Call to worship (here)
Video posted (here)
Today we have yet another sermon title with a question mark in it. Why church? The question mark is at the end, but it could have been after the “why.” We are in some ways, a “Why?” church. We are almost always asking why. Why do we do it this way? Why do we have to change?
I heard a joke the other day about our churches. If we do something once, it is an experiment. If we do it twice it is a tradition. If we do it three times, we have always done it that way.
Why do we humans react the way we do? Why do we do the things we do? Why, why, why?
Why do we love questions so much? Yes, we are the “why” church.
We are already known as the “love church,” because we try always to stand on the side of love. It is through love and with love that we try to answer life’s questions and figure out what we should do. We just don’t stand, we move, we rock and we roll. Yes?
Love is usually the answer to why.
But why church? Or more specifically, why do you come to church? Why do we need a church like this in this town? Why do we need a church like this, a religion like Unitarian Universalism in the world?
So think for a minute about why you come to church. You are here after all, so you must have a reason for coming.
What are some of them? Go ahead and shout them out. I know some of you are not shy.
Robin Bartlett, a Unitarian Universalist Religious educator, in her blog post from which our reading was taken, has heard a lot of people say they come to church for their children, because they are asking questions about God, or because a neighbor or friend is trying to recruit them into a more conservative religion. That is a real concern here in Utah where youth who are not LDS can be socially isolated in the wider community.
It also helps for adults when the missionaries come calling to be able to say, “Sorry I already have a church.”
But you could say that, even if you never attend services. You don’t have to be a member of a congregation to tell someone you are a Unitarian Universalist.
Some people say they come to church because the sermons are entertaining. The crazy preacher can be really funny; you never know just what she will say. You could find much better entertainment, however, on TV, in the movies.
Maybe you come to church for the music, and our music here is fabulous, especially for a small church. But you can find great music a lot of places, at concerts, festivals, and even on I tunes.
Some people say they come to church for the intellectual stimulation, to hear words and ideas that make them think. Of course you could attend a college level lecture for that. Weber state offers a lot that will stimulate your brain cells both with their own faculty and a lot of interesting guest speakers.
Maybe you come to church because you care about social justice. This church community works very hard in many ways to bring more justice, equity, and compassion into our world. But if social justice action is your only reason, there are literally thousands of groups you could join that are doing fabulous work for a wide variety of social causes. You could even run for office.
If you are looking for inspiration here, for motivation, for ideas on how to live in this complex world, you could read poetry, listen to TED talks, or join a self-help group.
If you are hurting and looking for comfort or if you are trying to find yourself, you could go to therapy.
Some people come to church to make friends, or even to find a life partner. You could do that at a bar, a health club, or through social media.
You might be surprised, but some people also come to church to find God, the holy, to connect with their inherent spirituality. There are other ways to do that. Go out in nature, watch a sunset, plant flowers, or play with your children. You will surely find the holy there.
Did I cover everything?
I did forget one, which reminds me of another joke. It’s Sunday morning and the alarm goes off. A woman turns over in bed and groans. She turns to her partner and moans. I don’t want to go to church today. I know the sermon is going to be boring. People will ask me to do things I don’t have time for. I’d rather just stay home and sleep in this week. Her partner turns to her with a sigh. Honey, you have to go to church today. “Why? Why do I have to go to church?”
The answer? “Honey, you have to go to church because you are the minister.”
There are many reasons to come to church, but unless you are the minister, there are many other options. Even ministers can decide on a different career choice. Almost none of us are do it for the money in any case.
But how many places can you go where all of those reasons can apply?
Robin Bartlett tells us to go to church
“for community, for learning, for solidarity, for a good word, for love, for hope, for comfort, even for salvation. Go to church because you can’t imagine not going. Go to church because (of what) your church …demands of you. Go to church because you cry in the worship service at least once a month. Go to church because you look forward to seeing the people.
Go to church because your church forces you to put your money where your mouth is–to use your financial resources to make a statement about what has worth. Go to church because you are known here. Go to church because you want to be known. Go to church because you pray for this same imperfect, rag-tag group of people all week until you meet again. Go to church because you need to in order to get through your week. Go to church because if you miss a week, you feel like something was really missing in your life. Go to church because your church community helps you to go deeper; to risk transformation; to yank you further down a path–to ultimate reality, to truth, to God–kicking and screaming. Go to church because it is a statement to yourself and your children about what has value and meaning. Go to church to find your purpose and live it. Give yourself the gift of church.” http://uuacreligiouseducation.wordpress.com/2014/02/11/dont-go-to-church-for-your-children/
She goes on to say, specifically addressing parents who say they come to church for their children,
“If church is not a gift for you, it won’t be a gift for your children. You know that old (line) that we borrow from (the) plane instructions we hear read by flight attendants–… apply your own oxygen mask first before you apply your child’s, right? Well, you are your child’s religious educator and oxygen mask. Not our (religious exploration) curricula. Not our volunteer teachers. Not (the) minister. You. That’s a big responsibility, and (maybe) you don’t feel up to the task because (few) of us do.
But if we aren’t getting our spiritual needs met–our religious yearnings satiated; our deepest cries in the night soothed; our need to serve and be served (met); our God-sized hole occasionally filled, emptied and then filled up again– then we are never going to be up to the task of helping our children do the same.”
She says, “Don’t go to church for your children; go to church for you. You deserve it. Your children deserve it. And this brutal and beautiful world needs you to.”
That last line is worth repeating, “This brutal and beautiful world needs you to.” How important is this church, not just to those of us who gather here each Sunday, but also to others in our town, in our state. I think we offer a vital service just by continuing to exist and to thrive. We offer hope to the young person wondering if their life is worth living because they are gay, to the man just released from prison expecting to be shunned by everyone he meets, to the recovering alcoholic, to the person who is homeless, to the eccentric thinker who everyone else thinks is just crazy, to the members of conservative religions who worry that their questions are somehow sinful, and to all the people who are suffering in so many ways from a culture that is far from accepting of differences and difficulties. Even if they never find their way here, even if they never sit in one of the pews here in the sanctuary, if they know about us, we have given them some hope. We have made a difference. We have offered an alternative, a radical alternative, a community based on love.
So if you have been thinking this morning about the reasons you come to church, I assume you have thought of more than a few.
I have another question for you. How much would it cost if you went other places to get what you find here at this church? How much more would you be spending on tuition, on therapy, on concert and movie tickets, or on drinks in a bar, if you did not come to church? What about the things that are truly priceless? How could you possibly meet anywhere else the diverse and wonderful people we have here in this religious community? Where else would you be welcomed with such open and loving arms no matter who you are and how you are feeling? Where else are tears and laughter both not only acceptable, but treated as precious?
As you probably know, our board members and stewardship committee folks are hosting dessert gatherings for all of you who attend services here, whether or not you are members. These offer a chance to talk about what this church means to you and to the wider community, to decide how you can contribute to its continued success, and to eat some yummy desserts with people you already like or ones you might want to get to know a bit better. Some have already been held. Some are at the church and some are at people’s houses. If you haven’t gotten a personal invitation yet, there is a sign-up sheet on the reception counter or see Tom Taylor. If you are really short of money, come anyway, there are always volunteer activities that you do that will help sustain this church too.
One last joke which I saw on twitter this week under the hashtag #theologynerd
“If you don’t know what eschatology means, it’s not the end of the world.”
Hilarious right? OK, for those of you who don’t get that joke, eschatology is the theological stance of a particular religion on the end of the world. It isn’t something most Unitarian Universalist worry about much. We definitely don’t take the book of revelation literally. We may worry about environmental disasters or wars ending life on this planet, but our view of God and the divine does not include the idea that God will destroy the world at some future date.
No, our theology is more about life, about continual new beginnings, second, third and fourth chances. It is a life saving, life enhancing theology. We stand on the side of love, and we come to church to do just that. Amen and Namaste
I grew up near Santa Cruz, California. The beach and boardwalk was a place I loved. The fun house was a challenge; the giant spinning barrel was the hardest thing. There was always another kid, who got there first and wanted to make it go faster than I could stand. The Big Dipper was the best, an old wooden coaster with an agonizing climb, a heart stopping drop, and then, at last, the sheer joy of speed. It felt like flying. I have been on other roller coasters, but none really compare to that one I discovered as a child. The more modern ones tend to have too much up and down for me, and way too many upside downs. They don’t make me feel like I am flying. They are just scary.
Ministry sometimes feels like flying. There can be a high during a worship service when everything is working well, when the spirit is clearly in the room. Everything seems to take wing, and the music simply makes my heart soar.
The church shouldn’t be like an amusement park , I suppose, but sometimes it feels that way. We don’t charge admission and everyone has a free pass to all the rides they want to try out. Take a class, attend a concert, a book group, or work on a social justice project. We don’t serve fried ice cream or cotton candy, but the potlucks can be pretty great.
I have gone into the haunted house with many congregants over the years as they faced the horrors of illness, death, and losses of all kinds. Sometimes I feel like a carnival barker, asking people to donate time and money for a chance at more meaning in their lives. It is much better odds than tossing pennies on a plate.
Sometimes church feels like a Merry-Go-Round, up and down and going around in circles. It takes a long time to make changes happen, and old problems tend to resurface. Some of them you just have to keep solving over and over again. Then sometimes you catch the ring and make a lucky toss into the clown’s mouth. Hallelujah! The golden ring gets you a free ride.
There are all the challenges of the fun house, including the funny mirrors where it can be difficult to see what someone really needs.
As the minister, I can’t get too carried away at church. If my emotions start going up and down at too rapid of a pace – spinning out of control like I’ve been on a ride on the Octopus, it’s time to sit back and have a snow cone or something. I thought I knew that, but I forget sometimes. I can also get lost in the hall of mirrors and don’t know where I am or which way to go.
Luckily, someone always comes along, and I just follow them awhile until we both find our way. Ministry is not something one can do alone.
Golf would probably be easier. If you lose a ball in the water trap, you can just pull a new one out of your pocket. Nah, Ill take the Big Dipper any day.