The world is literally at our doorstep today: owners and drivers of antique, classic, muscle, and race cars, vehicles of all colors and shapes and sizes, quiet ones and loud ones; the sounds of musicians giving street side concerts,
the enticing aroma of food vendors’ carts, …all are at our doorstep for this annual show that brings people to town but not to church, not to cross over our doorstep sometime in the future and experience what goes on inside these walls.
At first thought it can be very discouraging for us, especially as statisticians tally the count that reports decline
in church attendance and membership and that the fastest growing religious statistic is people with no religion at all.
Think of your neighbors and maybe your relatives and see how many below the age of 30 have had no contact with a religious faith or church; they are part of the 80% reported by statisticians. Add to them the forgotten count at the other end of the age spectrum, the retirees whose years stretch into the 90’s of active living, but not being active in a church that may have been in their past; moving, divorce, a church squabble, a closed church, a crisis in faith, a scandal exposing religious frauds, until brought down by the press or the courts.…prompt reasons to add to the count of the world that’s at our doorstep, but won’t step inside.
Molly Baskette, senior minister of First Church Somerville UCC in Massachusetts, has a different take on that count. In the July 25, 2015 “God is Still Speaking” daily devotional she wrote: “Here's the thing: there are so many people who need what our churches have to offer them that I honestly can't believe we are still wringing our hands over the data.”
That’s the service rendered by today’s Scripture, beginning with the Old Testament lesson with its dramatic, soul-wrenching report: The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
How many people on the other side of our church’s doorstep are tearing themselves apart mentally and physically
with guilt and grief?
In 1969 a Swiss psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was studying terminal illness in the University of Chicago medical School, and observed five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Although the stages are now questioned as not being a set formula, the truth is it can be applied to a clear conscience destroyed by guilt, and hurting others through projected anger.
Healing comes when a King David-like cry is given to the past, and a new future is accepted.
How many people need a nudge, maybe even a dare to take the risk of stepping inside a church and coming face-to-face with the cross and looking up, hear God saying, “This is how much I love you; see my arms outstretched to embrace you in forgiveness and a love that will not let you go?”
How many people might be waiting for you and me to extend the invitation, to literally help a person step across our church’s threshold and experience an open future to new life in and through Christ?
Today’s reading from a first-century letter to Christians in Ephesus speaks to a growing number called the “Nones” – who by 2050 may be 25% of the American population choosing to have no religious affiliation, and yet, when interviewed by Elizabeth Drescher (The Gospel According To the ‘Nones’ THE LIVING WORD, June 8-15 issue, 2015) she found they are attracted to Jesus’ stories which they want to bring to life in their own lives, but, she found they also need to be experience a caring, compassionate community beyond their own circle of friends and find it to be a group of people who hold to Paul’s charge:
Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander,
together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
The community we pray the “nones” will find on the other side of Trinity’s threshold where, we pray, they will see a people who are living up to Paul’s orders.
It’s what this congregation has done from the very beginning, and you are doing now, that tell me they won’t be disappointed. The very sight of the table beneath the cross – intentionally open to all Christians to savor Jesus’ invitation we are hearing for five Sundays,
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never
be thirsty.” (John 6: 35)
How many people, savoring a vendor’s food might be waiting for you and me to extend the invitation that will bring someone across our church’s threshold to hear Christ’s invitation spoken to them?
And more, the “more” the “nones” are searching to find, the “more” in Jesus’ Gospel promise:
It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned
from the Father comes to me.
“Everyone!” In Molly Baskette’s words: “…people hungry for good news and good liturgy and radical community, people who want to learn how to pray, and who need places where they can bring their whole selves in, with their doubts and their heresies and their spiritual wounds.”
“Everyone” who will find God speaking through Christ, calling “everyone” to learn that God is making a new humanity in and through Jesus – that tears away every name we humans put on our religious institutions and buildings, beginning here with a lawn sign announcement given since 1854: “A Place of Worship for All Christians.”
Years ago architects submitted designs for the “perfect” church. The winner was built of glass on every side to reflect the sun, intending to say, “The ‘perfect’ church reflects the “SON” through Whom God brings all people together.”
To those on the outside, we say, “Come and see if we meet that plan!” “Come and see” - the invitation of Jesus’ disciple Phillip to the questioning, learned Nathanael, now extended by us, knowing, (as a old poem puts it) “We are the only Gospel the world will ever read, we the sinner’s gospel, we the scoffer’s creed.”
We are God’s Good News in Jesus walking out this door to bring others in, to faith and life in Jesus Christ. Amen!