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August 5, 2007: “Why Church? Why Religion? Why Ministry?”

Why church? Why religion? Ok, add, why ministry? Here are some statements that begin to understand it with tongue in cheek:

**’All religions are the same: religion is basically guilt, with different holidays’. ~Cathy Ladman

***’There’s something in every atheist, itching to believe, and something in every believer, itching to doubt.’ ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic’s Notebook,

The move here from our home of 16 years in San Antonio, TX was certainly a trial, if we use biblical terms. Indeed, I recently heard about a new slant on the Jacob story wrestling with the angel/demon/God at the side of the river where he was prepared to cross the next day to meet with his estranged brother, Esau.

It seems that there used to be a belief that borders, especially if they are rivers, have demons, gods, angels, (even trolls) to prevent people from crossing the river, essentially, then to keep them from moving in!

Now it could be said that Jacob might also have been wrestling with his conscience about cheating his brother, but that’s another sermon on family therapy. So when we cross the river to move, say from San Antonio to Mentor, we too wrestled with chaos, with almost everything that could go wrong, did. Verily there were demons of chaos and incompetent businesses that go along with every move. With whom we had to wrestle, and if you remember the story of Jacob, at the end of the wrestling as day was about to break, the angel/demon/god has to go before the sun rises, so he, she, it gets in a final blow and dislocates Jacob’s hip! So that’s why I have arthritis in mine!

It is part of making it hard to move, you see. Change is always wrestling with the particular demons which haunt us, just like the old Flip Wilson line, ‘The devil made me do it!’ In traditional religious language I would say that I am responding to a call, not just from this congregation of beloved community, but also from God, her, him, it-self. I feel in my bones that this is where I should be.

I deeply appreciate all the folks from the church who helped us empty the ‘moving pods,’ and I am looking forward with a great joy of expectation to become your minister, to work on social justice issues, to live, love, grieve and laugh together.

I believe the church/ religion/ worship should be about helping us change, help us to move, if you will, to pack up old habits, and decide which to keep and which to sell in a yard sale.

And I believe in a day of Sabbath, rest, making it holy. I also believe in a shared ministry and in keeping the Sunday morning service worshipful, even when the minister is out of the pulpit.

For a minister, Sunday is not a day of rest, but it is a day of religion, and an experience of religious relationship with that sense of the sacred, called by many names, and a sense of connection to the congregation. Why church, why ministry, why religion?

The old saying about ministry is accurate, I think, we comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable!

The French priest and writer, Henri Nouwen, wrote “Ministry is the profession of fools and clowns telling everyone who has ears to hear and eyes to see that life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be entered into.” And so is shared ministry!

Some time ago I was at a retreat titled ‘Journey toward Sabbath,’ based on the book Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest, Wayne Muller. The speakers were counselors from a Pastoral Counseling Center in Fort Worth. We began with worship after breakfast every day, and it was wonderful, helping us to be in a receptive mind and soul.

“Sabbath time can be like…a sanctuary in time when we consecrate our loved ones, our yearnings for peace, our prayers for strength, and well-being for our children. Sabbath time is set apart for remembering the holiness of life…Take off your shoes. Stand still and quiet for a moment. Let your feet touch earth, soil, floor and rock. Feel the visceral holiness rise up and kiss tender, naked flesh. Walk slowly. Let each step be a prayer, each footfall a sacred kiss of flesh and earth. Let each sensation rise up the body. Feel how the body receives the blessing of holy ground.”

Christians call Sunday, the first day of the week, the Sabbath, the Lord’s Day or the Resurrection day, opposed to the Jewish Sabbath which begins on the seventh day of the week, the day God rested after the creation of the world. Since Judaism is based on a lunar calendar, unlike Christianity’s solar calendar, the Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown Friday evening and lasts until sunset Saturday. One of the 10 Commandments is to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, but what does that mean?

I think it gets into the questions, ‘why religion?’ and ‘why church?’ I think both of the questions ask us to explore the depths of our being, the connection and purpose of life and even death. There doesn’t seem to be a time when humanity did not have some sort of religion, or beliefs about the nature of life and of nature as well! And while there has been much evil done in the name of religion, it usually is its all too human practitioners or priests or pastors.

So contemplate this, the book of beginnings in the Jewish and Christina Bible, Genesis, has God creating the whole world in six days and on the seventh, He (She, It) rested. A day of rest becomes part of the 10 Holiest of the commandments- Remember the Sabbath and Keep it holy! Rest, then, equals ‘holiness!’ Think about that for a minute, that one of the 10 commandments on those proverbial slabs of stone was to ‘remember the Sabbath and keep it holy!’ If all the laws of God are boiled down to just 10 , one of them is about rest, even relaxation, but also to keeping at least one day of the week and keeping it ‘holy.’

And are we not too busy to rest these days? Indeed, we seem to brag about just how busy we are, and of course, how time equals money and the less time we have, the more money. The Chinese pictograph for “busy,” is made up of two characters, one for heart and one for killing.

The story is told of a South African tribe that embarked on a long migration. Day after day under the tropical sun they marched until suddenly they halted, made camp, and rested for several days before continuing.

Why did you stop? someone asked them. ‘We had to stop,’ they answered. ‘We had to wait until our souls could catch up with us.’

Sabbath and perhaps even religion is letting our souls catch up with us! “Six days a week we wrestle with the world,” wrote Rabbi Herschel, “wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. . . . Even when the soul is seared, even when no prayer can come out of our tightened throats, the clean, silent rest of the Sabbath leads us to a realm of eternal peace, or to the beginning of an awareness of what eternity means.”

I want to argue that religion is not something just made up to scam or control, even if Napoleon did once say that religion was made up to keep the poor from murdering the rich. We’re beginning a new chapter of this church’s history and none of us know how long this particular chapter will be. We will be creating, not a new religion, but a new religious relationship, and a crucial part of that religious relationship will be on Sunday mornings at worship! Why church is a question that also asks why religion itself? We will wrestle with that question and others. And oh, will we discuss!

I consider myself a mystical humanist on the cusp of naturalistic theism, with a dollop of Emersonian Transcendentalism, but most importantly, I am a religious seeker, a searcher for meaning, for religious relationship of what I call ‘You, Me and the Universe,’ for what I also call the religious dimension, at the heart of which is a profound and energy producing love which or even who some call God, but I don’t. And church, again, especially worship, is an integral part of that experience of religious relationship which also calls us to social justice as well as spirituality.

We ministers, I must confess, work on Sundays! Yes, but more than that, because our jobs also can get so busy that we lose the religious dimension which first called us to enter it in ministry, and enter the ‘rat-race’ of business, the taxicab wanderings of kids to games, lessons, and all of us become exhausted, irritable, and depressed. Just coffee is no longer enough of a stimulant, now we must take ‘Red Bull’ a hyped up energy drink!

Even our churches participate in the busy schedules of church leadership, but we know almost always begin each board or council meeting with religious words of opening with the lighting of the chalice, our sacred symbols. And sometimes it seems like people use churches for escapism rather than rest, rote liturgies rather than calling the sacred dimension.

Why religion? Why Church? Not as escape, not as weakness, not as conformity. The answer is more universal, and I use the word church for our experience, not that that is the only way to ‘find’ religion.’ I think religion is about discovering the sacred, the deeply meaningful, the spiritual, the religious urge, within us, within nature, within the world’s wisdom teachings, something to which we re ready to give our heart, mind and hands.

Sabbath becomes an experience of spiritual or even just refreshing rest. Taking a short nap, living a day without demands of business or even household ‘honey do’ lists, without multitasking and taxi running, is part of a journey toward Sabbath. Someone once said that you should meditate at least a half hour every day, but if you can’t find a half hour than you should take an hour!

I search in all religions as well as well as literature, movies, even songs, and share them in that part of our religious relationship called church, worship, searching, being together, yea even in saying the bond of union.

Cheryl Richardson, author of Take Time for Your Life, talks about adrenaline as the enemy of rest: ‘The increased speed by which we live has contributed to a society suffering from adrenaline overload more than information overload. When we use adrenaline as our main source of fuel, our body’s adrenal system’the fight or flight response that is supposed to alert us to and prepare us for danger’never has a chance to rest. This hyper-vigilant state of fight or flight eventually makes it physiologically difficult to slow down.’

In other words we might actually kill ourselves if we work too hard or get going too fast or too busy. No one on their death bed wishes they had put more time an the office. Let us be religious about resting as much as going to church. Let us put in more time at our relationships than at work, in exploring our intuitive religious and/or spiritual dimension, in gratitude for the beauty of life with all its bittersweet living out.

Let us examine together what keeps us from Sabbath. Many studies have shown that churchgoers live longer lives, and I will argue that it is not because they are going to the ‘right’ church, but that they, and we, learn to be in religious relationship on the Sabbath, at the very least!

I believe that we all need religion, church, and Sabbath, but maybe we call it something different. Yes, it might be a walk in the woods, like Emily Dickinson recommends, but that might satisfy as well. Yea, it may even be golfing!

Some people find meaning in the social events or social justice projects, and don’t attend ‘church,’ but still find that religious dimension. We all need to love and be loved, and we all need to find a way to serve in some way that helps the world. The meaning of life is to find the meaning of life, which for me can be summed up in one simple, yet profound word, LOVE.

Peace, Amen, Shalom, (Peace in Hebrew), Assalaamu Alaikum (may Peace be upon you) (may Peace be upon you in Arabic), Abrazos a todos (Hugs all around) Namaste, (A Hindu greeting the divinity within you) Blessed Be and let me add one more blessing that I adapted from the Spanish long before I went in to ministry. ‘Vaya con Dios’ is Spanish for Good-bye, but literally is ‘Go with God,’ SO I adapted it to say ‘Vaya Con SU dios, ‘Go with your idea or interpretation of God.’

May we go from here recharged, inspired with love of religious relationship.
May we laugh often, put more fun in our lives and cry as we need to.
May we learn to take a day of rest religious search,
May we pray, not to avoid problems, but for the strength, inner wisdom and friends to solve them.
May we live our lives the best that we can.
May we love the best we can
May we gather strength from holding hands.
May we be generous givers as well as receivers.
May we meet one new person every Sunday.
May we go now in the peace which passes all understanding, and in the love that makes it all worthwhile.