November 5, 2017
Two weekends ago, Rev. John Pavlovitz, noted author of the blog, “Stuff That Needs to be Said,” spent a weekend with our brothers and sisters down at First Congregational Church in Guilford, Connecticut. And here is some of what John Pavlovitz wrote on his blog page after spending three days with our sister church.
The article was titled, “Why You May Want to Try Church Again…”
“This weekend I was invited by a Connecticut church to host several conversations on faith, politics, and the bigger table over the course of three days.
Because of the disparate audience the blog has found, many people who showed up on Saturday morning would never otherwise walk into a church. Some hadn’t been to a house of worship outside of the odd wedding here or there, while others had been estranged for years or even decades from their former faith community. Many came with more than a bit of trepidation.
But something amazing happened after the first gathering concluded: many of these reluctant prodigals stayed; returning the next day for services and remaining for coffee afterward. They hung out for our afternoon conversation, made plans to have dinner with strangers, and talked about coming back on another Sunday.
I spend a lot of time with people who’ve given up on the Church, and who’ve done so for good reason. They have experienced discrimination and ostracism in local faith communities, been pushed to the periphery because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, for the color of their skin or their theological deviations. They might have endured emotional or perhaps even physical violation. Maybe they’ve simply reached the final straw from a politicized, weaponized religion that seems to nurture inequality and bigotry…
But today, in the wake of my time with new friends I want to say something different. I want you to consider another option. I want to suggest that you may want to go back to church—and here’s why.
All faith communities are not created equal or identical…and there is beauty happening everywhere.
Chances are, even in a community where basic theological tenets are seemingly diametrically opposite your religious convictions, there will still be people who are less rigid, more open, and willing to learn; those committed to hearing other’s stories and serving people in need and transforming their communities and being a source of goodness in the world. You might find affinity despite your surface differences. You might cross paths with someone in whom you find a surprising kindred spirit—and you might alter one another’s stories, and the world as you do…
There are faith communities where LGBTQ men and women are fully celebrated, where women are valued as leaders, where divides of race and economics are reached across, where theological deviations are warmly welcomed, where hospitality is offered to all.
Yes, you may want to keep staying away from the Church—or you may want to try one more time. It might be the day you find yourself home again, or for the first time.”
If you read more of John Pavlovitz’s blog posts or if you have a chance to pick up a copy of his new book, which I started reading recently, A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community, you may not agree with everything Pavlovitz writes. Chances are also good, however, that you will find what Pavlovitz writes provocative. As I read his material, I find what Pavlovitz says both inspirational and aspirational.
On this day in the church year when we dedicate our financial pledges for the upcoming church year, it seems appropriate that we also celebrate communion together. Through the commitments we make this morning towards our common good and through the bread and cup we share, the theme of this morning is all about expanding the table.
Today is all about breaking down the walls that divide us. Reaching out to one another and welcoming one another with open arms and genuine, heartfelt hospitality. Calling those who are strangers and those who have been estranged to share together the feast of Jesus Christ. Engaging one another in conversation and in singing, in sacrament and in remembering. All in the name of a Savior who reminds us we are children of God through faith.
When we set foot in the building this morning or share the communion elements or come forward with our pledge cards near the end of this worship service, we don’t do those things in order to earn acceptance. Acceptance is a given. You and I are bearers of God’s image and beloved just as we are without alteration. In Christ’s church, in this church, there is no inside and outside.
Can you and I take time this morning, then, to see God through the lens of one who is beloved, rather than one who is beloved with strings attached? Can we imagine this morning not as a test in which we try to understand God, but rather as an opportunity to notice God? Can we seek Jesus this morning not because we are trying to escape judgement and punishment but rather to try and discern the best way to live in the world?
The Christian faith is not about running from something horrible but rather running towards something extraordinarily beautiful. And you and I are never enemies of God. You and I are created in God’s image and made of the same stuff God is made of…
Of course, it’s not quite enough to believe in expanding the table. We actually have to build a bigger table. For in the end, building and expanding is what Dedication Sunday and Communion Sunday are all about. Not just imagining a table big enough at Wapping Community Church to seat and accommodate all God’s people. But rolling our sleeves up and doing the hard work necessary to make it happen.
A little over a year ago on October 21st, 2016, John Pavlovitz wrote another post for his blog, “Stuff That Needs to be Said.” And the title of that article was, “The Kind of Christian I Refuse to Be.”
“For too many people,” Pavlovitz claims, “being a Christian no longer means you need to be humble or forgiving. It no longer means you need a heart to serve or bring healing. It no longer requires compassion or mercy or benevolence. It no longer requires you to turn the other cheek or to love your enemies or to take the lowest place or to love your neighbor as yourself…it no longer requires Jesus.
And then Pavlovitz ends his blog post with a pledge which I repeat this morning. I don’t repeat it because it’s easy or because I think we have achieved everything in it. I repeat it instead because I think it offers important food for thought about who we strive to be as individual Christians. And I believe it gives us some important clues about how we go about building a bigger table here at Wapping Community Church as we strive to follow Jesus Christ
I refuse to be a Christian who lives in fear of people who look or speak or worship differently than I do.
I refuse to be a Christian who believes that God blesses America more than God so loves the world.
I refuse to be a Christian who uses the Bible to perpetuate individual or systemic bigotry, racism, or sexism.
I refuse to be a Christian who treasures allegiance to a flag or a country or a political party, above emulating Jesus.
I refuse to be a Christian who is reluctant to call out the words of hateful preachers, venomous politicians, and mean-spirited pew sitters, in the name of keeping Christian unity.
I refuse to be a Christian who tolerates a global Church where all people are not openly welcomed, fully celebrated, and equally cared for.
I refuse to be a Christian who speaks with holy war rhetoric about an encroaching enemy horde that must be rallied against and defeated.
I refuse to be a Christians who is generous with damnation and stingy with Grace.
I refuse to be a Christian who can’t see the image of God in people of every color, every religious tradition, every sexual orientation.
I refuse to be a Christian who demands that others believe what I believe or live as I live or profess what I profess.
I refuse to be a Christian who sees the world in a hopeless spiral downward and can only condemn it or withdraw from it.
I refuse to be a Christian devoid of the character of Jesus; his humility, his compassion, his smallness, his gentleness with people’s wounds, his attention to the poor and the forgotten and the marginalized, his intolerance for religious hypocrisy, his clear expression of the love of God.
I refuse to be a Christian unless it means I live as a person of hospitality, of healing, of redemption, of justice, of expectation-defying Grace, of counterintuitive love. These are non-negotiables.
On this Dedication Sunday when we offer our pledges and break bread together and look towards a new church year, we dedicate ourselves as well…to making a bigger table in the name of Jesus Christ here at Wapping Community Church. Amen.