Why We Come Together

Pleas enjoy Sunday’s sermon!  Food for thought – are you “spiritual, but not religious?”  Are you “spiritual AND religious”?  Neither?

(I cannot seem to figure out how to embed the audio into this new blog.  I am going to do some investigating – does anyone have any idea?  When I embed the code it looks like it is there, but then I hit publish and it’s gone.)

James 5:13-20

Why We Come Together

A preacher, who shall we say was ‘humor impaired,’ attended a conference to help encourage and better equip pastors for their ministry.

Among the speakers were many well known and dynamic preachers. One such boldly approached the pulpit and, gathering the entire crowd’s attention, said, ‘The best years of my life were spent in the arms of a woman that wasn’t my wife!’ The crowd was shocked! He immediately followed up by saying, ‘And that woman was my mother!’ The crowd burst into laughter and the speaker delivered the rest of his talk, which went over quite well.

The next week, the pastor decided he’d give this humor thing a try, and use that joke in his sermon. As he approached the pulpit that sunny Sunday morning, he tried to rehearse the joke in his head, but the details suddenly seemed a bit foggy to him.

Getting to the microphone he said loudly, ‘The greatest years of my life were spent in the arms of a woman that was not my wife!’ The congregation inhaled half the air in the room. After standing there for almost 10 seconds in the stunned silence, trying to recall the second half of the joke, the pastor finally blurted out, ‘…and I can’t remember who she was!’ {source: http://www.ahajokes.com/reg19.html}

So I have a question for you: Why do you come to church? Clearly, it is not for the humor behind the pulpit; there has to be some other reason.

Every morning I receive a devotional by email from the UCC. There are a handful of clergy throughout the country that write these devotionals; one is a woman by the name of Lillian Daniel, author and pastor of the First Congregational Church, UCC in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Last summer I received a devotional written by Rev. Daniel; she was reflecting on a passage from Matthew: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” {Matthew 16:18}

Rev. Daniel (unwisely, in my opinion) used this devotional space as an opportunity to criticize people who make the claim that they are “spiritual, but not religious”. As someone who has spent her life (and her livelihood) in the institutional religious church, Rev. Daniel tried to explain why she needs the community of the church and not just the spirituality of herself as an individual.

Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn’t interest me. There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself. {See the full devotional here: http://www.ucc.org/feed-your-spirit/daily-devotional/spiritual-but-not-religious.html}

The devotional goes on, but I am not going to read the rest of it; quite frankly, I think it is blunt and offensive and not the greatest introduction to the UCC devotionals (but that is a rant for another sermon). That being said – Daniel was making a good point; those who claim to be “spiritual, but not religious” are missing out on a huge component of spirituality – a community of faith.

When Bruce and I moved to Atlanta back in 2007, finding a church was not high on our list of priorities. We needed jobs, our apartment needed furniture and I needed to acclimate myself with the world of graduate school. If we needed worship, we could attend services at the school; I was in seminary after all, there was no shortage of worship services and prayer circles to attend. At first we loved this arrangement – we had actual weekends! Two whole days to do whatever we wanted; this was new to both of us. We did that for a few weeks – and at first it was wonderful! But eventually we realized that something was missing. We did not wake up on Sunday mornings excited at the possibility of making brunch, going for a long walk or exploring our new city; we seemed to wake up cranky; we would snap at one another, be unable to decide what we wanted to do and end up being completely unproductive the entire day. One morning we were indecisively arguing about what we were going to do that day when Bruce stopped mid sentence and said, “I think we really need to find a church.”

Within a few weeks we had settled in at Pilgrimage United Church of Christ in Marietta, Georgia. Over the next couple of months we found ourselves teaching Sunday School, joining the Christian Education Committee, running Youth Group events, singing in the choir, preaching and leading worship. We attended potluck dinners and softball games. When it came time to move north a few years later, we were devastated to leave this church family. You see, it was not just about Sunday morning worship; it was about the community that surrounded that time of worship. It was about the people that we loved and who loved us back. It was about being part of a community that gave back. It was about worshipping and learning with people who thought differently than I did. It was about being nurtured by a community of faith.

This morning’s scripture is from the book of James, a letter with an emphasis on works. The passage falls at the very end of the letter; the author is closing by talking about life in community. “Are any among you suffering?” the author asks; “They should pray.” “Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.” “Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.”

“Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.”

The author of this letter knows that it is possible to be a Christian without a community, to be spiritual, but not religious, to pray without being in community worship. But he immediately follows that by saying you are strengthened by the community that surrounds you. We are strengthened by the community that surrounds us.

Why do you come to church? Every single one of us could wake up on a Sunday morning, read a devotional, sing one of our favorite hymns, sit in silent meditation and then be off and running for the day. We could have our two-day weekends back. We could sleep in on Sunday mornings. We could enjoy long runs, delicious brunches and day trips. We could watch football games on TV instead of sneaking score updates on our phones during confirmation class. The possibilities are endless! And yet – we come together.

We come together because – in coming together – we learn and we grow from one another. We learn how to be patient and how to see an understanding of life different from ours. We grow in our faith. We become stronger individuals.

We come together because – in coming together – we have are supported by the community we are a part of. We are emotionally supported, spiritually supported and physically supported.

We come together because – in coming together – we can pray for and with one another. One of the biggest blessings in life is knowing that others are praying for you when you are too tired, stressed, sick or devastated to find the words to pray yourself.

We come together because – in coming together – we can serve with one another. We can accomplish more service and outreach when we do it together.

We come together because – in coming together – we can find something familiar in the middle of the unfamiliar. The world is changing and sometimes that is a scary thing to experience. But even though we are walking into unfamiliar territory, we are walking with a group of people who we know and trust.

We come together because – in coming together – we are connected to the saints who have come and gone before us.

We come together because – in coming together – we can be on the receiving end of a smile, a laugh or an embrace. We can sing together and pray together. We can worship together and share a meal together. We can be part of something bigger than ourselves.

We come together to be with one another. There are two creation accounts in the book of Genesis and in both of those accounts God created not one, but two people; “It is not good for a person to be alone, so I will make then a partner,” God said {Genesis 2:18, paraphrased}.

We come together to see and hear God speak through the people around us. We come together to see the different ways that God is at alive and at work in our community and in our world. We come together to hear God’s call for us in the world and to head that call. We come together so that we can be strengthened by one another in our ministry and in our own journeys of faith.

We come together as a community of faith. We come together as a Christian community. We come together as the Rehoboth Congregational Church. We come together as our piece of the Body of Christ.

Yes, it is possible to be “spiritual, but not religious”. Yes, we can experience God through a personal devotional and a Sunday free of church commitments. Yes, God is present in all that we do, religious community or no religious community. But without community, we would be missing all of this.

Why do we come together? We come together because of all of this.

“Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.”

Thanks be to God!

Amen.

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