Friday, May 20, 2016

Day of Pentecost - May 15, 2016

The first disciples are filled with the Spirit and sent outside of the building in which they are waiting and speak to the people who are gathered from many nations.  They represent a reversal of the tower of Babel story, empowered to speak in the first languages of all these people who had gathered for the Pentecost festival in Jerusalem.  They are able to unite the crowd around the story of the mighty acts of God.  Pay attention.  It is not a full reversal of Babel.  We are not going from many languages to one language.  We are going from many stories to one story.  The story is what unites this scene; the language actually becomes secondary.
                Now in every biblical story, you have the literal story which you can analyze at length, wondering if it happened the way the text says it happened, wondering how tradition gets involved or how mythic remembrance gets involved.  You also have the spirit of the text (or in the text) which asks what is the truth that this story is trying to tell.  You can still analyze this at length but I find it more interesting and more rewarding. 
Everyone miraculously speaks a foreign language on the day of Pentecost, but then it never really comes up again.  Did that just last for an hour or a day or were they speaking foreign languages for years?  The languages aren’t the point.  The story is the point.  They could tell the story in a language that was relevant to those who needed to hear it.  The Day of Pentecost emphatically shows us that God needs this story to be told so that people can understand.
But what does that mean for us?  Most of the people around us speak English so that barrier is not too high.  There was a time when our congregations were ministering to specific immigrant communities:  Germans, Swedes, Danes, Slovaks to name a few.  Lutheran worship told the story in several European languages.  Now when someone does a service in German in an English-speaking community it is more a living museum moment, nice but not necessary for our context.
I would argue that the primary way we Lutherans have told the story has been through the language of service.  We have a history of seeing needs in a community or in the world around us and responding with food and shelter and other forms of aide (like surgery pillows and stress kits) that tell the Christian story in ways that are relevant to someone in need.  We have shown people that God cares for them by offering our care.  It seems quite likely that the social service organizations like Ascentria (Lutheran Social Services of New England), Lutheran World Hunger Appeal and Lutheran Disaster Relief that have grown out of congregations will outlive the congregations that birthed them.  A colleague once told me, in looking at this situation that “We Lutherans have served ourselves to death.”
                I would argue that maybe it’s not a bad way to go, but it is an important point.  We have done all sorts of service and aid work.  You can find many testimonials thanking the Lutherans and our organizations for helping someone in need.  But it hasn’t grown our congregations more than any other group.  For good or for bad, we haven’t really worn that service on our sleeves; it’s just what we do.  Part of it has to do with our theology of grace.  We are always in the place of responding to something that God has done, whether it is in worship or prayer or service.  We don’t serve to show that we are Christians; we are Christians and so we serve.  There is a quote from Martin Luther that sums up the idea very well. “The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”  Whatever it is we are doing, we do to honor God who loves us first and gives us life in Christ.
                Yet it seems like we need to start learning a new language.  I suppose that happens every so often.  Martin Luther wasn’t the only person who was questioning the church in the 1500s.  He was the first who had political protection and printing presses nearby, but the Holy Spirit was doing something in that time and the church began to speak a new (or renewed, since it was never gone) language of grace.
                So what is the language that the Holy Spirit is calling us to speak in this time?  I don’t know if I can speak for the whole church but I know how God is calling me to speak.  I think that the language of peace, the gospel as peace, has become much more critical in this day and age.  Now some of you will say that’s just my quiet side.  Others will look to the number of people who are gathering around visions of success and reward.  It may not be the language the world wants to hear but I think it is the language our culture needs to hear.
                I say this because we look at the political process and people are reacting to an underlying sense of anger and discontent that they don’t to do with, but a voice that affirms and stirs up that anger and discontent is appealing.  There needs to be another voice.  I say this because suicide rates are on the rise for almost every group in the United States.  I say this because opioid abuse and other forms of substance abuse are on the rise.  I say this because even as our devices claim to make us more connected, many people feel more isolated.  Someone needs to be telling the world that there is peace; that peace and contentment are already available to you.  This is part of the good news.  This is the story.  These are the mighty acts of God.
                And I believe that the Spirit has empowered us to speak a new language, but we have to bold enough to speak it and live it.  Speaking a new language is not easy because it means replacing familiar vocabulary with new, letting go of old patterns and replacing them, letting go of comfortable idioms and coming up with new turns of phrase.  It will mean dropping some expectation of what growth looks like and what success looks like and what church looks like. 
                Yet here we are in this place with the sun shining, the birds singing, the wind stirring new leaves in the breeze, sitting in a place that where God says, “Slow down.  There is no rush.  Be at peace.”  And what if we could bring that into our lives and our communities and our world.  All will be well.  There is no rush.  Be at peace.  Learn contentment.  God has already been speaking this language for centuries, perhaps it is time we took it as our own.  Peace be with you.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

May 8, 2016 - The Gospel at the Heart of Worship

A couple of weeks ago I invited people to a meal to talk about the future of our congregation.  We had about twenty people there.  We talked about some of the trends we are seeing in the larger church; the decline in the number of people seeking to be pastors which is a side effect of the decline in participation and giving in many congregations.   At one point in our conversation I asked people to split into groups and have each group answer 3 questions.  The first question was, “What sort of church do you want to be for the next five years?”  I am going to write about this discussion in a blog post that will be out next week, but today I want dwell on the fact that two of the groups came back with the answer, “Open” or “In existence.” 
                I can understand where that answer might come from.  When we are faced with difficult challenges, sometimes the best vision you can have is survival.  If we can just stay open a few more years maybe the prevailing culture will change a little bit.  Maybe more people will retire out here.   Maybe we will find that one thing that will make it all better.
                The path to survival is quite simple.  I can talk about it because there are many congregations that are living through it.  Sell your assets.  Radically cut your expenditures (like having a part-time pastor or moving to a smaller building).  Do those things and you will probably have an extra five or ten years of being open.   But the question would remain, what are you going to do with those five or ten years?   Well, at least we will get together and worship.
                And therein, I think, lays the problem for the Lutheran church and many church bodies like us.  We think that worship is the answer to our problems.  We think that worship is the point of our existence.   So we look at other church bodies that may be doing better and ask, “What is their worship like?  Maybe we should do that?  What are their practices?  Let’s copy them.”
                Now you can learn a lot from looking at other congregations.  Congregations that develop good social service programs can teach us a lot about being organized and meeting community needs.  Congregations that do hospitality well can teach us something being welcoming.   Listening to good preachers can teach me something about sermon delivery.   However, programs and procedures normally come from somewhere in a congregation.  There is usually some impulse or idea that inspires people in a congregation to be more welcoming or to be involved in more loving service.  The same can be said for worship.  Worship style and content is often a reflection of the culture of the congregation. 
                In my first call in central Pennsylvania the worship and music committee met every other month to pick hymns.  They didn’t really do anything else because worship had to be traditional.  New hymns were avoided (this was in 1998, the green hymnal had been out for 20 years, and there still new hymns we were avoiding).  When a new hymn was picked there would be a four-week process before you could use it as a regular hymn.  A couple of Sundays, the organist would play the tune as part of the prelude music.  One Sunday the choir would sing it as offertory music.  One Sunday it would sung during communion “When those who like singing could try it.” And then, after those four weeks,  you could have it as one of the main hymns.  It was a procedure that had outlined for me from the beginning, a procedure that represented a conservative culture where one of the greatest fears was that people should be upset or uncomfortable.  They knew it was boring and predictable.  Even people on the worship and music committee complained that it was boring and predictable, but they would rather be predictably boring than possibly offensive.
                Ironically, in spite of the good news, many of the decisions we make a based on fear, fear of loss, fear of anger, fear of conflict.   Jesus speaks of unity, that we may be one as he and God are one.  Somehow we have become unified around fear rather than unified by the gospel.
                If you look at almost any of the congregations that are doing well in our current climate, one thing that is common is that they have a vision that unites them, out of which all of the programs and procedures that people want to copy grow.   I may not agree with all of those visions as relating to the gospel, some get too wrapped up in promises of success or rewards for faithful living, but the process of discernment that they often go through is important.  The vision helps make decisions.  For instance, our vision statement as it is stated right now is, “Christ in our community; sharing the joy of Jesus.”  We may want to have another look at that, but have we really ever asked, “How are we sharing the joy of Jesus?  What does the mean?”  Rather than asking, “What are we going to do this year or pay for this year?” shouldn’t we be asking, “How will we share the joy of Jesus this year?  Does our worship share the joy of Jesus?”  If not, we should change it, because that is the whole point of having a vision statement or a mission statement.  If we say we are about joy and yet are shaped by fear, our vision has changed.   I suspect that many congregations have mission statements about joy or hope or grace or love and yet their actual mission is “Stay open one more year.”
                The good news has to be what unites us.  Our vision is really about figuring what aspect of the gospel we are best suited to share.  The good news can be described in many ways The gospel can be described as joy and grace and hope and love.  The gospel can be described as life and light and promise and truth.  The gospel can tell you that all will be well and all will be well and every kind of thing will be well.  The gospel can be described as peace and wholeness and forgiveness and even being open.  But when I say open I don’t just mean open and functioning, I mean intentionally open to all the people that other places might reject: the refugees, the special-needs child, the same-sex couple, the one who is too poor to contribute, the one who speaks English as a second language.  If you want to be open, the gospel is going tell you to be really open, just as Jesus showed us what it means to be open.

                How we worship and how we live are a reflection of how we encounter the gospel.   One of the questions that we need to pursue is how we as Christ Lutheran Church encounter the good news and how we can best share it.  I’d like to invite you into that conversation.  It will be part of my preaching and our discussion for the next few months.  It will be part of the dinner conversation on May 24 at 6:00 p.m.  The gospel promise is what unites us, that joins us in union with Jesus and with God.  May we be one in faith and one in love and one in Christ.

Monday, May 2, 2016

May 1, 2016 - Worship as Opening the Heart

Today I want talk about worship as an opening of the heart.  I’m taking this from the image in Acts where Lydia has a moment of conversion while listening to Paul.  The text says, “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.”  This kind of image can lead to some very troubling thoughts about God.  Here God opens a heart.  Back in Exodus, God hardens Pharaoh’s heart so the plagues continue.  It seems very manipulative and limits the idea of free will that we like, especially as Americans who celebrate freedom.   I should be choosing to open my heart and not forced.
It is part of our Lutheran theological heritage.  Those of you who had to study Luther’s Small Catechism might remember the explanation to the Third Article of the Creed.  “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith.”  In our tradition, we talk about faith as a gracious gift and not a choice.  That can have its own troubling implications and we are not in agreement with a number of church bodies on it.  It’s also why we kind of stink at evangelism and outreach.  If faith is a gift from God then it is God’s job to convert people and our job to have coffee and cake ready for them, so we are very good at coffee and cake but not so much in talking about evangelism.
In evangelical circles, they will talk about one’s personal decision for Christ and organize worship to lead people to a moment of decision.  A common image is the idea of inviting Jesus into your heart.  Contemplative Christianity would respond saying that it is odd to invite someone inside who is already there; conversion is a process of discovering and rediscovering the Jesus who never left the building in the first place.
Regardless of how you see the process I think all the different traditions are trying to use words and images to describe an encounter with the divine that is beyond description.  We get in trouble when we try to define it too rigidly.  Even this image of Lydia’s heart being opened by God is strange if you think about it.  A few of you I know have literally had your hearts opened on an operating table, but what does this image mean?  What does it mean to open one’s heart or have it opened.   It seems to have something to do with a receptive attitude.  When our hearts are open, we are much more receptive to the presence of God among us.  When our hearts are open, God in me sees God in you.  When our hearts are open, Jesus is truly present in wine and bread.
Historically, worship has been a moment when Christians gather to have our hearts opened.  The greatest worship that we can offer is focusing on God with undivided attention.  Communal worship is a time when we get together and agree to pay attention.  Unfortunately, as we talk about worship, I don’t think that the traditional liturgy does that as it once did.  Part of the reason is that the way we think about God has changed over the centuries.  The liturgy developed at a time when the primary feeling that people had toward God was fear (which we don’t like) or awe.  God was a divine mystery.  Tradition said one could not look upon the face of God and live.  Those of you who might remember the original Raiders of the Lost Ark, think of the scene when the ark is opened and the people are melting and exploding, an image that long-haunted the 10-year-old boy who would grow to be your pastor.  Often the way the human beings deal with the mysterious or the dangerous is through ritual.  Ritual worship provides a process for approaching the divine, so that you can have your heart opened but not be overwhelmed.  The liturgy as we experience it today is quite different from the context for which it was designed.  The Kyrie and the Hymn of Praise we dutifully sing at our seats were part of a larger procession in a large worship space.  There was a cross-bearer, torch bearers, scripture bearers, a worship assistant swinging a bowl of incense.  Priests mumbled words you probably couldn’t understand.  Choirs sang music with simple harmonies yet ethereal melodies, stringing out a single word through several melodic permutations.  It was in the ritual that you could approach the divine, a mystery you may not have felt worthy to encounter.
As centuries went by and instrumental music became a basic part of worship, Bach wrote these big organ pieces for big pipe organs in large spaces, fugues that harmonically get further and further from where they began but always make it back to where they belong.  There were no recordings, no opportunities to hear this music outside of the church.  There is a story of Bach as a young man walking 200 miles to hear a performance by the organist Dietrich Buxtehude.   Music was part of the mystery, not something you encountered every day or could access whenever you chose.  It was only available as part of the larger process of a worship that sought to give a safe approach to mystery.  Music was a special declaration that something important was happening.
Yet how often in the midst of a discussion of Luther’s catechism have I had someone say, “Why does Luther say fear and love God?  Why do we have to fear God?”  For most Christians I encounter, God is eminently approachable.  God is love and God loves you and God wants to be with you and you to be with God.   That is part of the beauty of Jesus, Immanuel, God is with us.  So a series of rituals that are designed to slowly approach a God whom we suspect is dangerous doesn’t really make sense if we don't think of God as dangerous.  Instead of doing what it was designed to do, carefully open our hearts and attention to God, they are more apt to provide the comfort of familiarity.  The liturgy was developed as a hazmat suit that allows us into the presence of a God who is dangerous and wonderful.  Instead it has become a security blanket with which we drape over ourselves as we remember the good old days.  And the problem with security blankets is that they get frayed and dirty and after a while the rest of the world is wondering “Why are you still carrying that thing around?”
The beauty of the Lutheran tradition is that, although we have been grounded in a particular style of worship, we are not bound to it.  One of Luther’s measures for the life of the church and interpretation of scripture was asking, “Does it push Christ forward?”  That is, does it share the good news or does it hinder the good news?  And that is something the church needs to evaluate regularly because it can change.  Something that once helped people approach God becomes just another tradition.  If our worship creates a barrier to connecting people to Christ, then you change the worship.  If our structure creates a barrier, you change the structure.  Because what really matters is having our hearts opened to connect to Christ and helping others do the same.
That being said, I don’t want to entirely dismiss the liturgy as a form of worship, because I think, if done well and mindfully, it can remind us that God is mysterious and not entirely accessible.  I think that Luther was right in his call to both love God and to fear or be in awe of God.   The amazing thing about God’s love is that it comes from a God who is beyond us, whom we cannot contain nor define.  The love that sparked the universe is the same love that is here; that is for you.  And perhaps it is fitting that we approach that love slowly, not because it is dangerous, but because it is amazing and the most faithful act of worship we can perform is not a song or a prayer or a grand procession, but truly paying attention, marveling at that wonderful love.
That love is what gathers us together and gives us a story to tell.  That love is what inspires worship in all its forms.  That love is what sends us out to share love through word and action in the world.  And as I said last week, that love is where you find the measure of good worship.  For good worship is not a matter of style or faithfulness to a tradition.  Good worship is measured by whether you were a bit more loving going out than when you came in.

Because for all the focus we put on it, God not doesn’t need our worship.  God will still be God without our worship.  God desires our love, that the love he has given would go forth and multiply in the world.  However we worship, remember why you are, because the love of God has called you, because God’s love in Christ has touched you, because it is God’s desire to send you with love into the world.

April 24, 2016 - The Measure of Good Worship

As we continue talking about worship as it relates to our lives as disciples of Jesus, we are going to talk a little bit about liturgy.  Our Lutheran tradition has long taken in part in liturgical worship, along with Roman Catholic, Episcopalian and a few other church bodies.  What this means is that we use an order of worship that has been established over the 2000 year life of the church that involves prayers, readings, preaching and communion.  Although it is different from the settings that you find in your hymnbook, the blues service is simply a setting of the liturgy.  The music doesn’t change the order of things.  You can have a blues setting or a jazz setting or a reggae setting (which has always intrigued me).  I’ve heard of country-western settings, folk settings (which we have done).  Any cultural kind of music could be used as a setting of the liturgy, because the liturgy is simply an ordering of worship. 

If you go to the hymnal and pay attention to the instructions a lot of them will give instructions like - at the reading of the gospel, “The assembly stands to welcome the gospel, using this acclamation, a sung alleluia, or another appropriate song.”  There is a fair amount of flexibility in the pattern itself, flexibility that we don’t take advantage of, because it is easier and simpler to do it like we always have.   Not only is it simpler, it is more comfortable, something that I am going to talk about next week.

There has been a lot of discussion within the church about the nature of worship, looking at that question, “What is good worship?”  When I was in seminary, the official answer to that question was still the traditional liturgy, usually in a classical style led by a pipe organ.  Yet even in the 1990’s we were starting to see people and churches questioning that assumption.  As the Lutheran church was embracing more non-white voices, new settings were heard.  As the Lutheran church began to try to deal with losing younger generations, new ideas came out.  My impression is that today, new pastors are coming out with the idea that good worship means word and sacrament, but not necessarily the traditional liturgy.  There may be preaching or there may be discussion or there may be testimony or there may be drama or there may be silent meditation on a text all in service to the word.  The sacrament may be congregants coming to the communion rail or part of a community meal or groups gathering in the worship space to serve one another.  Travel around Lutheran churches today you will find organs, pianos and four-part choirs, but you will also find praise bands, drum circles and ukulele ensembles.

I want to go back to a place where I started, that critique of worship leveled by the prophets and by Jesus.   It’s not the content of worship that makes it good worship.  It’s what worship does that makes it good worship.  We gather for an hour or so and the value of that hour should not be measured in the number of bodies that were in the seats or the number of dollars that were in the plate.  The value of that hour should be measured in whether or not the people who attended left worship a little more loving than when they entered.  It may be just a smidgen.  One week it may be a greater love for God; one week it may be a greater love for your neighbor.  One week it may be the ability to let go of a mistake you made and love yourself.  One week it may be the ability to let go of a mistake somebody else made and love an enemy. 

With all that is going on in the church today, as we deal, in our tradition, with a time of decline, it can be very easy to lose sight  of the central place of love.  Jesus gathered with his first disciples on the final night before his crucifixion and gives them a new commandment.  This is the passage that we celebrate on Maundy Thursday in Holy Week, the new law.  “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

If we gather for that hour or so and just feel good and happy, that’s not worst thing in the world, but it misses the point.  As I have said, it is a good thing to do the things that make you feel good, that recharge your batteries and make you happy, but worship should do something more.  This is where we can get into a discussion of logic because people who are loving are often people who feel good.  It feels good to be loving.  However, people who feel good are not necessarily people who are loving.  So again I say, if we design our worship primarily to make people feel good, we are missing the point.

If we gather for that hour or so just so we can feel superior and right, we are definitely missing the point.  Now that may sound crass but it is attitude that is a big part in shaping what Christianity is today.  Sometimes people seem to have been taught that you go to church because it makes you better than people who don’t go to church, more important, more dignified, more socially acceptable.  One of things that various clergy scandals have taught us is that there can be weak and broken and, in some cases, terrible people in any community of faith.  As a pastor I can tell you that in the church I have encountered some very unloving people, judgmental, impatient, controlling people (not here, of course). I think that one of reasons people have turned away from church is that we weren’t loving enough to admit our imperfections, so we just came off as hypocrites acting as though we had figured out this faith thing, this life thing, this love thing, but unaware that we are still learning.  If you master it, you are not a disciple any more, no longer a student.  None of us have mastered it.  We are all still learning.

So we need to pay attention to part of Jesus’ new commandment.  “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”  The love that Jesus speaks about doesn’t come to us naturally.  We encounter it in him, we learn it from him, we experience it through him.  So we might look at the value of worship as a question of how it connects us to Jesus and his love.  Because when you truly encounter Jesus in worship, when you experience the love of Christ, you will be more loving, that love is too strong not to be effective.  When you experience the love of Jesus in a preached word or a handshake of peace or piece of bread and sip of wine, you will be more loving, even if only in a small way, but even the small things add up.  A community of people of loving God, loving one another, loving the world just a little bit more can be a powerful witness to the kingdom of God.

Next week we will complicate things a little more and talk about what you bring to worship, but for now, for this hour or so, may you find the love of Jesus and may you be just little more loving.


April 17, 2016 - Contemplation: Doing Nothing for Worshp

Last week I talked about a goal of worship being conversion and reconversion.  We need to be reconverted to the vision that Christ gives for the world so we can go out and live in that world in a new and a renewed way shaped by the promises of love, peace and life.  I talked about worship as an anchoring moment along with many other anchors like prayer, scripture and fellowship that ground us in the faith.

                Contemplative worship and the whole contemplative tradition take a slightly different approach.  For the contemplative Christian, prayer and worship serve as reminders of the constant presence of God with us.  Most Christians that I have talked to will say they believe that God is everywhere and God knows everything.  But there is big difference between the ideas we say we believe and the words and actions that show what we actually believe. 

Here are some things that I have been told, sometimes in jest, but they point to a particular way of looking at the world.  “If I walk into the church I will be struck by lightning.”  “Here comes the pastor.  We had better be good.”  “They kicked God out of our schools.” “Come on pastor.  This isn’t Sunday morning.  The church is like a business.   I’m talking about the real world.”  And to quote Whitey Bulger (as played by Johnny Depp), “If nobody sees it, it didn’t happen.”

These all point to an idea called dualism.  You don’t have to remember that but it is basically the idea that the world can be divided into places where God is and places where God is not.  I need to be on my best behavior in the places where God is, but can relax where God is not.  Most people will say that they don’t believe this but most people live as if they do.  We live as though there are places where God is not paying attention.  We live as though there is a strong split between sacred space and common space, sacred time and common time.  Work is not holy time (unless you work in a church).  Shopping is not holy time (unless you are buying supplies for coffee hour).  Hanging out with friends is not holy time (unless you are actively engaged in a holy activity like Bible study.)

The contemplative vision of Christianity basically says that there is no split.  It’s all holy.  There is no place where God is not.  There is no one to whom God is not available.  God is like the air we breathe; always there; always necessary for life.  But how often do we truly pay attention to the air we breathe except perhaps when breathing is difficult.  As the mystic friar, Meister Eckhart said 700 years ago, “God is at home; it is we who have taken a walk.”  Somewhere along the lines, we lost the sense that life itself is holy, that this present moment is filled with the presence of God.  For contemplative worship, the goal is not so much about converting as it is rediscovering the union we have with God.

Especially in John’s gospel, Jesus uses this kind of language in moments when he sounds a bit like a song by the Beatles after they had spent time with gurus in India.  In the reading we heard today it ends with Jesus saying something that theologically we are okay with, “The Father and I are one.”  As Christians, we are comfortable acknowledging that union.  But later he takes this idea further, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you loved me.”  This is the kind of passage where people ask, “Can you explain that pastor?” to which I reply, “What do you think it means?”  This language gets convoluted because it is trying to explain a relationship that is lived and experienced more than it can be taught.  If someone were to ask you, “What is breathing like?”  You are probably not going begin with a lecture on oxygen and carbon dioxide, bronchial tubes and alveoli.  You are probably going to say, “Take a breath.”  Contemplative Christianity looks to answer questions like, “Where is God?” and “What is God like?” by saying, “Try this.  Be still.  Pay Attention.  God is right here.”

I think it is beautiful and I have been helped in my faith through contemplative practice.  But to be fair I should acknowledge that the contemplative movement has been around since early in the life of the church (as it is in most religions) and it has also been critiqued for about as long as it has been around.  The first critique is that it really bothers people who like their worship or expressions of faith with a bit more structure, who want faith to be something that can be written down and taught.  Contemplatives often end up pushing the barriers of creedal beliefs and scriptural interpretation.  Julian of Norwich talks about Jesus as her mother at a time when you just didn’t do that.  Francis of Assisi starts talking about brother sun and sister moon (very groovy).  Contemplative worship breaks barriers between cultures so that communities like Taize in France can host people from all over the world in common worship in spite of cultural differences.  Contemplative Christians are much more likely to sit down with Buddhist contemplatives and Muslim contemplatives and Jewish contemplatives because, even though we define God differently, there is a shared experience of the divine. 

Another historical concern is that, if you go around saying that every place and every moment is holy; organizations that are built on holy people doing holy work in holy buildings become a lot less relevant which is rather upsetting if your faith (or your livelihood) has been built around that kind of structure. 

The most common modern critique that I have heard is simply that we aren’t doing anything.  It doesn’t feel like worship because we aren’t doing anything, something I have heard in our own congregation.  If you practice this kind of silent prayer, focused prayer, you will discover it takes a lot of work to be still.  It takes a fair amount of honesty to acknowledge how distracted you are and a lot of practice and work to really pay attention to God in this moment.  It takes a lot of work, a lot of trust, a lot of faith to do nothing.

But more importantly, I find a dose of contemplation is a wonderful illustration of what I have been trying to say to you from the pulpit for the past eight years.  There is nothing you have to do…there is nothing you have to do to earn God’s love…There is  nothing you have to do to live a new life…There is nothing you have to…You don’t have to be here.  It’s great that you are, but you don’t have to be.  You don’t have to serve on council.  It helps the congregation out, but you don’t have to do it.  You don’t have to be on a team or group.  You don’t have to give any money…But what if the church shuts down…There is still nothing you have to do to be whole and complete in the eyes of a loving God.  There is nothing you have to do.

And when you realize that there is nothing you have to do, there is a wonderful freedom in finding that there is whole bunch of stuff that you can choose to do.  You can go to worship but you don’t have to.  You can give generously, but you don’t have to.  You can serve on council or a group or team, but you don’t have to.  You can do even more interesting things like going to try to change the world, feed the hungry, heal the sick, establish equality and justice.  You can do all these things, but you don’t have to.  There is nothing you have to do.


That is the gift and the reminder and the conversion moment; that is the nature of God’s union with us.  All that needs to be done has already been done through God’s love in Christ.  So I invite you to be still, pay attention, listen for God at work in this place.  Know that you are one with Christ and one with God, whole and complete; loved and cherished.