Being Church

I forced myself to turn off the TV and head to the church. I needed to get in to the office, or I maybe I just didn’t need to be home alone. I needed to connect with another human being, but on the 2.5 mile drive there, a thousand thoughts raced through my mind and a knot of fear began to grow in my belly.

Both my daughters were in college 100 miles to the north, should I try to reach them? and tell them what? Should I fill up my car with gasoline? Should take money out of the bank? Were we on the brink of a crisis that would in deed bring the nation to a halt?

I was 13 miles west of San Antonio, called “military city” in some circles because there are three major military bases located in a large metroplex, rumor had always been that would be a target someday, would this be the someday?

Arriving at my little church, the ladies were gathered for their Tuesday morning sewing circle—as always. Along with their personal sewing projects, each year they also combined their talents to craft a quilt to raffle at the fall fair. Week by week, bits of fabric strips slowly joined as one. This day they were not at their individual sewing machines piecing blocks. That phase had passed. Today they all sat around the perimeter of the whole to place the last threads within it by finishing the binding around the edge.

When I arrived, I went to a classroom and rolled a squeaky TV cart into the common room where the quilters worked and announced, “something’s happened.” I turned it on and adjusted the rabbit ears, and together the circle of sewing ladies and the preacher watched horror unfold on an old church TV.

People went to work that morning, sent their kids off to school, caught their bus or train or elevator to work or missed it and lives were forever changed. Sept 11, 2001— one of the days on our calendar that gives pause. Those of us old enough remember know where we were and what we did that morning.

The repercussions of that day rippled out from New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington across this country and around the world. When fear thawed and people began to respond, American flags sold out in hours waving and hanging on display claiming unity in adversity. Lines formed down streets and around the block at Blood Banks cross the nation of folks hoping there would be lives found to save. In the days and weeks to come, military recruitment centers flooded with eager young faces ready to serve, and church pews filled like they hadn’t been since the 50’s. Americans went looking for comfort, for answers, for faith, for hope; people were looking for God; they went to church. Even the “spiritual but not religious” folks went to church—for a while.

National and global crisis get our attention and spur a religious response for moments or weeks, even months. Personal crisis like divorce, medical diagnosis, job loss, death can recalibrate spiritual priorities that last longer. Fear and panic, extreme sorrow, overwhelming grief can ignite a search for a faith community. However, so also can good transitions, births, marriage, relocation, job advancement, can also be a time of finding a place to connect in faith. All of those good and bad are reasons people seek out a church, but why do some stay? Why do some come back after the joyful or sorrowful event passes?

For our conservative church friends, that answer might be about staying out of hell (fear is a prime motivator) or getting into heaven (bribery works will also), or getting all the blessings prosperity gospel has to pour out, or getting in favor with God to ward off bad stuff, maybe hit the jackpot of God’s grace. We don’t preach any of that here. We don’t threaten hell— not a place of God’s making anyway, and no damnation for all the naughtiness you could dream up. We have no magic genie vending machine God ready to dispense your wishes at the push of a prayer button, nor a grand puppeteer God pulling all the strings of life. That’s not what you find here on Sunday morning.

What you find here is God of us All who is Love. You find reconciling ministry— that means we are open to all. We are inclusive. It doesn’t matter about the shade of your skin or the amount of your checking account, or whom you love. We believe God made everyone and all are beloved. Straight and gay, bi and trans; all are precious made in the image of God.

What you find here is “progressive theology” that means that along with no hell, fire, damnation, it’s ok to use your brain and ask questions of your faith. We need a faith that is strong enough to withstand all our questions and wide enough to hold all the mystery. We don’t have all the answers, and that’s okay too. We are not too arrogant to think that we are the only ones who encounter the Divine. We acknowledge other paths are as true for others as ours are for us. We can learn from one another, and diverse dialogue and practice is a beautiful thing. Our faith is not about going to heaven in the afterlife; our faith is about bringing God’s kingdom to earth in this one.

The church is people who help us grow our faith and deepen our relationship with Divine and our awareness of Divine within us. The church is people who help us connect body, mind, and soul as one through yoga, Tai Chi, Zumba, and prayer labyrinths. The church is the people who enact social justice and offer mercy through feeding the homeless, and offering hospitality to immigrants, and working for systemic change though community partners like OTOC. It’s working to end poverty and racism and care for the earth.

We gather as church to remember who we are— whose we are— what we are: BELOVED. We gather as the church to form a community to care and encourage one another, and raise our children with faith that supports and doesn’t judge. We gather as the church to offer a place of healing for others have been harmed by a church and sent away broken. We gather as church make a difference in the world because together we can do more than what we can do alone. Living as a faith community says we do these things because that’s who we are called to be and who we have been from the start.

Jesus taught his followers: for I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me; I was naked and you gave me clothing; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison and you visited me. Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we did those things for you? And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Today, our nation’s history and our calendar remind us: life is short— life is precious it can change in an instant. Our lives can crumble like a steel skyscraper, so every day matters, building community matters, and working together matters. That’s how we get through it; that’s how we grow through it.

Church is having a place to wrestle with hard issues, a place to grieve with another, a place to celebrate God’s presence and grow in mindfulness and intentionality, a place to garden together, a place to cook together, a place to sing and stretch and serve in a way much larger than ourselves. It’s a place to sit around a quilt and tell stories about grandchildren and work and life and faith.

For some church is a new experiment; for some it as common as your breath. Church was important to my mother all her life, that’s why she took me to church every Sunday during my growing up years— no excuses preempted church. At first, she didn’t understand how a woman could be called to ministry, that wasn’t in her tradition, but she came around on that after a bit. Then she supported and encouraged my ministry. She came to visit when my little church held their annual fall festival. She was a quilter too, and she admired the work on that quilt. She bought some of those non-raffle tickets the sewing ladies sold:

They signed the quilt that day, “Medina Valley United Methodist Church
Sew-n-Sews 2001 Raffle Quilt. Pieced in joy and bound in love on
Sept. 11, 2001.”

May we be the church the world needs today. Amen.