DiscipleChurch Family and Friends:
So just why do you attend church? And just why do you get up at…what…7 a.m.? on Sunday morning after Saturday night (or 6 a.m. for those of us who prepare or buy and serve breakfast to our homeless brothers and sisters starting at 7:15) to make it to DiscipleChurch at 8:30 when you could sleep a bit longer and attend other great services here at 9:30 or 11 or 11:11? Or just sleep and go to brunch? Or play golf? Or work in the garden?
Answer those personal questions personally and you will have answered by implication the question of what the nature of the church is for you. I suspect that very few people would get up so early to hear a sermon on the nature and calling of the church. In this culture, if we want to sit through a sermon at all, we want to hear a sermon about “me.” But my point here is that a sermon considering the nature and calling of the church IS a sermon about “me, for those of us who attend. And even for those of us who do not.
Church attendance is trending down for “mainline” churches across America and is almost non-existent in Europe. So many volumes have been written about this. So many tips have been offered for reversing this trend. Part of the pressure is institutional—we have all these buildings to maintain and all these salaries and benefits to pay. Part of the pressure is evangelical—we think we have The Word to proclaim, and there will be no proclamation if there is no one listening and heeding. Our church motto, on banners on the streets around the church, is “Love God. Serve people. Transform lives.” So we feel we need to be heard. But transforming lives depends upon our saying things, with our actions, that are truly transforming by the power of the Spirit of God. Yet so many of the tips being offered about restoring attendance essentially tell us to mimic the culture in order to restore attendance—particularly by making worship about “me” and by mirroring acquisitive values.
For me, this issue is very personal. As you know, I deal daily with frightened, abused women and abused, unwanted, poor children. Two weeks ago, when I was in court during a case in which a four year old had tested positive for methamphetamine, I was really thrown for a loop. (And as you know, I am habitually “looped.”) Yet I come back here and I see a church with so many resources, overflowing really, for helping children like this one, and the 40% of Fort Worth children who live in households below the poverty line. I ask whether we are allocating enough for the “you’s” as opposed to the “me’s,” whether we are walking in the Spirit of Christ, how much we are informed by Jesus’ earthly ministry, whether we are just a bit too satisfied with the level of our efforts. I see how the children of our church families are so protected and nurtured, and compare that with the circumstances of the children I see every day. I feel deeply a disconnect between the reality of the lives of the people I share daily, and the reality of my own life and of the lives of most of the members of this church. And I feel deeply the disconnect between the effectiveness of the help I would like to be able to provide and of the help I actually do provide.
But then I consider that I am no one to judge. I consider how far short I fall of my own call. And that the First Street Ministry and this Justice Ministry and all of the good efforts of Nancy Tully’s remarkable outreach ministries would not occur without this church. And I face that, truly, whatever resources we allocated for the people to whom Jesus ministered would never be enough.(At least, not for me and for Page.) So we all fall short of our calling. This is hardly news. After all, who but Jesus can BE the Christ? (I hope you see the irony in that last question. See, for instance, Galatians 2.20.)
So what ARE we to be about? Here and now in this place. What is our calling and what is our possibility? I don’t pretend to have THE answer. I just have a perspective and a commitment, as do you.)
Yet we all do have a standard. We all do have the same constitution and road map. And it’s not the usual values of this materialistic individualistic culture. Just because things are normal, doesn’t make them true or our calling. The Spirit, through Paul, taught the earliest churches that. And for me, Paul supplies our plan. And it’s all bound up with the resurrection, and the Spirit, and the power of God to bring new life and new creation in the bleakest and the most complacent situations. It is about transformation. “Love God. Serve People. Transform Lives.” Including our own.
This sermon is not going to be diatribe. It’s not going to be judgmental. It’s about finding our way together. It’s about what we are doing here at 8:30 on a Sunday morning.
Your brother (truly), Brooks
Rev. Brooks Harrington
Methodist Justice Ministry of First United Methodist Church, Fort Worth
750 West 5th Street
Fort Worth, Texas 76102
“Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and the needy.” Proverbs 31: 8-9