Sunday, April 3, 2016

Why are we here?

Psalm 150 

1 Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty firmament!
2 Praise him for his mighty deeds;
    praise him according to his surpassing greatness!
3 Praise him with trumpet sound;
    praise him with lute and harp!
4 Praise him with tambourine and dance;
    praise him with strings and pipe!
5 Praise him with clanging cymbals;
    praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
6 Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!

My typical Scripture passages of choice during the month of April revolve around creation care.  I usually do a sermon series on Creation Care in April because - well, Earth Day is in April, so it just seems an appropriate thing to do.  But this year . . . I don’t know.  That just wasn’t speaking to my heart this year.  Instead, I found myself drawn to passages that made me want to ask questions of the sort that we usually take for granted.  Sort of like that old Bill Cosby routine, “Why is there air?”  When he was a Phys Ed major at Temple University, he said, the philosophy majors would wander around campus asking, “Why is there air?”  Well, he said, any fool knows the answer to that.  There’s air so we can blow up basketballs and footballs and volleyballs . . .   But the questions I have in mind are more like, “Why are we here?”   Not “Why are we living on earth at this particular time in history?”, but “Why are we in this particular church building on this particular Sunday?”  Especially this particular Sunday, the Sunday after Easter, when historically people stay home in droves.   So, this morning I want to pose the question why are we here?  I know why I am here.  But why are you here?

One of the pieces of literature that is read at the beginning of some 12 Step meetings is titled, “Why are we here?”  It’s not unusual for some wise aleck in the back of the room to respond with “Because it’s Tuesday” or whatever day it happens to be.   So, are you all here because it’s Sunday?

I certainly hope not.   I mean, yes.  We are here in this place because it is Sunday, but we are here on a Sunday because . . . . anybody?  Kids?  . . . 

Hint - the reason we do this on Sundays is named in the Psalm we read.  There is a reason we call our Sunday morning church activity “Worship.”  We are here to worship God, to praise God, to learn more about God and about God’s relationship with humanity - indeed, to learn about God’s relationship with all of creation.  And just in case you feel a bit embarrassed about why you are here - there aren’t any wrong answers.  Whatever draws you to worship, whatever makes you want to show up here on Sunday mornings, whatever brings you to share this space with all these other people, whatever it might be is a perfectly good reason.  Maybe your kids pestered you to bring them.  Maybe there’s a cute boy.  Maybe you love watching Tony play the organ with his feet.  Maybe it’s the only place you can get any peace and quiet in your week.  Maybe you want to sing someplace other than the shower where no one will criticize you.  Maybe you’re just in the habit of showing up here. Maybe you desperately need to hear something that will help you get through one more week.  It doesn’t matter why you come.  The fact is, you are here to praise and worship and learn and pray.

Not everyone knows why we do this Sunday morning thing.  I certainly didn’t.  For the longest time I thought I had to show up on Sundays to avoid Hell.  Not that just showing up was enough, of course.  But that was my biggest reason.  And then for years and years after I turned 18 and moved out of my family home, I didn’t show up because I didn’t believe the things I had been taught in that church.  Well, actually, I didn’t show up because I did believe those things and I refused to have anything to do with the God that judged and hated and rejected.  Eventually, as you know, I did come to believe in God as we know God - that loving, caring, merciful, compassionate and forgiving God, who so loved the world that Jesus was sent to heal it.  But I still did’t do church.  Mind you, I didn’t dare go to a church other than the one I was raised in, because going to some heretical church would have me burning in Hell again.  There was a lot of fire and brimstone teaching going on in that church . . .  And why I held on to that particular belief for so long after I rejected all the others is anybody’s guess. . .

But then a really good friend of mine was going to be married, in a church, and I had to go.   And for me, having been raised in the church in the 50s and 60s, that meant I had to find a hat, because Heaven knows a woman didn’t dare go into a church without a hat!  So I found a milliner’s shop and went in to find a hat.  When I told the owner why I needed a hat, she said she was making the veil and bridesmaid hats for that wedding, and asked if I wanted to see them.  Then we proceeded to try on every hat that would go with my navy blue and white polka dotted dress . . . and we found the perfect hat.  This hat.  Is this not the perfect church hat?  Of course, it looked a lot better 23 years ago.   And then she asked me where I went to worship.  I told her something like “I prefer finding God in nature”, and she agreed that was a good thing, but that worship in community was also good and necessary.  She said “Church is just a gathering of like minded people gathered to worship God.”  I’d never heard that before.  And I didn’t know it at that moment, but it became clear pretty quickly that that was exactly what I was looking for . . . a group of like minded people, who believed in God the way I believed in God, who gathered to praise God and worship God and lift up concerns and celebrations to God and sing!  I wanted to sing songs of praise to my creator, and songs of sorrow, and songs of longing and pain - not by myself, but with other people who also loved God.  

And that is what I found at Treasure Coast Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).   I found a place where people came to worship - warts and all.  People came to sing and study scripture and teach their children and sing, and share God’s love around the Lord’s Table.  Within a couple of weeks I felt comfortable enough that I came forward during the Hymn of Commitment to place my membership with that congregation.  It was a wonderful feeling, to know that I was accepted as a member of that community just as I was.  

Well, except for the hat.  Apparently, no one wore hats to church anymore.  But you know, this hat, this was my excuse to go to church.  I told myself, “now that I have a hat that is very clearly a church hat, I need to find a church.”  You know the rest of the story of how I ended up on this side of the pulpit . . . and if you don’t, I’m always happy to share it.  

There was so much to learn as a new member of a Disciples congregation.  Pastor Betsy answered many of my questions about the Disciples, and I already knew a good bit of church history because I really like history.  Her sermons helped quite a bit.  But there were so many other questions I wanted to ask that don’t go in sermons.  Why do we do things the way we do?  Why do we use very old terms to name the parts of the church?  For example - why is this called the chancel and not the stage?  Why do we use different colors for different seasons?  What does it mean to be a member of a congregation?  What do we have to do as Christians besides showing up to worship on Sunday?  I kind of didn’t want to ask those questions, because I really didn’t want everyone to know how much I didn’t know. You know?   But I often found myself feeling a bit lost and wishing someone would explain some of those things to me.  

We could do that, you know.  I meet with the youth once a month for something called “Ask the Pastor” where they are encouraged to ask whatever they like.  We could do that with adults. I would like that.  We could meet once a month or once a week for as long as the questions keep coming.  Even if there are just two or three . . . “For where two or three are gathered together unto My name, there am I in their midst.”  (Matthew 18:20)   

We are here today, on this Sunday after Easter, this 2nd Sunday in the season of Easter, to worship our God.  We are here to celebrate Easter again . . . just like we do every Sunday.  Every Lord’s Day we come together to re-enact the Last Supper, to remember the Lord’s death, and to commemorate the empty tomb.  We come to celebrate the risen Christ, every single Sunday.  And in that celebration, we remember why Jesus was here. We remember that God sent Jesus to live among humanity, a human among humans, sharing our pains and joys, our sorrows and celebrations.  Jesus lived as we live, our brother in the flesh, a human among humans, to know in his own body what illness and suffering and death are, to feel and understand both despair and exultation.  And we come together to remember, from his example, that nothing . .  nothing . . . can separate from the love of God.  Not even sin, not even death.  Because in the resurrection we see that sin and death are defeated for all time - Jesus is with us, our living Lord, even now.  God is with us, every moment.  

Every Sunday we come together to remember those things, to learn more about God’s intentions and hopes for the world, to hear Scripture read and explained, to pray with our mouths and with our hearts. Every Sunday we come together to do all of those things . . . and to sing.  Every Sunday we come together to lift up our voices in praise and celebration to the God who created us, and all of the universe, who placed us here to care for all of the earth and all of its creatures, who gave us hands and thumbs and intellect and creative talents so that we could serve God with all of our hearts and minds and strength.  

Why are we here?  My brothers and sisters, we are here to learn, so that we may understand better what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  We are here to be equipped to go out into the world, carrying God’s love and God’s light with us, so that we can be a light in the darkness.   We are here, a gathering of like minded people, to worship our God and to sing God’s praises, lifting our voices in joy and adoration.  When we go out from this place, let us go carrying God’s light into darkness, praising God’s name with great joy and celebration, as members of God’s family, the Church Universal, sisters and brothers to Jesus, the Christ.  

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