How is the church like the MFA? Ephesians 4:17-24
I celebrate the church, and I invite you to celebrate the church with me during this wonderful season at Eliot when our Stewardship Campaign ends, our candidate for Settled Pastor comes to preach, and we prepare for our Annual Meeting.
Let us pray. . . O God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts give wings to the faith in you that lies so deep within each of us here this morning, O God, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
Paul had the same problem in his day that we do now–keeping the church together. In his case, because they were so new, the churches experienced conflict on the inside and threats from the outside. In our case, it is the effects of Covid, the widening secularism of our era, and white Chrisitian nationalism infecting the faith. How to keep the church together indeed! Paul gave us one clue by stressing unity and not uniformity. Another clue came with his stress on the personal. Paul wanted for his young Christians to experience dynamic personal growth. He exhorted them to “put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Put away your old self with its pursuit of blind alleys, and put on the new self truly freed to love and serve–that is the goal. If all of us here keep our eyes on this prize, the church will survive its divisions.
This goal distinguishes us from the Museum of Fine Arts. We are similar in being a nice place to visit and to pass through enriched. Like the MFA, we are a destination where something important happens, even if you can’t exactly put your finger on it.
But the church I celebrate and invite you to celebrate this morning offers our society its one, single live moment in the week, where you can hear music, hear the Word read and preached, and where you can sit still until God finds you! Where else is there a “live” hour to be found but here?
Yes, and isn’t it curious how people come together here to be alone with God. We unite in this gathering to say the same words and songs, but we each are here to make contact with our God, as individuals. What a paradox and something to celebrate and give ourselves up to. Unlike going to an art museum, Sunday morning presents us with a solitary experience enveloped in a community experience.
Another difference is that at church you feel something, or should. I still cry through some hymns, but as the “master of ceremonies” I have to contain it. But I’ve always felt that if you don’t cry in therapy and in church, you haven’t gotten your money’s worth! I never cried in an art gallery, but I do remember sitting transfixed on the bench in front of the Guernica at the Museum of Modern Art when it was still there–for thirty minutes.
And you know what else–church is a place where you can do something. People instinctively want to help. They come to church for the link to action and to take action. Despite Covid, when we had to give up the Fall Fair and the Thanksgiving Dinner, this church still found ways to be active. Here is a list I made last night–the Free Library project, lawn signs, the environmental campaign of Lent and of last two weeks, charitable gifts (MSJ), charitable projects (MSJ again), the improved acoustics of the Sanctuary, indoor Sanctuary worship (required making and installing those pew cords), outdoor summer worship (required installing a portable P/A system from the windows), and what will soon be a new and comprehensive pictorial directory that includes the full spectrum of Eliot “alumni.” What did we ever do at the MFA, although I remember an interactive exhibit several years ago.
I have celebrated church at every church I served. Like the Morningside United Church of Christ in south-central L.A. that I served in the 1980s–a church consisting 50-50 of both Black and white members, something that only happened because my predecessor twice-removed, Rev. John Flucke, devoted himself to knocking on doors during white flight and urging Black residents to save his church from being just a “club” by joining.
In conclusion, here is one definition of church that moves me profoundly–I believe the aim of church is a faith that is “as considerate of persons as the teachings of Jesus; as devoted to justice as the Old Testament prophets; as responsive to Truth as science; as beautiful as art; as intimate as the home; and as indispensable as the air we breathe.” That is church to me, and I celebrate it.