and giving people a real sense of purpose and making them a part of a community where they know they belong and are deeply valued.
A few weeks ago, I was preparing for a class that we’re offering here this summer on Paul’s letter to the Colossians. We use a study guide with questions that we’re supposed to think and write about before coming to class. There was one question in particular that really caught me off guard and it surprised me by how much I struggled to answer it. The question was: How do you define faith? Have you ever tried to do that? I think you know if you have faith, but how do you describe what that is? Is it trust or a belief or are those words more like synonyms rather than definitions?
In many of his letters, Paul praises his communities for the faith that they have in Christ Jesus. In this morning’s letter to the Hebrews, he defines that faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). That sounds really good, but what does it mean?