July 29, 2012
I have a very easy quiz for you. Visitors are exempt, because it probably isn’t polite to ask you this question the first time you are here!
How many regulars present are between the ages of 25 and 45? Could you raise your hands? [One person raised her hand].
Based on conversations I’ve been having, I’ve noticed that a lot of church folk are thinking about this particular generation. Retired members are wondering who will be the pillars of the church when their health fails. It takes a different volunteer each week to shovel the snow around the church that Paul Kuestner shoveled every winter, all winter long, for over ten years. If we continued having Coffee Hour after church, it would take three different volunteers per week to offer this ministry that Mary Caroniti and Paul and Phyllis provided weekly for at least 15 years.
I often ask, “How many younger people does it take to provide the ministries of three or four older members who are now limited in their mobility?” The answer is, “About thirty!”
In every period of transition, we have to ask ourselves the same questions: “Why are we here? How is God’s movement into the future taking shape among and through us?”
We are tempted to become anxious. We do live in an anxious age, after all. Or we might be tempted to just get busier. Offer this program; organize that event. Try this; try that. We could so easily overstretch our capacity responding this way.
I would suggest a radical break from either of these typical reactions in our frenetic, plugged-in world. Instead of getting anxious or stretched too thin, Let’s get quiet.
“Quiet?” you might ask. “What do you mean, ‘quiet’?”
I’m not advocating passivity or asking us to roll over and play dead. I’m not suggesting that we bury our heads in the sand and plug our ears to avoid the cacophony of the world around us.
To the contrary, I’m encouraging us to stand at full attention and simply pay attention. Ask questions, deep questions. Listen, not to the chatter, but to what lies below the surface. What makes our neighbors down the street or across the world tick? What is their ultimate concern? What do they yearn for and believe in? How can their stories transform us?
The need of this critical hour is to show up and be profoundly present right where we are. Last week, Steve and I took a field trip. We’re never too old for field trips! Seven of us packed into our van and “showed up” at the hydraulic fracturing site 8 miles from Oberlin. Then we “showed up” at the creek that runs into the Vermilion watershed where truckloads of water were removed the day before to facilitate the fracking process. Steve took pictures and posted them online. Others shared them on their Facebook pages.
Many Facebook friends were shocked to learn that it is legal to extract up to 100,000 gallons of water a day from a local watershed without any permit, even in a time of blistering drought. Local residents are discovering what is happening so close to home because a few people “showed up.” From our disparate locations in life, the seven of us in the van built community, bound together by our shared concern for this precious planet and its finite resources.
Do you know what Jesus did during his three years of public ministry? He just “showed up”–among the vulnerable, the broken, and the curious. With the poor, the hungry, and the contentious. On the streets, at a wedding, around a dinner table, by the sea. Among the crowds and on the mountain, alone with God.
Each day I ask myself, “What time is it in our life together as a community of faith?” I look and listen, observe and ponder. It is clear that we are living in a time of great need among our own members. Steve recently heard a pastor remark, “We have so many vulnerable people in our congregation. The well half takes care of the sick half.” Steve’s first reaction was, “Half of your congregation is feeling well and strong? That’s amazing!”
With our daughter Sarah’s death this past year, we hadn’t completed a Church Newsletter since last September. When I was working on the “Prayer Care” section this summer, I thought to myself, “I could just get the Church Phone List out and write down a request for each person in this church!” While I didn’t do that, it was one of our longest “Prayer Care” sections ever! In these days, the church is a community of “wounded healers” caring for one another, to borrow a phrase from contemplative writer Henri Nouwen. It is a beautiful and exceptional ministry.
“Where is the 25-45 year old age group?” we may ask, yet we cannot forget all those children, teens, and college students in our midst. God willing, they still have 20 years of their lives to be 25-45 year olds! How we touch their journeys now makes a huge difference in the years to come. And the church’s ministry to this age group is not confined to the pews of this church. It is seen in the work of Rev. David Weasley among Chicago’s churches and its street people; the work of Beth Peachey, Annie Neary, and Melissa Hines in the classroom; and among so many more.
PCC is a “church without borders.” Our virtual connections through e-mail, Facebook, and the church website, as well as other communications like the Church Newsletter, enhance this ministry. We don’t look around the sanctuary and see that wider ministry on Sunday mornings, but it is just as real and enfleshed as each of us worshiping here today.
The prayer we read from the Letter to the Ephesians ushers from the depths of a pastor’s heart–a lover’s heart–if you will. It springs out of one who wants nothing more for the people of God than to see them begin to apprehend the heights, depths, and breadth of God’s love and the Spirit’s power in their lives. Why is this often so difficult for us?
In fifth grade, I worked with Sarah through a Grow for it! journal published by Youth Specialities. It was a resource to help young people reflect on their faith and life. Actually, our weekly meetings spanned two years, and we did around 46 sessions. Sarah saved everything, and I recently had a chance to read it. In one section, she had to write her personal reflections on the love of God. To just “receive” the love of God, to take it in as gift, was hard for Sarah. In her response, she said, “It just seems too easy…it seems like it should be harder…”
In a 2003 sermon, Alan Marr (laughingbird.net, July 27, 2003) states: “This prayer is about people coming to terms with themselves, being able to live with themselves, and discovering the resources of God. It is about a church coming to an understanding of who they are and finding God where they are within their midst. It is not a prayer about Vision Statements, Mission Statements or goals and strategies. It is not a prayer about the Purpose Driven Life…It is about the people of God rediscovering God. And when we discover God our inner self will be strengthened.”
I often pray to see with God’s eyes. My own vision is so short-sighted and limited. My anxieties get in the way. My spiritual sight gets cloudy and rough around the edges. The writer of the letter to the Ephesian church exclaims, “God can do anything, you know–far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!”
I don’t think the writer was talking here about receiving things from God. So often our prayers are filled with ‘things’ we want God to do for us. But as I said in our Reflection Time before the sermon, I believe that the prayers we pray that are answered the fastest are the ones where we are genuinely looking to God, seeking our own transformation of heart or vision, asking for divine strength and power for that journey! In this, God can do more than we might ever ask for or imagine.
We are invited as followers of Jesus to be open and simply receive. We are called to look and see, pray and wait, listen and love, hope and trust. Through all these postures of the heart, we are empowered to risk and act.
May the One who has walked with this church since its founding in 1866 continue to guide us in the year ahead, for God is faithful. Amen.