Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sermon for Year C Creation 4

The one who puts the pink clouds in the sky

Statistics show that 76% of Americans
identify themselves as Christians.
And 41% of Americans report that they attend church regularly.

However, several other major studies show
that people actually don’t tell the truth
about how often they attend church.
(Or maybe it just feels to them
that they attend more often than they do!)

The reality is that only about 21% really attend church regularly now—
with “regularly” being defined by the studies as at least once a week.

At our recent clergy conference we were given the statistics
that only 1/3 of the population in the United States
now attends church regularly—
but that study defined “regularly” as
meaning at least twice a month.

This means that 2/3 of the country is at this moment:
(a) still asleep
(b) not asleep but still in their pajamas
(c) sitting at Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts or Cracker Barrel
with coffee and a newspaper
(d) some place else other than in the pews, sometimes at work even.

I bring this up for two reasons.
The first reason is
the world has changed a lot
since Jesus told the parable we hear this morning.
The Temple is no longer our common denominator.

The second reason is
the world hasn’t changed much at all.
since Jesus told the parable we hear this morning.
We all come to church with different needs
and different attitudes.

Parables are teaching stories.
Jesus engages his listeners with a story
but he wants those listeners
to realize or learn something
bigger and more important than the story itself.
Usually he wants us
to learn something about ourselves.

The parable we hear in Luke’s gospel is this:
It takes place in the Temple, the Church.
We have two people in this parable.

First, we have a Pharisee.
I imagine the Pharisee
is definitely part of the 21% of the population
in church every week.

The Pharisee is over-the-top disciplined—he tells us this himself--
he does without food or drink—
he fasts-- twice a week!

The Pharisee tithes—gives 1/10 of his income to the Church.
Let me tell you,
stewardship committees and church treasurers all over the globe
pray for more Pharisees like this in the Church!

But there is another edge to the Pharisee—
he is critical and judgmental.
His joy is that he is not like other people.

The thanksgiving the Pharisee offers is
Thank you, God, that I am not like THOSE people.

The Pharisee comes to the Temple
not to praise God, not to be transformed,
but to give himself a holy pat on the back—
and to give a little verbal kick in the pants
to those who don’t measure up to his standards.

We need to be careful
what we bring with us through the door into the Temple.
We also need to be careful
that we do not say
Thank you God that I am not like this Pharisee!

One of the key sentences in this parable is this:
“The Pharisee, standing by himself….”
Standing by himself.

That’s where mean-spirited criticism usually put us—
ultimately standing by ourself. Alone.

You see these attitudes,
such as this Pharisee has developed--
and unfortunately passed on to some in the Church today--
these attitudes are at least partially responsible
for why some people choose
NOT to be part of a church.

Some people choose to stay away from church
because they believe the only people in churches
are judgmental holier-than=thou Pharisees.

Some people choose to stay away from church
because they do not want to become like the Pharisee.

But the Pharisee is not the only person in this parable.

We also have the tax collector.
Maybe NOT part of the weekly crowd at the Temple—
but maybe he is.

The tax collector may be standing up physically
but his heart is on its knees.

The tax collector did not come to the Temple to criticize any one.
He came to the Temple to look inside his own heart, his own soul,
and the only sinner he saw that day
was himself.
And he begged God’s mercy.

The tax collector is filled with shame --and pain.
The parable says, he was “standing far off.”

God has no desire for us to stand alone or to stand far off.
God longs for us to stand together,
To stand as a worshipping, caring community.

We as children of God,
we who do worship weekly
or monthly or even occasionally,
we need to spread the word that our pews--
at least in this church—
are broad and wide and long.
We need to continually seek ways to say and live into,

We need to welcome the Pharisees.
We need to welcome the tax collectors
We need to welcome everyone in between.
We need to remember that we are welcome, too.
With our questions, with our doubts, with our fears, with our joys.
Because God’s love is abundant.
There is more than enough to go around—
around and around and around.

We need to do more than just say, “Y’all come.
We need to go out into the world and invite people to come into the Church.
To come into the Church
with all your fears and doubts and skeptism and deep beliefs—
and let’s travel this journey together.

I don’t want to make your Episcopal barometers go haywire--
In case you are thinking I am about to send you out to Pack Square
or the Ingles parking lot with a sign
that says “Repent! The end is near!”

Evangelism to me is how D.T. Niles defined it:
“Evangelism is about one beggar telling another beggar
where to find bread.”

The world needs this good news.
Our community needs this good news.
Evangelism is about inviting a neighbor or a friend
to come to church with you one Sunday.

We need to go out into the world
and let people know that the Church is big and diverse!
And God’s heart is bigger than we can ask or imagine.

There is room for everyone.
There is room for the Pharisees who think they know it all,
and there is room for the tax collectors who weep
because they feel they know nothing at all.

Church at its very best
is a community of people who will welcome you and love you
and pray with you and pray for you.
And expect you to go and do likewise.

It is up to us
to change the way the world sees the church.
It is up to us
to change the statistics.

A few weeks ago, a preschool teacher
who teaches in a rather affluent pre-school
connected to a large University--
shared this story with me.

Listen in on this conversation of a group of 4-year olds:

Child 1: My birthday is the day before Jesus’ birthday.

Child 2: (Looking around the room) Who is Jesus?

Child 1: You know—Jesus!

Child 2: Jesus who?

Child 1: Jesus---THE Jesus—the Son of God!

Child 2: Who is God?

Child 3: (very excited) God is a light!

Child 4: (shaking her finger)
God knows everything you do—every thing!

Child 5: (joining in) God hears everything you say—every thing!

Child 2: Like Santa Claus?

Child 3: God is a light.

Child 6: (quietly) If you are really, really good,
God will put a pink cloud in the sky.
Just for you.

Child 2: Who is God? Who is Jesus?

My friends, we fool ourselves if we think the world today,
or even our neighbors,
know about God or Jesus or the Church.

We ourselves are all still learning, exploring, asking questions,
sometimes rejoicing, sometimes struggling.

We fool ourselves if we think that everyone knows
that there are churches that allow questions,
churches that really do welcome all God’s people.

We are the only ones who can go out into the world
and make that message of WELCOME ring true.
We are the only ones with the magic words, “Come with ME to church.”
Come with ME.

Come with me
and get to know the one who loves you no matter what.
Come with me
and get to know
the one who has a sky full of pink clouds.

No comments: