Longing For Meaning

Helen Keller

Last week, I was invited to speak to the Durham Lions Club.  This is what I had to say:

On the first day, God created the dog and said: “Sit all day by the door of your house and bark at anyone who comes in or walks past. For this, I will give you a life span of 20 years.”

The dog said: “That’s a long time to be barking. How about only 10 years and I’ll give you back the other 10?’

So God agreed.

On the second day, God created the monkey and said: “Entertain people, do tricks, and make them laugh. For this, I’ll give you a 20-year life span.”

The monkey said: “Monkey tricks for 20 years? That’s a pretty long time to perform. How about I give you back 10 like the Dog did?”

And God agreed.

On the third day, God created the cow and said: “You must go into the field with the farmer all day long and suffer under the sun, have calves and give milk to support the farmer’s family. For this, I will give you a life span of 60 years.”

The cow said: “That’s kind of a tough life you want me to live for 60 years. How about 20 and I’ll give back the other 40?”

And God agreed again.

On the fourth day, God created man and said: “Eat, sleep, play, marry and enjoy your life. For this, I’ll give you 20 years.”

But man said: “Only 20 years? Could you possibly give me my 20, the 40 the cow gave back, the 10 the monkey gave back, and the 10 the dog gave back — that makes 80, OK?”

“OK,” God said. “As long as you’re sure.”

So that is why for our first 20 years we eat, sleep, play and enjoy ourselves. For the next 40 years we slave in the sun to support our family. For the next 10 years we do monkey tricks to entertain the grandchildren. And for the last 10 years we sit on the front porch and bark at everyone.

And that, my friends, is the meaning of life. Now you know.

This, so we’re told, is the meaning of life.  But philosophers, thinkers, and wise people from every time, place, and culture have long suspected that’s not true.  Something inside of us resists what Shakespeare’s tragic hero, Macbeth, said about the nature and meaning of life:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Most of us refuse to believe that life “signifies nothing”.  Something within each of us searches for significance.  We need to know that our lives have meaning.

I suspect that such a longing for meaning was active in the mind of Melvin Jones, the insurance agent from Chicago who had an epiphany during a lunch group with business colleauges in 1917.

Jones wondered out loud, “What if these men, who are successful because of their drive, intelligence, and ambition, were to put their talents to work improving their communities?”

It wasn’t long before he discovered other like-minded professionals who were asking themselves the same questions.  They organized a group that became the first Lions Club.  Within three years, they had grown into an international organization.

Then, in June of 1925, Melvin Jones’ vision of community service began to take on flesh as the members of Lions Club International listened to an impassioned plea from that famous icon of American history, Helen Keller.  As you all know, Ms. Keller called upon those Lions to become “Knights of the Blind”.  Few have ever heard her brief appeal in its entirety, so I would like to share it with you now:

Dear Lions and Ladies:

I suppose you have heard the legend that represents opportunity as a capricious lady, who knocks at every door but once, and if the door isn’t opened quickly, she passes on, never to return. And that is as it should be. Lovely, desirable ladies won’t wait. You have to go out and grab ’em.

I am your opportunity. I am knocking at your door. I want to be adopted. The legend doesn’t say what you are to do when several beautiful opportunities present themselves at the same door. I guess you have to choose the one you love best. I hope you will adopt me. I am the youngest here, and what I offer you is full of splendid opportunities for service.

The American Foundation for the Blind is only four years old. It grew out of the imperative needs of the blind, and was called into existence by the sightless themselves. It is national and international in scope and in importance. It represents the best and most enlightened thought on our subject that has been reached so far. Its object is to make the lives of the blind more worthwhile everywhere by increasing their economic value and giving them the joy of normal activity.

Try to imagine how you would feel if you were suddenly stricken blind today. Picture yourself stumbling and groping at noonday as in the night; your work, your independence, gone. In that dark world wouldn’t you be glad if a friend took you by the hand and said, “Come with me and I will teach you how to do some of the things you used to do when you could see?” That is just the kind of friend the American Foundation is going to be to all the blind in this country if seeing people will give it the support it must have.

You have heard how through a little word dropped from the fingers of another, a ray of light from another soul touched the darkness of my mind and I found myself, found the world, found God. It is because my teacher learned about me and broke through the dark, silent imprisonment which held me that I am able to work for myself and for others. It is the caring we want more than money. The gift without the sympathy and interest of the giver is empty. If you care, if we can make the people of this great country care, the blind will indeed triumph over blindness.

The opportunity I bring to you, Lions, is this: To foster and sponsor the work of the American Foundation for the Blind. Will you not help me hasten the day when there shall be no preventable blindness; no little deaf, blind child untaught; no blind man or woman unaided? I appeal to you Lions, you who have your sight, your hearing, you who are strong and brave and kind. Will you not constitute yourselves Knights of the Blind in this crusade against darkness?

I thank you.

While I was doing my research for this talk today, I was particularly struck by these words from Ms. Keller’s speach: “a ray of light from another soul touched the darkness of my mind and I found myself, found the world, found God.”

She was referring to Annie Sullivan, the teacher who worked indefatigably to help the young Helen Keller live well with her disability.  Ms. Sullivan forged a deep connection with Ms. Keller, who would later describe the event mythically as “a ray of light from another soul touch[ing] the darkness of my mind”.  And what was the final result?  In Ms. Keller’s words: “I found myself, found the world, found God.”

Now, since Lions Club is not a religious organization, you might find it helpful to replace her word, “God”, in your own mind with “that which gives my life ultimate meaning.”

Through the tireless compassion of Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller experienced a deep and profound sense of connection to herself, the world, and ultimate meaning.

It was this deep and profound sense of connection that resonated so powerfully with Melvin Jones and those early Lions.  They felt a longing for meaning that they sought to fulfill by serving their communities.

They wanted to be that ray of light from another soul that touched the darkness of someone’s mind so that, together, we all might find a deeper connection with ourselves, the world, and that which gives life meaning.

As we all know, the Lions accepted Helen Keller’s challenge to become “Knights of the Blind”.  Generations of Lions Clubs have dedicated their time, talent, and treasure to the treatment and prevention of blindness.

You and I live in a society that desperately needs the light you Lions carry into the darkness.  Our culture of consumerism has blinded us to the needs of others.  Our ears are deaf to the call of service.  We are falsely informed that ultimate meaning can be found in the pursuit of power, profit, and possessions.  It’s obvious to anyone who watches TV that we have forgotten the epic words of John F.  Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

This world needs Melvin Jones and his Lions now more than ever.  We need to be reminded that the meaning of life can only be measured in what we give, not what we get.  So, I encourage you today to continue your work inside Lions Club and out.  Helen Keller is still knocking at your door!  Will you answer it?

Answer it with your time, talent, and treasure.  More than that, answer it with your whole self.  Remember what Ms. Keller said: “It is the caring we want more than money. The gift without the sympathy and interest of the giver is empty.”

Through your caring, you are making a better world, not just for blind people, but for yourselves and all of us who long for meaning.

I conclude with the benediction that I give to my church each Sunday:

Go out into the world in peace.  Hold on to what is good.  Return no one evil for evil.  Strengthen the faint-hearted.  Support the weak.  Help the suffering.  Honor all beings.  Love and serve, rejoicing in the power of the spirit.

And may the peace that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of that which gives life meaning.  Be blessed and be a blessing.

Taking To The Streets: Evangelical Lessons For Liberal Christians

Image by Kara David

Today marks the end of a series of blog posts called Evangelical Lessons for Liberal Christians.

I’ve been looking at some of the things that evangelicals do really well and exploring some of the ways in which liberal Christians might benefit by taking seriously the gifts of our evangelical cousins.  Life has been pretty rough as of late in the mainline Protestant churches.  Battle lines have been drawn between evangelicals and liberals and the armies are loading and aiming.  In some sections, shots have already been fired from both sides.  I’m beginning to feel a bit like Prince Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita: parking my chariot between the two armies and imagining that there must be a better way than war.  Perhaps that’s not the best analogy to use since, in the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna ultimately advises Arjuna to fight and kill.  Well, with all due respect to Krishna, maybe I’ll get better advice if I imagine Jesus with me in the chariot.

My colleagues tell me that they expect this summer’s General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church to be a bloodbath.  I’m hoping that’s not necessarily the case.  With blog posts like these, I’m hoping that we might be able to foster the growth of a more generous spirit within liberals and evangelicals alike.  Perhaps, as it was for Arjuna, the end result will be the same, but maybe we can change the spirit of the split, so that the seeds of future reconciliation might be sown today.

Enough of that for now.  This series isn’t about denominational schism.  It’s about those qualities of evangelicals that liberal Christians can and ought to appreciate and imitate.  Let’s get to it, shall we?

In the first installment, God Has No Grandchildren, we looked at the ways in which evangelicals do such a great job of taking personal ownership of their spirituality (a.k.a. their relationship with God).  In the second post, Romancing The Book, we looked at the evangelical passion for the Bible.  In this final chapter, I want to talk about the evangelical commitment to mission and what liberal Christians can learn from it.

In many ways, mission is at the very heart of what it means to be evangelical.  The name evangelical comes from the Greek word euangelion, which means, “Good news.”  Evangelicals are all about announcing good news to the world.

They tend to mobilize quickly and effectively using grassroots techniques.  Evangelicals were the ones, primarily through the Baptists and Methodists, who most effectively brought Christianity to the American frontier during the periods of colonialism and westward expansion.  During the 19th and 20th centuries, they spearheaded international missionary efforts to Asia, Africa, and Latin America.  In fact, evangelicals did such a good job at this that the churches they started a century ago are now sending missionaries back to North America and Europe to “re-evangelize” our increasingly secular societies.

Take my own denominational tradition (Presbyterianism) as an example.  We have our historical roots in Scotland but, numerically speaking, the Presbyterian Church of East Africa has about twice the membership of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and more than eight times the membership of the Church of Scotland.  The world’s largest Presbyterian congregation (Myungsung Presbyterian Church) is located in Seoul, South Korea.  Say what you will about evangelicals, they know how to get things done!

Liberal Christians, on the other hand, have a tendency to be more self-critical, inward-focused, and reliant upon institutional infrastructure.  The one thing that we constantly seem to forget is that the church is ever only one generation away from extinction.  A church is never so well-established in a community that it can excuse itself from putting faith into action outside its own walls.

When liberal Christians talk about “doing mission,” they usually mean supporting various nonprofit organizations that do good work in a community.  If you were to look at the various projects supported by the mission committee at my congregation, only one is operated in-house.  Another was started by a former-pastor, but is now run by folks from other churches.  Most of the time, they send money to other agencies.  Don’t get me wrong, that’s a good thing.  These agencies desperately need the support.  Last winter, a low-income daycare provider in our county would have shut down or reduced services if it had not been for the last-minute financial support of congregations like ours.  However, I worry about us when we limit our sense of “mission” to just giving money to nonprofit service agencies.  I would like to see us also donating our time and talents to these groups.

Let our churches develop a reputation for the kind of hands-on care that made Jesus and the early Christians (in)famous.  The Roman emperor Julian complained to the pagan high priest of Galatia that these “impious” Christians were winning converts because of the way they cared for the poor.  This was particularly true during times of plague, when Christians would risk their lives by staying in the infected cities to treat the ill and bury the dead, regardless of religious affiliation.

St. Lawrence the Deacon, when ordered to turn over “the treasures of the church” to government officials, emptied the church coffers into the street and then gathered the poor and destitute together in front of the governor’s office saying, “Behold, the treasures of the church!”

Doesn’t this provide a stellar model for socially engaged, grassroots ministry among liberal Christians?  We come to the mission field with a sense of self-awareness, cultural sensitivity, and respect for pluralism.  At our very best moments, our acts of service and justice preach silent sermons to the lost souls of this world who are looking for a place to belong.  In times more recent than those of Julian and Lawrence, pastors such as Walter Rauschenbusch (early 20th century Baptist) have found their social consciousness awakening as they serve churches in communities like Hell’s Kitchen in New York.  The Social Gospel movement, of which Rauschenbusch was an early leader, is responsible for many blessings that we now take for granted: child labor laws, workplace safety regulations, weekends, paid vacation, retirement and healthcare benefits, and minimum wage, just to name a few.  Later in the same century, Martin Luther King led his prophetic grassroots campaign against racism, poverty, and militarism.  Dorothy Day and the Berrigan brothers led activist campaigns for labor rights, racial equality, and nuclear disarmament.  The Catholic Worker movement, which they founded and supported, now has houses of hospitality in almost every major city in the United States.  When liberal Christians get engaged in mission, we do it well.

Even though we don’t tend to go out with gospel tracts and religious sales pitches for “winning souls,” I consider these efforts of liberal Christians to constitute an effective witness for Christ.  People are drawn to communities with open hearts, open minds, open arms, and open doors.  In our individualist and increasingly isolated North American society, people are looking for belonging more than believing.  They are attracted to churches that make a difference in this world.  They want a spiritual community where they can feel welcomed and get involved in something that really matters.

That’s where folks are most likely to discover for themselves that God is real and Jesus is worth following.

We liberal Christians need to get a clue from our evangelical brothers and sisters.  We need to get out of our pews and into the streets to share some good news in word and deed.  The only way to save our lovely churches is to get outside of them.  So, let’s get out there are let people know who we are and where we’re from.  Speak up and act out in the name of your faith!

Just as the disciples left their nets in the boat to follow Jesus, leave your capital campaigns, steeple restoration projects, stained-glass windows, pipe organs, and hymnals.  Take to the streets again!

The fact that the word “evangelical” means “good news” doesn’t mean that liberal Christians don’t have good news to proclaim as well.  We do.  In the same way, the fact that the word “liberal” means “freedom” doesn’t mean that evangelicals don’t value freedom of heart and mind.  They do.

Some folks wonder why I’ve decided to be so intentional about using the loaded terms “evangelical” and “liberal.”  Many think we should do away with labels and categories altogether.  I’m not convinced that’s such a good thing.  First of all, it’s just plain inaccurate.  We have two very distinct versions of Christianity that are currently coexisting in our mainline churches.  We’ve got to call them something, otherwise we won’t have an accurate picture of who we really are.  The various attempts to hold “the middle ground” seem to have resulted in an amorphous and watery theology that fails to challenge or inspire anyone.  Rather than eliminating our theological categories, why don’t we be honest about our diversity and focus instead on how our camps are relating to one another?

I don’t want to meet evangelicals on “the middle ground.”  I want to be a liberal Christian who respects evangelicals and makes room for them to be who they are and do what they feel called to do, so long as we get to do the same.  I hope this series of blog posts has contributed to making that dream a reality.

Elements of Worship: Service

This week’s sermon from First Pres, Boonville.  Part 3 in a series of 5.

The text is Matthew 16:21-28.

Click here to listen to this sermon at fpcboonville.org.

Star Trek's George Takei (Mr. Sulu). Image by Gage Skidmore.

Did you know that there’s a civil war going on in our country right now?  I’m serious.  There is.  It’s been happening for over thirty years.  Unlike the last Civil War, this one isn’t between the North and South.  You might be thinking, “He means the war between the political Right and the political Left.”  Nope.  Black and White?  Nope.  Haves and Have-nots?  Not even close.  Right now, I’m talking about the bitter divide that exists between Star Trek fans and Star Wars fans.  The geeks and nerds community is a house divided against itself.  My fellow Americans, this cannot be!

I feel so torn in this conflict.  The fight between Star Trek and Star Wars runs right through the center of my own heart.  I dream of one day being beamed aboard the starship Enterprise so that I too can “boldly go where no one has gone before.”  At the same time, I also fantasize about trained as a Jedi by Obi Wan Kenobi.  How can they ask me to choose sides between these two epic artifacts of science fiction lore?

Fortunately, there is one person out there who has issued a call for “Star Peace” and it’s none other than George Takei, the original Mr. Sulu on Star Trek.  He’s calling for a “Star Alliance” of fans from Star Trek and Star Wars who are willing to put aside their differences and fight the real threat to good science fiction: Twilight.  You may have seen the Twilight books and films being advertised in recent years.  For those who haven’t experienced it, Twilight, in George Takei’s own words, is all about “Vampires who sparkle and mope and go to high school.”  In Twilight, according to Takei, there is no “sense of heroism, camaraderie, and epic battle… There are no great stories, characters, or profound life lessons to be had… In Twilight, the only message that rings through loud and clear is: ‘Does my boyfriend like me?’”

Now, I don’t actually care if people like Twilight.  So why am I telling you this?  Why am I taking time out of my sermon to drag you down this wormhole into the darkest depths of the nerd kingdom?  Because I’m very intrigued by the way in which Mr. Takei has criticized Twilight.  Let me give it to you again in his words:

Gone is any sense of heroism, camaraderie, or epic battle.  In its place we have vampires that sparkle and mope and go to high school… there are no great stories, characters, or profound life lessons to be had in Twilight.  No.  In Twilight, the only message that rings through loud and clear is: ‘Does my boyfriend like me?’

What Mr. Takei is saying, in so many words, is that good stories are always bigger than the people in them.

As it is in science fiction, so it is in real life.  Imagine those who live entirely selfish lives with no connection to anyone or anything other than that which maximizes their own personal profit.  The thrill of financial stability lasts for a little while, but wears thin eventually.  Who can’t think of tabloid headlines depicting any number of celebrity scandals brought on by conspicuous consumption and wanton indulgence?  Despite its material benefits, I think most of us can agree that such a life does not sound ultimately appealing.  Something deep within us longs to be part of a bigger story than that of our own little lives.

We’ve been talking about the Elements of Worship these past few weeks at our church.  On the first week, we talked about the Word of God as an Element of Worship.  Last week we talked about Prayer.  If you missed either of those sermons, you can listen to them on our website at www.fpcboonville.org.  In coming weeks, we will discuss Sacrament and Relationship as Elements of Worship.  This week, we’re talking about Service as an Element of Worship.

“Service” is a word that we use a lot.  If you go out to a restaurant where the staff is friendly and the refills keep coming, you’re probably going to say, “Wow!  This place has really good service!”  And what will you do next?  You’ll probably leave a bigger tip.  Isn’t that interesting?  A waiter brings his whole self to work, welcomes customers with genuine personal warmth, and people just naturally respond with generosity.  Remember that point because it will become important later.  Here’s another example: When a person is a soldier or sailor in some branch of our country’s armed forces, we say that she is “in the service.”  In other words, she dedicates her whole self to the cause of national defense by risking her life in a combat zone.  We tend to respect that, don’t we?  A lot of people wear yellow ribbons that say, “Support the Troops.”

In the same way, when we talk about service as an Element of Worship, we’re talking about more than this one-hour-per-week ritual that we do on Sunday mornings in this building.  We’re talking about more than the cash we fork over in the collection plate.  We’re even talking about more than the time and energy that so many of you tirelessly volunteer for our various church projects during the year.  Just like that waiter or soldier, real service happens when you offer your whole self to something bigger than you.  Service, as an Element of Worship, is a self-offering.

As Christians, we see our self-offering as connected to and growing out of the self-offering of Jesus.  His life, death, and resurrection provide us with a lens through which we can come to understand what it means to give ourselves as an offering.

First, his life.  Jesus gave himself as an offering in two ways.  He offered himself to God and he offered himself to others.  These two ideas cannot be separated.  Jesus believed that God is Love, therefore you can’t love God with your whole heart, soul, mind, and strength without loving your neighbor as yourself.  If you try to do one without the other, you’re going to end up very confused about what love is.

Jesus’ commitment to love (in this dual sense) got him into trouble on more than one occasion.  He exposed the hypocrisy of the powers that be.  He threatened the security of religious and political authorities in ways that no terrorist ever could.  Leaders in the public and private sectors alike were so frightened by what Jesus stood for that they even temporarily put aside their mutual hatred for each other in a grand conspiracy to have him killed.

Under these circumstances, no one would have blamed Jesus for mounting a defensive strategy in order to ensure his own survival, but that’s not what he does.  It says in today’s reading from the gospel according to Matthew: “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”  Jesus walks straight into the belly of the beast, knowing full-well what the beast is about to do to him.

Jesus was not so caught up in his own ego that he wasn’t willing to offer himself.  He knew that his personal story was part of the universe’s bigger story.  Sure, he could pick up a sword and fight for his own survival, but he knew that survival isn’t everything.  His fellow Jews were fighting for their survival every day and, ironically, it was killing them.  “Those who live by the sword die by the sword,” he said.

So, instead of the path of survival, Jesus opted for the path of self-offering.  He lived his life of love as an offering to God and others.  When that love brought him into conflict with powerful forces that wanted to kill him, he walked the way of the cross and let them do their worst.  But that’s not the end of the story.

What happens next is the best part.  We celebrate it every year at Easter time.  The offering turned into a miracle.  Early in the morning, on the first day of the week, three women found an empty tomb.  And an angel asked them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here.  He is risen!”  This is where the big story really gets going.  Death itself starts to unravel like an ugly old sweater.  The powers that be were vanquished by the power of love.  Christians remember this event annually as our most sacred holiday.  We celebrate it weekly in order to remind ourselves of what we really believe in.  As Christians, we don’t believe in survival; we believe in resurrection.  That is the true meaning of service (self-offering) as an Element of Worship.  Jesus taught us that.

What does this look like for us?  That’s a great story about Jesus, but how can we live lives of self-offering and resurrection today?  Jesus said to his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”  The way of the cross is a path, not just for Jesus, but for all of us as well.  We who claim to follow him must decide whether we will choose survival (like the world) or resurrection (like Jesus).

When we choose to follow the way of the cross, we become part of a story that’s bigger than us.  We say that we are willing to jeopardize our survival for something more important.  It’s a dangerous move to make, but if we move in faith, we see miracles.  I once heard someone say that, until you find something worth dying for, you’re not really living.  Are we really living?  Are you?  What are you willing to die for?  What is this church willing to die for?  When we find an answer to that question, we’ll learn what resurrection is really all about.  Like George Takei was saying: there we will find heroism, camaraderie, and epic battles.  There there are great stories, characters, and profound life lessons to be had.

I heard a story this week from Rev. Marlin Lavanhar, the senior minister at All Souls’ Unitarian Church in Tulsa, OK.  He said their church made a rather controversial decision several years ago.  They decided to take all the money that came into the church through their collection plate (about $20,000 per year) and give it away.  People were scared because that’s a lot of money.  The church depended on that money for their operating costs.  But they decided it was the right thing to do, so they amended their budget and went for it.  In that first year, rather than the $20,000 that usually came in through the collection plate, they raised $150,000 and gave it all away.  Now, you might say, “That’s great, but it’s too bad that they couldn’t meet their budget.”  Actually, according to Marlin, they did meet their budget that year.  They even took in about 10% more than they needed.  “Generosity begets generosity,” Marlin said.  Remember what I said about the waiter?  When somebody serves from the heart and offers him/herself, aren’t you just naturally inclined to leave a bigger tip?  Generosity begets generosity.

Let’s find another example, maybe one that’s a little closer to home.  I’ve mentioned this already, but I can’t help bragging on you folks again.  You remember this past Christmas Eve, right?  We heard about a crisis in our community where the county government was cutting funding to daycare programs.  Hundreds of kids were being affected and some of the most reputable and affordable daycare agencies were in danger of closing.  And the elders of our church voted unanimously to take the collection from Christmas Eve, our single biggest worship service of the year, and send the whole thing to one of those struggling daycare agencies.  Did you know that, with what came in that night, our little country church was able to cut a check for $1,000 to Thea Bowman House?  We’ve never taken up a Christmas Eve collection that big!  Generosity begets generosity.  Did you know that there are people in the community who noticed what we did and decided to join our church because of it?  That’s resurrection in action.

One more story about you folks.  Last summer, controversy was in the air as New York state was making a decision about legalizing same-sex marriage.  I drove down to Albany that week and stood in the halls of the state capitol building.  I saw the crowds of people shouting and holding signs with Bible verses about hellfire and damnation.  During that time, our little church took a stand.  We stood up and said, “All God’s children are created equal: black or white, male or female, gay or straight.”  At a church supper only two weeks before that happened, one of our own long-time church members came out of the closet to us at a church supper.  He shared his story with us.  And I remember the first thing that anybody said, after a long silence, was, “Well, God don’t make no junk!”  Our church took a stand.  We made a statement that this is a welcoming church.  We told the world that this church is a place where the law of love trumps the letter of the law.

Sure, it was a controversial thing to do.  It still is.  Our survival instinct might tell us to keep quiet and not rock the boat, because we don’t want to lose church members to controversy.  But you all chose resurrection instead of survival.  Did you know that people in the community noticed what we did?  On the very next Sunday after the legislation passed in Albany, a news crew surprised us during our morning worship.  They had TV news cameras set up right here in the sanctuary.  People heard about our little country church and said, “What?  A church that accepts and welcomes gay and lesbian people?  A church that believes that God loves everybody?  We’ve got to check this out!”  In the past few months, families have driven in from as far away as Utica to visit our church.  We didn’t lose people by being controversial, we gained them!  That’s resurrection in action!

And let me tell you what: we’re going to keep doing it.  We’re going to open the doors of this church so wide that the whole world will know it’s welcome here.  There are a lot of churches in Boonville, but there’s not very many where people can go and know they’ll be loved and accepted no matter who they are.  But people know they’re welcome here.  This sermon is being played on the radio, so even more people will know after this week.  I know it’s controversial but I don’t care (and neither should you).  Just like Jesus, we are offering ourselves to God and our neighbors.  We are choosing resurrection over survival.

When we go downstairs after worship today, we’ll be hearing our annual reports from all our different church committees.  We’ll be voting on this year’s budget and deciding our thoughts together for 2012.  As you look at the paperwork and hear the reports, I want you to remember what service and self-offering are really all about.  I want to invite you to look past your ego-driven instinct for survival and look to your God-given faith in resurrection.  That, more than anything else, will make a difference for the future of our church.  Like George Takei was saying: here we will find heroism, camaraderie, and epic battles.  Here there are great stories, characters, and profound life lessons to be had.

Here is a video of George Takei’s call for Star Peace: