January 15 Sermon

“Come and See”
A Reflection by
For January 15, 2017, the Second Sunday of Epiphany
Based on John 1:29-42

The church year begins with advent, the arrival of Christ in the historic past, into our present, and anticipated in future. The season of Epiphany explores how Christ is revealed to us, and how we are invited into God’s ongoing work of love, mercy, and justice. Hear now a story from John’s gospel about revelation and invitation.

I want to start with a clip from the public radio show, This American Life, from the episode titled “Something Only I Can See,” originally broadcast in January 2016 and rebroadcast this weekend. (Prologue from This American Life Episode 577 “Something Only I Can See”)[1]

Throughout the bible, sight is used as a metaphor for faith. Jesus quotes Isaiah in declaring part of his mission to be proclaiming release to captives, restoring sight to the blind, and freeing those who are oppressed. (Luke 4:18) Proverbs implores us to not lose sight of common sense and discernment (Prov 3:21) When the resurrected Christ is recognized by disciples at Emmaus, they are described as having their eyes opened. (Luke 24:21) Paul describes coming to faith as having a veil removed (2 Cor 3:16)

How do we share our faith with those who have not seen? More significantly, how do we explain the importance of church activities, of regular worship, of working together to call a pastor to people who have little or no church experience?

So often we hear “I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious.” I’m not really sure what that means – because I think spirituality is like water, without shape until it is given a vessel, given a channel, given something through which it flows. Like water, our spirituality needs something with form in order to give the spirituality shape. Our spirits may naturally, without teaching, be attracted to God, but just as our human relationships need discipline to be sustained and meaningful, so too our spiritual relationships need that kind of forming. As Ira Glass said, “you want to tell somebody, you want to share it, you want to do something.”

In this upcoming year, Lyonsville is going to be exploring and articulating how spirituality, how experiences of God, are given meaningful shape. I am going to start that exploration with questions related to worship, particularly the role of music in worship. If last January I would have told you that on Christmas Eve you would be worshipping with a band,[2] many of you would have said “No, we don’t want that!” and even “If you do that, I will not come to worship.” But in the past three months Jim’s musical leadership and the many collaborations with Mike have brought you music to help your spirits praise God in new ways. What has Lyonsville learned from this new music in worship and what does that tell you about how your spirits encounter God’s presence through music in worship? That was a complex sentence, so let me say it again: What has Lyonsville learned from this new music in worship and what does that tell you about how your spirits encounter God’s presence through music in worship?

We all like pretty music. But worship music needs to be more than pretty for it to be meaningful. Besides, what makes music pretty? Why do you prefer certain styles of music to other styles of music as part of worship? And what kind of music does Lyonsville need for the next 2 years or 5 years? What style of music is needed by the congregation that is to come?

As I say those words, I know some of you are preparing your response:“ But what does that have to do with a pastoral search?” Actually, these questions have a lot to do with defining the role of a pastor. We’re getting to what you expect from worship as a whole, and what kind of worship leadership do you expect. And these questions about worship will be paralleling the initial work of the Pastoral Search Team. They need to complete a Congregational Profile, which is one part demographic information, one part congregational history, one part vision for ministry, and one part job description. So exploring and defining the expectations of worship music fits right in with the work of the Search Team.

It also better prepares you for a pastor. I was the interim at Lockport UCC when Eric Quinney- Bernard was called. Before he arrived, he said to me “I want to be able to enter Lockport’s ministries as if they are an already flowing stream. I do not want to have to generate the current. I want to be able to sail along with them into the ministries that are meaningful to their faith as a congregation.” I think most pastors desire that; I know when I was seeking a call as settled pastor, I wanted to be able to join existing ministries rather than having the prospect of starting from scratch. Pastors want a congregation that is already aware of God’s activity, responding to God’s presence moving, acting to share God’s grace.

But there’s another facet to these explorations. Lyonsville needs to develop a strategy for reaching out. The old way of sustaining congregations, especially through a Sunday School filled with the children and grandchildren of members, simply does not work in the 21st Century. There’s a lot of reasons why it doesn’t work – which may be useful for a conversation on a different day. But all congregations need a different set of strategies to grow the next generation of members. These new strategies need to be partly promotions, partly evangelism, partly new activities and programs, partly improving hospitality when visitors arrive, and partly rehearsal of how to talk about your faith and the importance of your church.

A lot of what I have been reading describing church growth in the 21st Century says it needs to be done by lay people: people who are unchurched are suspicious of clergy, but respond better to invitations from lay people.

I will also say, as an interim minister, my role is more of provocateur of the existing congregation than it is to call more members: I am here for a very short time, to help you strengthen your vision for being the church together. I can do a lot of things, but if they fall apart after I leave then it was been for naught. I prefer to get you started on the things that matter most to you so that they will continue on after I take another call.

All I have said so far is really preamble to the most important part of this morning’s message. The best thing you can rehearse are the words of Jesus in these verses of scripture. Where do you go to church? Come and see. Where do you get spiritual sustenance? Come and see. Where do you get connected to God? Come and see. Why is volunteer service so important to you? Come and see. How does the church help others heal? Come and see. How can I become a Christ’s disciple? Come and see. Why do you make time to go to worship every week? Come and see. How do you know God is actually doing anything in the world? Come and see.

All this talk about new ways, about articulating shared values and common vision, about developing new programs to attract new members, all of it has to be broken down into small steps. So there’s your fist small step. When someone asks you about your faith, you are now ready with a response: Come and see.


Morning Prayer

Spirit of God, descend upon this church.

Like a potter, shape us into useful vessels with purpose, the purpose of inciting curiosity about what it means to be Christ’s disciple, curiosity about why people of faith are committed to social justice, curiosity about what it means to live in relationships to others as your incarnation in the world. May we evoke in others the desire to come and see your church at work as known by the liveliness of this congregation.

Spirit of God, descend upon this church.

Be present with healing for our bodies; provide healers with wisdom to soothe aches, diminish the stress of illnesses, and overcome the ravages of diseases. You have heard our particular requests: cancer, tumors, depression, pneumonias, flus. We also ask that you bring healing to those who grieve and mourn the loss of loved ones, healing for those who are lonely and isolated.

Spirit of God, descend upon this church.

Develop discerning spirits for the missions that lay ahead. May the Pastoral Search Team faithfully represent this congregation in the many steps of their process. May the Leadership Council diligently manage the resources of Lyonsville and develop strategies for ongoing ministries. May your people here, Lord, share their faith with others so that the vitality of Lyonsville is shared in simple yet courageous acts.

Spirit of God, descend upon this church.

May the songs, prayers, discussions, and meetings resound with praise for you, seeking your presence, your guidance, your call to use to be the church. As we gather and as we depart, may we demonstrate the joy of being your disciples, who serve in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] Collected at https://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/577/transcript. This was originally broadcast Jan 15 2016.

[2] (Actually, I have not been thinking of Jim, Meg, and Dave as a band but rather as an ensemble – and that musical ensemble has included Mike and Carrie, while collaborating with the choir; my role has been something like program director or stage manager.)

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