A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Sermon (February 1) by Rev Robert McDowell - "A Church for All People"

     Have you ever stopped to think about how unique the church is supposed to be? The church is meant to be a place where everyone is welcomed and where we can live out what it means to be the people of God in the world.
     I love this heart shaped picture of our congregation that we took this past September out at our Crossroads facility! Just look at how beautiful you are! Look at how you’re smiling. We’re all bunched really close together like we like each other!
     Isn’t it interesting that we didn’t divide up into political parties or favorite sports teams? We just found a spot in that heart and stood next to whoever happened to be standing next to us for that picture. We are quite the eclectic group aren’t we?

     You know, I think the same can be said for this group photo of our church taken way back in April of 1915. This year marks the 100th anniversary of this historic picture. Our church won the World’s Largest Men’s Bible Class that year. 1,316 men showed up for this picture! 1,316!
     Truth be told, our church padded the numbers quite a bit to win this contest because we had put an ad in the Lancaster paper for all of the men to come to be in this picture. Some might say that we cheated. I just think it was creative evangelism!
     As you look at this old, old photo, just think of all the different people who had gathered for this picture. Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Catholics, and maybe people with no church affiliation at all. All of these people gathered together to be in this once in a lifetime photo.
     Actually, this is one of my favorite things about the church. It is a place where people from a variety of backgrounds can set aside their differences and be the people of God.
     Evidently this idea of unity over personal differences was lost on the Corinthian Church. Their battles didn’t stem from disagreements over politics or what color the new carpet in the nursery should be. Their biggest battle was over what meat should be served at their covered dish meals.
     This was a real problem for the people of that church. The Corinthian Church was made up of people who had recently been worshipping the gods of the Roman Empire. They would have sacrificed meat to these idols on a regular basis as a symbol of their devotion to these gods.
     Now that they were Christians, they didn’t want any part of any meat that had been sacrificed to these gods. Even though they knew in their minds that their new faith in Christ had freed them to eat any type of meat, the memory of their former religion was difficult to leave behind.
     There were other people in the Corinthian Church who looked down upon these other Christians who were still struggling with eating meat that had been sacrificed to these Roman gods. They were not very patient and empathetic with their brothers and sisters in Christ.
     Paul is cautioning the Church in Corinth to not become judgmental toward each other over these types of issues. Instead, Paul encourages them to focus on loving each other just as God has loved them.
     This is why five chapters from this passage of scripture we arrive at I Corinthians which is known as the love chapter. Paul really drives his point home there when writes, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I have nothing.”
     Sometimes, it’s not about being right in an argument. It’s about seeing things from the other person’s experiences and perspective that might be very different from our own. It’s during those times, that we are to offer greater grace and understanding.
     Several years ago, I served in a church that hosted several retreats for youth called Chrysalis weekends. You might be familiar with these weekends.  They are designed to help youth experience God’s love in a very real way.
     Some of the youth who attended were from the church I was serving but many of them were from other churches.  There were also youth who had no church connection.
    The board that was overseeing this ministry at the time had a disagreement about a delicate issue. Some of the youth who attended the retreats liked to smoke. There were some people on the leadership board at the time who didn’t want to allow smoking at all, even outside of the church in a designated smoking area.
     There were others on the board who agreed that smoking was bad, but didn’t want this issue to prevent youth who wanted to smoke from coming to these weekend retreats. They were in favor of the outside designated smoking areas.
     This debate kept coming up at several of the board meetings. After a lot of discussion and prayer, it was finally decided to allow for the designated smoking areas. They erred on the side of grace because the board members kept hearing how these weekend retreats were having a life changing impact on these teenagers, many of whom had very little connection with the church.
     It’s not easy to be a church for all people. It means that we will sometimes need to rethink our rules and expectations. It means that we will need to constantly ask ourselves if we truly are a church of open hearts, open minds, and open doors.

     Maybe you have heard of Nadia Bolz-Weber who is a Lutheran Pastor in Denver, Colorado. The name of her church is “House for All Sinners and Saints.”
     Nadia has an interesting background. She is a former drug user and alcoholic.  She gets a lot of attention for her colorful tattoos, cropped hair, hipster glasses, and edgy preaching. She also has a best selling book entitled, Pastrix: The Cranky Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint.
    Before becoming a Lutheran pastor, Nadia was a stand-up comic. She gave the eulogy for a fellow comedian which is where she felt a calling to enter the pastoral ministry. From there, she went to seminary and founded a church.
     The church consists of married couples, young families, baby boomers, and a few folks in their 70’s. It’s mostly folks who are between the ages of 22 and 42 and single. A quarter of the congregation identifies as being Lutherans while the rest are Methodists, agnostics, Reformed, Episcopalian, and which she terms the ever popular “nothing.”
     Nadia’s church is reaching people that many of the more established churches have not even attempted to reach. Her unorthodox ways provide a bridge between her church and people who have never attended any church worship service at any point in their lives.
     In addition to reaching people who have never been to church, her congregation is also strangely attracting conservative soccer moms from the Denver suburbs. Nadia writes that it’s pretty easy to look around on any given Sunday and think, “I’m unclear what all these people have in common.”
     Now, before you get any ideas, Pastor Cheryl and I have no plans on getting any tattoos. We feel like we are already hipster type pastors.
     Tattoos or not tattoos, we want to be a church for all people. We want to be a church of opens minds, open hearts, and open doors. We want people to feel welcomed in this place and to not feel judged or looked down upon. Like Paul writes, we want to be a church that builds people up with love.
     Every time we receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion, we are reminded that we are family.  Rich and Poor. Young and Old. Married and Single. Gay and Straight. Liberal and Conservative. Long time member and First Time Guest.

     All are welcome in this place. All are welcome in this place. Thanks to Jesus Christ, we can be a church for all people.

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