written and preached by Rev. Natalie Shiras
June 17, 2012
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17
A friend of mine recently shared a quote from The Color Purple by Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker. Perhaps you know the book or saw the film. Shug, a blues singer, asks Celie, the main character in the book,
“…(T)ell the truth, have you ever found God in church?”
Shug goes on to say,
“I never did.
I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show.
Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me.
And I think all the other folks did too.
They come to church to share God, not find God.”
My friend thought that would be a great gesture to walk into church sharing God! Because God lives within each one of us already, not outside of us as something to find.
At the membership orientation last week, six members of the church and two prospective members and I met to share God and to share our faith journey. What I heard from this group is that people come to Church on the Hill with different experiences—some from other faith traditions, some from no church at all, and others who have gone to church all their lives. Some experience God as everywhere in creation. Some experience God in the kindness and mercy of others and toward others. Some experience God within. What is common is the deep sense of welcome and acceptance each feels in this church to be themselves as people of God.
What is that acceptance like to be ourselves? An illustration will help make the point. Two weeks ago when I was on vacation the deacons were ready to serve Communion. But there was a misunderstanding about the deacons’ authority to bless the bread, wine and juice without the pastor presiding. So the deacons did not serve Communion. In the days following the deacons met with me and the church leaders met with the prospective members who joined today, and this event was openly discussed at both meetings. Everyone shared responsibility for what happened. We realized that better communication and clearer education about the authority the deacons have, which comes from our Congregational roots, would have alleviated the confusion. And communicate we did through these meetings and the pastoral letter in your bulletin. And we will continue to communicate more about this matter in the weeks ahead, hearing everyone’s ideas and convictions. Communication is grounded in the foundation of welcome and acceptance of one another. This is how we share God.
This may seem obvious. Our administrative coordinator, Robin Sabellico, remarked that we may not even realize how good our practice of sharing and communication actually are here at Church on the Hill. At the annual secretaries’ conference she attended this last week, she learned that there are church congregations among us that do not practice and work at good communication between lay leaders, congregation members or their pastors. And so consequently, many of these churches find themselves getting bogged down in misunderstanding, eventually causing dissent, discouragement, and people giving up on their church. She was happy to recognize how seriously our church takes the responsibility to keep the lines open and the conversation flowing to discuss everything and anything. Robin used the analogy of baking the perfect cake – you need all of the ingredients, not just the flour or the eggs, but the milk and the butter, too, to bake a whole cake. Just as it is for us in this church, we need everyone to be involved, to be heard, to be given the opportunity to speak. This is what creates a whole church, through the whole body of Christ. That is how we share God.
In the letter Paul writes to the Corinthian church in today’s epistle reading, he speaks of the church as the body and what we do in the body. Paul is writing about real relationships, relationships in which people think and feel and speak and act, sometimes well and sometimes not so well. And when we are confused or when we stray, the sharing of God through Christ with one another brings us back to our best selves.
Courtney, one of our new members, remarked after the new members’ orientation meeting that she loves how this church knows how to have the real conversation to say what we think and feel. She said that’s what makes us who we are. We can openly discuss our faith journey and what Communion means to us. We can be authentically ourselves and that makes us stronger. And I would add it also makes the world stronger.
I return from yesterday’s Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ inspired by a forum on the changing landscape of ministry. Members of several churches rose to testify to their vision. One told of being a “green” church, focusing on stewardship to the environment. Another is a “blessing” church, blessing everything from backpacks on the first day of school toBostonmarathoners at the end of the race. One was a “testifying” church about their faith. We may be the “communication” church, speaking authentically and hearing one another authentically. My intention is that there continue to be dynamic participation by everybody. The deacons and I are preparing adult education for the fall so that everyone feels welcome and actively participating.
“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: the old has passed away; see, everything has become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) This new way of seeing, hearing, and speaking is what makes us stronger and the whole world stronger. It is in the imagination of your hearts and minds, to see and speak the words that will communicate your deepest desires and feelings and then be able to listen to the words of deepest desires and feelings spoken by other people. Be attentive. God is with you and within you and within everyone else. The relationships we create is the new creation, grounded in mutual concern for one another and in the sharing of God. Amen.