Friday, April 13, 2007

Sermon for April 8, 2007 -- Easter Sunday

A good part of this sermon was taken from Rev. C. Wayne Hilliker from Kingston Ontario:

What Brought You Here?
Luke 24:1-12

So, what has brought you here? Crowds sure are larger on Easter than any other Sunday of the year. The truth is, many people don’t bother with Sunday morning worship. Willow Creek Community Church, a mega-church near Chicago did a door-to-door survey asking: If you don’t go to church, why? The five biggest reasons: 1) Church is boring, 2) Church is irrelevant, 3) They’re asking for money all the time, 4) I’m too busy already, 5) I feel awkward at church. Let me add another reason: It’s just easier to stay home on Sunday. You only get two days off. Sometimes it’s hard to get the kids fed and dressed and your spouse to cooperate. Isn’t it better, on your day off, to sleep in and read the paper, or get up and hit the tennis courts or the golf course and enjoy a leisurely day?

Middle-class Protestant denominations have lost millions of members over the last 30 years. Nobody knows why, although Sociologists, theologians, congregational consultants, pollsters all have different ideas. I found a website that chronicled some of people’s excuses for not going to worship on Sundays. Do any of these sound familiar?

« I'm still allergic to my religion

« I thought they kicked me out after I said "Jesus Christ" when they passed the collection plate

« I don't like going to church because the priest is too loud, the choir can't sing, and the man behind me keeps coughing!

« I don't want to go to church because my kids don't want to go and I can't find a babysitter for them. I might as well not go.

« I'll go to church when I start smoking. If I don't start smoking then I'll go when I stop.

« The last time I went to Church, the pastor told us about someone who was burned at the stake for believing in God! I don't want that to happen to me now do I?

« Veni, Vidi, NoN-Velcro. (I came, I Saw, I didn't stick around.)

« This parish is too politically correct.

« That much church can kill a person.

« I can't go to church, my name is Judas.

« I have to wash the car. I need to mow the yard.

« I don't go to church cause I have a feeling that God doesn't like agnostics.

« My cat is a prophet, I get all my godly advice straight from the cat's mouth. If the cat doesn't tell me to got to church, I consider it great wisdom of the prophet.

« Three words: Church On Line

« God made Football . . . doesn't that cover it?

« I don't go to church on Sunday because getting the kids dressed in their Sunday Best first thing in the morning makes me cuss and curse the Lord . . . very loudly.

« Nobody notices when I'm not there.

« They don't sing the songs I like.

« The organ is too loud.

« I should be able to send in money if I want without having to put money in a plate.

« There aren't any good-looking guys there.

« It's too stuffy, why don't they open some windows.

« There are too many sinners in church.

« There are too many hypocrites in church.

« The sermon is too long.

« The service is too long.

« I don't do anything bad, so I'm going to heaven anyway.

« I have nothing to wear.

« I work six days a week. The seventh day belongs to me.

« I'm not good enough.

« I'll go when I'm too old to have any more fun.

With all that said, for some reason, each one of us chose to be ‘in here’ rather than ‘out there’ this morning. I just want to say, I’m glad you’re here. Some of us have come here because we are always here, even when it’s not Easter. Some of us are not usually here on a Sunday, but we’re here because it’s Easter, after all! Others of us have come because someone invited us, or someone forced us, or bribed us, or somehow made us feel guilty about not coming to church. No matter what, I am so glad you’re here. I want you to know that no matter who you are, no matter where you came from, no matter how you feel about church, no matter what your faith background, no matter your hurts, pains, or emotional baggage, you are welcome here. And I want to offer the hospitality of our congregation to you. If you are visiting with us, or if you are checking us out, would you please fill out a pew card or sign your name in the guest book in the narthex – or at least make sure to introduce yourself to me? In a few weeks, our church will be hosting a Sunday morning breakfast before church, and I want you to some as my guests. I want to get a chance to know you some more, and learn about who you are, and listen to your feelings about churches, so please do me the honor of somehow introducing yourself.

I say all that because, on Easter Sunday, something brought you all here. So,what’s going on in here, that’s better than what’s going on out there today? I want you to think about a time when you felt God was close and you were in the presence of the Holy. Some of you might be thinking that you felt God

…when you recited a creed,

…or when you sang a favorite hymn,

…or when a sermon spoke to you with power,

…or when you read scripture

…or when you prayed.

A lot of people will say things like,

« “It was when my first child was horn, and I held this flesh of my flesh close to me”,

« or, “When I hear the sound of’ a gentle summer rain on a tin roof at night”,

« or, “When I am walking in an open field by myself on a winter day and millions of absolutely perfect snowflakes are falling all around me”,

« or, “When I lay on my back on a perfectly clear night and see millions of stars shining their light from millennia past’.

People connect with God outside of the church all the time. So, what’s going on in here?

If you travel to the seminary at Princeton University, you will see a beautiful little Greek revival chapel where students and faculty worship. 80 years ago that little chapel was not located on the main campus. The building was actually moved there. Workers jacked the church up, put wheels under it and pulled it to its present location with a tractor. It evidently attracted a lot of attention in Princeton. People stopped along the sidewalk to see this little church bouncing along behind a tractor to its new home. One of the people who stopped to see it move was none other than Albert Einstein. As he watched the little chapel bounce along the lawn to its new spot, he began to smile. And then he said something -- ‘That little box is too small to hold God’.

Those words ought to be inscribed over the portals of every Church in the world ...whether it’s a small congregational church or St. Peter’s Basilica,

’This little box is too small to hold God’.

…’This little creed is too small to hold God.’

…’This little bible is too small to hold God.’

I don’t think we come here to find God. God does not live here. It’s not as if when you leave the church you are isolated from God’s presence. We can find God everywhere. I think we are here for something else. We are here to listen to the account of the God whose costly death-defying love embraces the whole world. We come here to be reminded that we have not been abandoned, no matter who we are or what we’ve done, or what our circumstances may be. Easter declares a merciful God knows us by name, and loves us, and forgives us, and embraces us, and never lets us go. That is what we tell in here, …and sing in here...and believe in here. We come into the sanctuary to hear the Story of the great generosity of God. And then hearing that Story—

« we see what we could not have seen otherwise,

« we imagine what we could not have imagined otherwise,

« we hear what we could not have heard otherwise,

« we do what we could not have done otherwise.

And it then becomes our duty and delight to say, “Thank you, God. Thank you.”

A graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta, told a story about his days as a student there. The President of the Seminary was an austere Puritan by the name of Dr. James McDowell Richards. The students respected Dr. Richards but kept their distance from him. People admired Dr. James McDowell Richards, but no one was intimate with him. This student graduated from Seminary and eventually became the chaplain in a church-sponsored retirement home. Imagine how he felt when he learned that the newest resident of the home was the now retired Dr. James McDowell Richards.

He was in awe of the man still and now he was going to have to be his chaplain. He did the best he could. One evening he went into the dining room and saw Dr. Richards seated in his wheelchair at his table having supper. A nurse was standing guard over him. The former student, now chaplain, went up to Dr. Richards. They had some conversation together and then the chaplain started to leave. On a last-second impulse, he turned to Dr. Richards and said,

‘Dr. Richards. I’ve always wanted to ask you something’

‘What is it?’

‘You and your wife were the parents of sons, weren’t you?’

‘Three of them. Yes.’

‘Did you ever tell your sons that you loved them?’

‘No. I didn’t need to . . . Well, once I did. I was in intensive care and I told one of them but it wasn’t a regular thing mind you.’

‘I just wondered. You know my father never told me that either. I wondered if fathers ever said that kind of thing.’

The meal was over. The nurse pulled the wheelchair away from the table and the chaplain watched Dr. Richards go. When Dr. Richards got to the door, he said something to the nurse. She turned the wheelchair around and brought him back. Then he got close and reached up and touched his former student’s cheek …and said ‘Bill, I love you.’

“I had known it all along,” the chaplain commented later, “but to hear it, sealed it in my heart.”

There is something we get today in here that you can’t get out there. What brought us into this worship space is to hear something from God and to have it sealed on our hearts. Have you heard it yet? It’s the unbelievable word that declares we are loved by name with a costly, unconditional and empowering love, rooted in the very being of God, and that never lets us go, not even when we die. On this Easter Sunday, we gather in this place to have sealed in our hearts a truth -- a living truth that does indeed move us to say and to sing alleluia.

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