Thursday, July 3, 2008

Are you burned out on religion?

There is a delightful story that comes to us from the Hassidic tradition about the child of a rabbi who used to wander alone in the woods. For a time, his father gave the wandering no thought, but over time he became concerned:

The woods could be dangerous, after all, and who knew what lurked there? So he decided to discuss the wanderings with his child and asked,”You know I have noticed that each day you go into the woods alone for a walk. I wonder why you like to go there.” Looking innocently, the boy said, “I go there to find God.” To which the rabbi replied, “That is a very good thing and I am glad you are searching for God. But, my child, don’t you know that God is the same everywhere?” “Yes, of course,” said the boy quietly, “but I am not.” Frederic and Mary Anne Brussat, Spiritual Literacy, p. 128

Mmmmm, such a sweet and tender story – God is the same everywhere but I… I am not – no wonder Jesus told us that unless we become as a child it is unlikely that we will enter the Kingdom of God. In just a few moments I am going to invite you as the whole people of God – women and men, children and adults, guests and old timers – to renew your baptismal vows. I understand that there are some here today who have never been baptized – and I am not going to ask you to “renew” a commitment that has never been made; nor am I going to ask those of you who are not ready to make this commitment to do something that feels phony or forced, ok?

But for those of you who are ready to take the next step in helping Christ renew this congregation for mission and ministry, let me remind you that for the past two weeks we’ve been considering baptism – why it matters and how to celebrate it in a 21st century mode – and now some of us are ready to reclaim the radical nature of what’s at stake in baptism. In a word, we want to live in a way that makes flesh the life, death and resurrection of the one we know as Lord and Savior – we want to both talk the talk AND walk the walk – express our faith in a healing and hopeful way –because, as the old hymn says, “I have decided to follow Jesus.” Do you know that old song? It is one of my favorites:

I have decided to follow Jesus – I have decided to follow Jesus
I have decided to follow Jesus: no turning back, no turning back

Verse two is a killer:

The world behind me – the Cross before me
The world behind me – the Cross before me
The world behind me – the Cross before me
No turning back – no turning back

To live into our baptismal vows – to reclaim and renew them as a living commitment – is to say that we have decided to follow Jesus and there is no turning back. And this morning’s gospel text is so wonderfully clarifying that I just have to share these three quick insights. First Jesus tells a story about children playing in the market place: How can I account for this generation? The people have been like spoiled children whining to their parents, 'We wanted to skip rope, and you were always too tired; we wanted to talk, but you were always too busy.' John came fasting and they called him crazy. I came feasting and they called me a lush, a friend of the riffraff. Opinion polls don't count for much, do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating."

Bible scholars tell us that in the Middle East the boys would be the ones out in public doing the wedding circle dance – skipping rope, if you will, and celebrating in joy – while the girls would be back home learning women’s work and doing the mourning, weeping and crying. In comparing John the Baptist – the mourner – with himself as a party animal, Jesus is saying: you can’t have it both ways! You are like spoiled children who want to be the girls when the boys are dancing and then want to be the boys when the girls are weeping. This is lazy and dangerous foolishness that wounds and distracts everyone. The time has come to stand up and be counted so that the joy of God’s spirit becomes real in your flesh.

That’s one truth I want you to remember before you renew your vows today: we follow the way of Jesus – the man for others – who more than any other spiritual teacher made God visible through feasting and joy – and so shall we. The time has come for our congregation to claim its true identity: not as the town’s first church – although that is true – and not as the place known as the frozen chosen – and I’ve heard that, too. No, the time has come to show that we follow the servant of joy who makes all things new. And a primer for all church people - young, old, boomers, gen xers, millenial kids and those of the greatest generation - has to be "Godspell" with a deep commitment to joy, generousity and celebration. Check out a clip at:

Second, while there are hosts of perfectly acceptable ways to nourish deep spiritual integrity within and among us, our path at this moment in time has more to do with grace than judgment. Jesus could not have been clearer: Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly. This text always make me think of the Collective Soul's song, "Shine" which cries out: "oh heaven let your light shine down!"

We’re talking about church as a place of rest and renewal – joy and gratitude – not obligation and shame. We’re talking about renewing a community of faith that visible celebrates the unforced rhythms of grace rather than perpetuate the burn out of religion.

Are you with me? In this way of grace, laughter becomes a spiritual discipline and feasting a prayer – embracing one another with deep affection is just as important as what you put into the collection plate – and getting over yourself so that you can really accept the beauty of those all around you is more important than knowing the words to the hymns or being able to quote scripture. We have been called to celebrate the unforced rhythms of grace.

And third we may be confused about a lot of spiritual things – and we are – but we are certain that living into our baptismal vows is also about bold and radical hospitality – welcoming and celebrating everyone’s place at the table – rather than sitting in judgment. I’m not making this up! Listen carefully to the Master’s words: With all your peacock strutting, you are going to end up in the abyss. If the people of Sodom had had your chances, the city would still be around. At Judgment Day they'll get off easy compared to you." Abruptly Jesus then broke into prayer: "Thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. You've concealed your ways from sophisticates and know-it-alls, but spelled them out clearly to ordinary people. Yes, Lord, that's the way you like to work.

You know, I trust, that the sin of Sodom had nothing to do with sexuality and everything to do with welcoming the stranger, right? Ezekiel 16 is explicit: This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did abominable things before me – they did not welcome the stranger at their gates – therefore I removed them when I saw it. And if you want to know what it feels like to be lonely, afraid and left to figure out life without hope listen to Joni Mitchell's debut album and the haunting song, "Marcie" at:

I can’t help remind you on this July 4th/Independence Day weekend that this has some pretty demanding implications for us as we look at our politics, don’t you think? I’m not going to get partisan here because I am certain that the Founding Fathers set forth this great nation of ours with the belief that we shall establish no state religion, yes? And no political party has a monopoly on God either. Still, if pride and arrogance are a part of the puzzle – and lack of radical hospitality has something to say to us about God’s judgment – then we need to look very carefully at those we elect especially when it comes to things like immigration policies and the way we walk through the community of other nations: “If the people of Sodom had had your chances… their city would still be standing!”

Ok, I’ve said enough: we are here to renew our commitment to the one who shows us God’s love through joy, grace and hospitality. Are ready to stand and deliver? Are you ready to be counted again publically as those who have decided to follow Jesus – with no turning back? Then I would ask you – children and adults, women and men, boys and girls – to stand and join with me as I ask you to renew your vows as a sign of commitment to the way of Christ Jesus:

Do you desire to renew your vows of baptism into the faith and family of Jesus Christ? Do you renounce the powers of evil and desire the freedom of new life in Christ?

Do you confess that Jesus Christ is both your way to know God – the Lord – and the way to spiritual healing – Savior?

Do you promise, by the grace of God, to be Christ’s disciple, to follow in the way of Jesus, to resist oppression and evil, to show love and justice, and to witness to the work and meaning of Jesus as best you are able?

Do you also promise, according to the grace given to you, to grow in the Christian faith and to be a faithful member of Christ’s community the church, celebrating his presence and furthering his mission in the world?

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