“The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life: Commitment”
One of my regular tasks as your associate minister is to maintain a spreadsheet of “key metrics”, measurements that our church leadership has decided show the health of our church. These include things such as active and non-active members, the number of visitors each week, how engaged our congregation is, things like that. One number I track very closely is our Average Sunday Attendance. This is a good number to know and there are many ways to arrive at it but I like to use this definition: When the sermon starts (roughly 11 AM) how many people are gathered in this building for worship? I use this data for lots of different constituencies and it’s an excellent marker of our congregation’s health. This number has been slowly, but steadily rising in the past five years and I think that’s pretty exciting—because, nationwide, average Sunday attendance at church is declining—at a slow, but steady pace. The latest research from the Pew organization shows that not only is regular church attendance declining, but participation in any aspect of worship and affiliation with a church is also declining.
Now there are many reasons for the decline, but I’m more interested in our story. The increase! University Congregational Church is bucking a national trend. And that’s remarkable—for many reasons. If you’re a regular attender of events and services here then you might already know what brings you back each week. But I don’t know if you’ve ever really put a word on it—if you’ve ever defined your participation here for what it is. It’s commitment. You’re committed to the work and mission of this community and so you participate. You show up! That’s the first part of my definition of commitment—showing up! You’re here! And that’s much more than many folks are doing. And if you can’t be here, for whatever reason, you know you can access the sermons and some music on our website. And we know you’re here in your thoughts and prayers. Your presence is so important to the work of this community.
So you show up? Then what? Some of you, many of you get involved. That’s the second piece of commitment. You get involved. You join the choir, you work at the pantry, you serve on one of our boards, you meet new friends, you work hard and you play hard and you do it all because you are involved. The business and organizational guru, Stephen Covey, says “Without involvement, there is no commitment. Mark it down, asterisk it, circle it, underline it. No involvement, no commitment.” It’s that simple. Commitment requires you to be involved. In some way—big or small. It doesn’t matter, but commitment requires your active participation.
Our traditional word this morning is from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, and it talks about an important, active piece of commitment that help make us involved: “If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.” So, a modern guru tells us that there is no commitment without involvement, and an ancient one adds that without love we are nothing. Involvement requires love! And sometimes love is all we have to give…
Pushing against a dominant, hierarchical conception of a monarch God, high in a heavenly throne room somewhere, we instead choose to partner with a loving God, working through us, to make us better neighbors and therefore truly showing our community that God is, indeed, love. And you can know this love of this God by the works of this community. The involvement that this church shares together with deep love in your hearts.
LIVE THE EXPERIENCE
You know, we’re only here one hour a week. Mostly. Some of you are here more often and we really appreciate that, but, as a rule, we meet on Sunday mornings. Sunday mornings from 10:30 to 11:30. But what about the other 167 hours each week? The 10, 020 minutes that we’re out doing the other things in our lives—our jobs, our families, a bike-ride, all of the things that make up a life?
I remember in my recent past, before I joined your clergy team full-time: I’d often take the bulletin to home with me and refer to something from it throughout the week. There was almost always something of value from the previous Sunday’s service that I could use in my daily life. Maybe it was one of the quotes or passages form the contemporary or traditional word. Or maybe Bob Scott had printed the lyrics to one of our anthems—he’d do that on occasion. Somewhere I still have the words to “Choose Something Like a Star” because it’s message of hope and of keeping our eyes fixed on a specific goal were useful to me throughout my workday and my work week. Maybe it was just being reminded of the pastoral prayers or the subject of the sermon—but I often took the words and themes and melodies heard in this room and applied them, in some way, to my daily life. What a rich bounty that is—to recognize the wisdom and the truth often found here and to be able to take it from this place and use it elsewhere in our lives. I know I’m not the only one, because I often hear this very thought from many of you. As I’ve often said, one of my favorite things we do together is when you come to me with some new thought or idea you’ve been wrestling with since Robin or I or someone said something in this place. I love it when we do theology together. When we have conversations. When we put things in context. When we interpret together. I love it when we live the experience of making meaning together, here, and then again out in the world—where we share it—the lessons, the thoughts, the things-chewed-over, with those in our circles of influence.
One of our travelers to Nicaragua initially was reluctant to push against the standard, accepted line of our treatment of “the other”, but once she encountered the lives that are impacted by decisions made for them, not with them, and how difficult and painful it was to see the consequences of that blindness, she turned to me with tears in her eyes and said—”I just didn’t understand-I didn’t know”. Sometimes we must leave the comfort of our safe lives and enter into the world and see the effects of hateful rhetoric and faulty leadership. Sometimes we must see the consequences of actions before we really understand our place in the world. We must live out our shared experiences in the form of our community of faith—we have to live those moments of clarity— “I didn’t understand—I didn’t know”—and we have to apply them to our lives. And University Congregational provides you opportunities to experience the life-changing transformation that happens with empathy. Of immersion in and with “the other”. You recognize that there is no “other”, there’s only humans trying to life out their lives as best as they are able.
And the amazing things is: Once you’ve lived it, you can never go back. You can never hide your head and turn away and avert your eyes—you’ve awoken to a new way of seeing the world. And you can never go back to before. You can only look ahead to the future. A bright future, filled with hope for all of God’s children. All means all. No exclusions, no barriers. No walls.
BUILD THE FUTURE
How are we going to commit to the future of this remarkable place? Our hygiene pantry, our choir, our work with Gammon elementary, our work with Filling the Gap, our dedication to the homeless through multiple avenues of support, our provisions made for new partnerships, our commitment to a highly trained clergy, to a professional office staff, to the maintenance of this building—this beacon of hope? All of this is only possible because of you–this church is you. This church, that serves as a beacon of hope and expectation exists only because of you. And all of this requires not only your active participation, but also your financial support. To build a future of great hope requires great resources and that means money.
Each year, Duane and I sit down and work on our charitable giving for the coming year. And just like most of you, we’re always overwhelmed by the incredible need for financial support that so many organizations we care about have. There’s just such great need! So we sit and talk about why we support this organization or that one and we make out our plan and we’re pretty good about sticking to it for the year. But it’s takes planning and a commitment to that plan. And there’s always something that pops up, some great effort that demands our financial support, and we figure out a way to cut out one expense to support this new urgent need. A good deal of our annual budget is provided for our community; as it is with many of you. We make tough decisions because we care about our church and we care about community and so we support those things we care about, not just with our loyalty and participation, but also with our dollars. And they are the best dollars we spend each year. We commit to supporting our community—it’s often the reminder of this—this support we provide—that gives us that extra encouragement to wake up the next day and start all over again. A good life demands commitment. As John Adams so famously wrote “There are only two creatures of value on the face of the earth: those with the commitment, and those who require the commitment of others.” And this room is filled with both. Committed folks who desire to build a better future together. The fine folks who founded and built this church wanted that for themselves over 30 years ago—a better future for like-minded people. And they laid the foundation for this congregation and gave us a space to grow and become. And look at what we’ve become! Morning HAS broken—fresh from the world.
I believe our commitment is made of these four things: Showing up, getting involved, living the experience and building the future. I also believe that this congregation will rise to any task set before it—no matter how great. We have done it before and we will do it again. We have persevered beyond odds that a lesser community would have succumbed to. We have risen again to become that beacon of hope for ourselves and our community. This is what that beacon shines out to the world: There is an alternative to blind orthodoxy. There is a place where your well-thought-out questions about God and life and love are deeply treasured and given room to breathe. There is a place where gorgeous music pours forth from a choir of deep talent and emotion. There is a place where daily acts of justice are carried out. Acts of justice for the poor, the marginalized, the forgotten. This community recognizes that it is not here just to worship one hour a week on Sunday mornings, but it was established and will be sustained and will thrive, because its members believe that greater good can be accomplished as a community of faith, shouting clear words to the world—we are here—we care—and we will change you. We will change the world. One act of justice at a time.
I think that is something everyone gathered here today can commit to. We can commit to making justice happen, each day, by committing to our financial support of University Congregational. And I also think this is a good time to re-affirm our commitment to our simple covenant. It’s on the front of your bulletins and I would like to read it aloud, together, as we finish today’s sermon. Please read it aloud with me: “In the love of truth, and in the name and spirit of Jesus Christ, this church exists to serve those that believe that the Christian faith affords our clearest insight into the nature and will of God. Accepting that faith as our guide, we join with one another to worship and work so that peace, justice, and brotherhood may prevail in the world.”
May peace, justice and love prevail in your world. This day and always as we commit to our shared future together. Amen.
Please stand as you are able and sing with our choir, our choral benediction.
Holy Bible, NRSV
Moore, Thomas. The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life. New York, HarperCollins, 1996.
Yancey, Philip. What Good Is God, pages 184-186