Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Church rebellious

(I was away on vacation May 9 - 17, participating in the wedding of a dear friend of mine from seminary who now lives in New Zealand. Pictures to follow in another post. A couple in the congregation celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary renewed their vows in the worship service, hence, the marriage theme in the sermon.)

Acts 2: 1-21
******** United Church of Christ, Milford, CT
May 23, 2010 – Pentecost Sunday

At the end of her bestseller Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert fell in love with Felipe, a Brazilian-born man of Australian citizenship who had been living in Indonesia. Both Elizabeth and Felipe promised each other that they would love each other for the rest of their lives but also that they would never, under any circumstances, get married; both of them had been through horrendous divorces. But then the Department of Homeland Security stepped in. In order for Felipe and Elizabeth to make any kind of life together in the United States they would have to get married. So, being an author, Ms. Gilbert researched the institution of marriage in other cultures, in history and literature so that she could make some sort of peace with a tradition she thought of as highly suspect. Her results have been published in her new book entitled Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage.

Of course, because it is comprised of human beings, marriage as an institution has a sketchy history. On the whole it has not favored women and has been particularly antithetical toward interracial couples and those of the same sex. While marriage is often seen as a backbone of society, it has also been used to exclude. Ironically, it is often easier to get married than it is to end a marriage. It’s a wonder more of us aren’t as skeptical as Elizabeth and Felipe.

So what finally convinced these two to marry? None other than a conservative columnist for the London Sunday Times by the name of Ferdinand Mount who describes marriage as an act of rebellion against authority and the state. In marriage there is a degree of privacy into which the state cannot interfere. Those bound by sacred covenant and legal union cannot be forced to testify against each other in a court of law. Gilbert writes: “Every couple in the world has the potential over time to become a small and isolated nation of two—creating their own culture, their own language, and their own moral code, to which nobody else can be privy.”

As it is said after a couple has made their vows, “those whom God has joined together, let no one separate.” Let no one come in between, interfere or invade the intimacy created by two human beings joined together for their own private reasons. Any authority figure or governing body that wishes to hold sway over the populace will find that individuals are easier to persuade or coerce than a family or clan.

Yet early on in Christianity, the church taught that celibacy was the better way of life. Jesus even said that in order to follow him, one must leave one’s family. Still most of us choose to marry anyway. Why? Because of that subversive emotion known as love; a love that binds us to another in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, for as long as we both shall live, even though he grinds his teeth, even though he loses his job, even though she talks and drives at the same time losing her way, even though she’s an addict, even though they’ve hurt one another. Even so.

Pentecostes, a Mexican icon

We may hold up Mary and those flame-dancing apostles as the saints of the church, but I’m sure they had their days when they couldn’t stand living with one another. Maybe when that violent wind came rushing through they could understand each other, each in their own language but I’ll bet sometimes the language of love didn’t come so easily. Yet they held everything in common, sharing with one another as each had need, devoting themselves to study, prayer, and breaking bread with one another.

Such devotion to each other undermined the power that the Roman Empire might have had over them. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostles and the early followers of the Way rebelled against the ways of domination and oppression by submitting to an even higher authority. Peter tells the crowd that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord, not Caesar, shall be saved. Who shall dream God’s dream? Not just the elite or the educated. Everyone. Men and women, sons and daughters, free and slaves—all shall prophesy the coming of God’s great and glorious day.

As the Church, we’ve gotten lost since then, driving and talking at the same time, not always paying attention to where we’re going, and hurting a lot of people along the way. But by the grace of the Holy Spirit, that marriage between people and God called the Church is still here, rebelling against the powers that seek to co-opt the Church or banish it into oblivion.

Some would say it’s too late—the Church is irrelevant, it’s already been co-opted by the corrupt, society has divorced itself from the Church and its values, its days are numbered. The Church as it exists now may be on its way toward becoming irrelevant but Jesus is not. Corrupt powers may be holding sway but they cannot separate us from God if we choose. Society may have divorced itself from the Church and its values, but we do not have to follow. As for the days of the Church being numbered, it is up to us to decide if we’re going to acquiesce or keep on rebelling and keep on loving.

Fire in the Sky, by Robin Jensen

And I already know what your answer is, ******** United Church of Christ, for you are a church that dares to reveal God’s unconditional love by accepting and welcoming all people, through joyful and creative worship, faithful service, and spiritual growth. [1] But as any two longtime married people will tell you, it takes courage, compassion, forgiveness and a willingness to evolve and change with your partner so that the relationship not only continues but also gives life to those in it and around it.

That’s what this interim time is all about—a time to discover that willingness to change and grow, to fire up your courage for the future, to shower yourselves and each other in compassion and forgiveness, to allow the Holy Spirit to breathe new life into your mission and into your relationship with God and each other. On this Pentecost Sunday you also renew your covenant as a church. You’ve been here for 125 years—imagine what the next 125 years will look like? What do you want to preserve and what needs to change in order for ******** United Church of Christ and its daring purpose to continue?

Happy anniversary, everyone. God bless this community, this family of faith. Amen.

[1] This purpose statement was adopted by the congregation on May 23, 2010 - Pentecost Sunday.


Brad Evans said...

Your church, all Mainline Churches, are shrinking faster than a styrofoam cup at 2 miles down.
Why should anyone bother with any of this? If I want to do politics, I'll join a party or another group.
I don't have to watch some idiot talk about someone who many not have even existed and pay for the privilege and have to get up on Sunday morning early to do it.

Cynthia said...

Dear Brad,

I doubt there is anything I can say that will change your mind or your heart. But I do pray that you find a way toward hope and joy. This local church I serve as its interim pastor--that's what this little, mighty church is all about: hope and joy. And love most of all.

Peace be with you.