Church of opposites

Can we agree that we live in troubling times? It’s hard to watch the news when we hear about

  • Bombs in the mail, spreading anger, fear, and threats.
  • Increasingly powerful storms causing widespread destruction and suffering.
  • Thousands of refugees seeking safety, food, and a better future for their children.
  • The pre-Election Day noise when candidates seem to thrive on mocking one another.
  • Rude interactions when people find it difficult to be patient, take time to listen, or pass along simple courtesies.
  • A growing opioid epidemic that is ruining the lives of too many people.

I don’t have an “app” for that.

But I do have a solution that gives me hope. The church. In this day and age of declining church attendance, waning interest in organized religion, and disdain for the damage done by too many church leaders, the church still has Good News of hope, forgiveness, and new life. I celebrate the difference the church can make in a sad and hurting world.

I would like to introduce you to the “church of opposites”. The world does not get the final word on what is true – God does. The church is called to proclaim that truth, which is often opposite of what the world seems to believe.

Just imagine what this “church of opposites” gets to say:

  • Instead of division, we offer unity.
  • Instead of indifference, we offer compassion.
  • Instead of anger, we offer peace.
  • Instead of isolation, we offer community and fellowship.
  • Instead of exclusion, we celebrate God’s welcome.
  • Where there is darkness, we will lift up God’s light.
  • When everyone just seems exhausted, tired of mindlessly rushing forward – let us offer Sabbath rest. Let us breathe in the goodness of God.
  • When people are tempted to fly off the handle, we can take a breath. Perhaps say a prayer, but at least take a moment to remember we are not alone.
  • Instead of ignoring or drowning out voices of pain, let us listen to the forgotten and lonely.
  • In times of despair, let us speak of God’s hope and God’s refusal to ever (ever!) give up on us.

This is the church of “opposites.” We are a vital voice in today’s noisy, angry world. We are called to offer God’s healing love and a welcome that values all of God’s people.

Sometimes people consider “church” to be a quaint, outdated notion that no longer matters. But I consider the church, filled with the power of God’s Holy Spirit, to be a force of powerful change and everlasting hope. Strength, courage, love, and compassion – those are “opposites” we need today.

Where do you worship?

A recent trip took me to the Festival of Homiletics in Atlanta.  This was a week-long conference that only a preacher could love – four very full days of preaching and worship, then lectures on preaching and worship, followed by evenings of – yes, more worship and preaching. But if you’re eager (as I am) to learn more about the art of “homiletics” (giving a homily or sermon), then this was the place to be.  Ministers, priests, chaplains, vicars, and prelates gathered from all over the United States and Canada to listen to luminaries in the preaching field; skilled professors, authors, and worship leaders challenged us to remember what a privilege it is to reflect on God’s Word. It was an inspiring week.

Part of the inspiration came from our surroundings. Over 1200 clergy folks easily fit into the astonishing Peachtree Road United Methodist Church. This magnificent downtown church is very different from the simple beauty of my country Congregational Church.  It is often said that entering a sanctuary should cause the worshiper to experience a feeling of humility and an awareness of the majesty of God.  With its soaring ceilings reaching up to heaven, magnificent stained-glass windows, beautiful wood carvings of descending doves, and an organ with hundreds of glistening pipes, that is accomplished at Peachtree. As the music started and all of those enthusiastic ministers lifted up their voices together in praise, it sent shivers down my spine.

So it made me wonder – where do you worship?  Where do you experience God? What sounds or sights or smells help quiet your spirit so you can listen for God’s voice? Where and when are you reminded that you are a beloved child of God?  I hope there is more than one location and more than one situation that soothes your spirit and reminds you that God is near.

EWCC sanctuary

There is pleasure in discovering God in a variety of settings. I enjoyed the splendor of this downtown mega-church and yet I was very glad to return to the clear glass and plain walls of my New England roots.  Now that the weather has (finally) turned pleasant, I increasingly find myself aware of the Creator in the midst of creation. My backyard can become worship space when I take the time to listen to the birds trilling and pause long enough to watch the clouds floating by on the breeze. This summer I am going to experiment with offering evening worship at a local park – “Tuesdays at Twilight” will invite people to experience God in the midst of creation.

Roseland park

Where do you worship?  We can, of course, worship anywhere – in the car, the laundry room, at the dinner table, before falling asleep. We can worship with hundreds of people, in the company of two or three or in solitude. The invitation is always there – God invites us, each one of us, into God’s presence.  It is simply a matter of saying “yes” to God – and in that moment, worship begins.