Every time this church opens its doors,
Something good happens …
The world’s a wee bit better …
Every time … the doors are opened.
Good News proclaimed.
The community around us … the city at our door … the nation and the world …
For God so loves the world, the Bible says.
The whole wide world … all its creatures, great and small.
All its forms, and every shape:
From the snows of Mt. Everest to the evergreens of Oregon.
From the Salton Sea to the Bearing Straits.
You and me, brother.
You and me, sister.
And don’t forget:
The tadpole and the panda bear …
The polar bear and the penguin.
The honey bee and the hummingbird …
The flowers of the field and the fish of the sea.
We’re all in this together … we belong to one another … a vast network of life …
Called by the great God Almighty … to live … to live for the sake of that network … that’s the Church!
When I think about the Church, special words come to mind: big words, powerful words … words like purpose, mission, opportunity, responsibility … liberation, freedom, justice and peace, forgiveness and hope.
All summed up in the highest of ideals - to be the church of Jesus Christ …
To be of God, so thoroughly, we can be of this world comfortably … to be of Christ, so completely, we can be of one another lovingly.
The holy fellowship of faith …
At the very center of it all - one big question …
What is God like?
Look at Christianity around the world and down the street, you’ll find hundreds of answers, thousands of answers … a smorgasbord of faith … not to mention all the other religions and expressions of faith found in every land across the vast expanse of this good earth.
Can they all be right?
Are some of them wrong?
Much of human history is a chronicle of religious warfare … we humans, so determined to know the truth - we’re willing to demonize and kill those who differ from us … can violence ever make for truth? Or only some perversion of it?
Right or wrong, or somewhere in between … it’s up to us to answer the question for ourselves … in this place and in this time … right here, right now … for the First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica.
This is what churches do … for good and for ill … sometimes it’s for ill, isn’t it? … churches don’t always end up in good places …
The churches of Germany that signed on with National Socialism and Herr Hitler made horrible and hideous mistakes … my great friend, John Calvin, gave his consent to the burning of Servetus.
For centuries, the Western Church thought slavery was a part of God’s natural order, that women, naturally weak and unstable, had no place other than the home, that the landed gentry were God’s anointed, and entitled to their elevated status … kings and queens ruled by divine right … the church alone could forgive your sins, and if you didn’t behave, you were condemned to an eternal hell.
The church doesn’t always end up in a good place … but fear not, say the angels … forge ahead anyhow, but pay attention, do your homework, seek, knock and ask.
Jesus asked the disciples: What are folks saying about me?
Well, some are saying this, and some are saying that … but in the end Jesus asks:
What do YOU say about me?
All we can do is answer the question as best we can … but it requires work … a community of faith, because whatever the truth is, it always involves our love for one another …
All of this has been my life …
I’ve been working at it for a long time … it began in my childhood … sitting in church, in Sunday School, laying in bed at night … a deep and abiding sense of God … never frightening, always there … a good and kindly presence.
I went to a Christian High School that gave me a tremendous grounding … and then to a Christian College that expanded my mind and transformed this little white boy racist into something a whole lot better … and then to seminary and to ordination.
Over the years of ministry … the coal fields of West Virginia, the rail yards of Altoona, the corporate offices of Pittsburgh, the lumber trade of northern Wisconsin, the Oil Patch of Oklahoma, the Auto Industry of Detroit, and now the sunshine of California …
I’ve done my homework; I’ve had good teachers … yet, the question remains: how much do I know?
I know enough to know how little I know.
But I cannot evade the question: What is God like?
None of us can, and none of us should …
I answered this question 50 years ago … and 30 years ago … and I’m trying to answer it right now … it’s all slightly different … I’ve grown, I’ve learned, backtracked and turned, and moved ahead a wee bit I hope … a journey that never ends … and should I live another ten years, my answers will be different even then …
Yet some essential pieces have remained steady for me:
God is good and God is gracious … God is beautiful and God is bright … big enough to hold the world in her hands, strong enough to take up the sins of the world …
Tiny enough to fit into Mary’s womb, small enough to fit into Bethlehem’s cradle … kind enough to heal the leper and strong enough to challenge hypocrisy … just right to hang on a Roman Cross and be tucked away into a tomb …
Best of all, sized just right to fit my heart … and I would dare say, with joy, sized just right to fit your heart, too.
When Jesus stepped out of the Jordan, a voice from heaven declared, This is my beloved son, listen to him.
And when I listen, this is what I hear … Come unto me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
I am the bread of life, says Jesus. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
This is God … God with us, Emmanuel … the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God of Sarah and Rebekah and Rachel … the God of Exodus and Sinai … a pillar of cloud by day to provide shade from the burning sun; a pillar of fire by night to bring warmth to weary bones … and all along the way, water from a rock, and manna in the morning … the long journey, the long haul … from death to life, from darkness to light, from bondage to freedom …
God, the Good Shepherd … God, the open door … God, the living water … the bread of life … the light of the world … the love that makes the world go round …
What Paul the Apostle said to his friends in Philippi, I say to you this morning:
If there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.
What a joy it’s been for me to be with you this morning … you have a strong heritage, and the promise of a vital future here in Santa Monica …
Every day, think of God, pray for the world, be alert to the moving of the Spirit, mindful of those who have little voices, the wee ones, the children … and people around the world who live in terror and sorrow, whose lives are being ripped apart by the rich and the powerful … pay attention people of God … let the world come into your lives, and you’ll find along with the world, there will come into your life the best guest of all: God Almighty, Creator of the heavens and the earth.
To God be the glory.
To all of you, grace, mercy and peace.
Healing for your souls.
To make this a better world.
Amen and Amen!