Sunday, May 29, 2011

Service on Fifth Sundays. BEING the church.

Today is the Fifth Sunday.  I copied the idea from a friend in another church...On each fifth Sunday of the year, we have only a brief worship service at 9:00, then we choose a service project to do (which our Christian Service folks have pre-arranged for us) in our neighborhoods.  I went with the group that served at the Samaritan House for people with HIV. It's a large facility with 357 families.  We cleaned the kitchen for them.  Others cleaned and straightened the yard at our neighboring elementary school, while smaller groups did a few smaller projects.  Then we all gathered at the church again at 12:30 for a spaghetti lunch. 
I'd say we had about 40% participation, which is amazingly good, really.  Fifth Sundays' Service isn't something that everyone will want to be a part of.  The folks that came today have a real calling to serve, I think.   

I tried to set the stage this morning in the sermon by talking about motivations for service, and how when we serve others we can catch a small glimpse of the Reign of God. 

A different way of worshiping today.  Change.  It isn't always easy, but wow, it can really be worth it!


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Watch. Keep Awake. The Potential for Disaster is Near.

I was reminded the other day about the dangers involved in church and being a pastor.

I've known of cutting-edge churches where people who attended believed in all sincerity (and I think they were right) that they were part of something God intends for Church to be.  Inclusive of all.  True community.  Deeply meaningful. Actively caring for "the least of these."  Growing by leaps and bounds.  The kind of place where it is truly exciting just to walk in the door, knowing you'll be greeted by people who love you, who are genuinely happy to see you.  People trust each other.  It's where your children are loved, even your crochety old Aunt Bess can come and feel the love surrounding her.  The pastors are dynamic, creative, personable, excellent preachers, teachers, and leaders.  Yes, this is a place that "God is blessing" big time.

I've known those kind of communities--been part of a couple, at least on the edges.  It was a uniquely wonder-filled experience.

Yet time and again those are also the communities in which something horrible happens.  The pastor gets into trouble with a parishioner.  Or the secretary embezzles.  Something. 

A few weeks ago, as I listened to someone's involvement in a community like that, I experienced this feeling/thought about how dangerous church can be.  Even when it's all so good, so right, so the way Jesus intended.  Yet there remains, always, a potential for a fall, an opening to danger, even evil.

Just when you know--"ah, this is heaven on earth," the smallest crack makes an appearance.  It seems that we are given glimpses of the Dream, the Reign/Kingdom, but we do not know it in its fullness.  No.

I see it as the weakness (?) of the human ego--the false ego, I mean. Indiscretion by a pastor who, believing (s)he's doing the will of God, excuses himself or herself from the kind of daily examination, prayer, spiritual practices that might help keep him/her centered and self aware.  The staff member feels the pressure to 'perform,' so takes some short cuts. Our blind spots grow.   It's all so innocent...and not.

The goodness that we do is laced with less than pure motivation.  No denying that.

Someone at church today remarked that he has a hard time when I say "for forgiveness of sin" during communion.  Kinda 'ruins it' for him. 

But everything worth anything stands in the paradox, doesn't it?--the tension between opposites.  Our wounds tempt us to behaviors our true selves do not value.  So we do 'the work,' we look at who we are, how these wounds came to be, and eventually we hear the Gospel Truth--we ARE God's beloved children.  We lack nothing

That's so right.  I remember so clearly Mary R. telling me that not so long ago!  I lack nothing.  'Tis true.

But if I stay on that "side" of who I am, --I lack nothing; my will and God's will are one; I am good and true and beautiful and smart-- eventually self-deception becomes too powerful an enemy, and "I am right" creeps in more and more often.

I HAVE to come back down on the other side, to a place where I find equilibrium, a place in which I also know that at the same time I lack nothing, I yet lack so much. It's both.  "I am perfect AND I could use a little work."  As a human being my place is inside this paradox of created-in-the-image-of-God AND in great need of forgiveness. 

As a pastor, it seems imperative that I keep trying to maintain this tension such that it becomes beautifully creative, not destructive.  The potential for disaster is near.  Watch.  Keep Awake.