All Saints Sunday, November 6 2022
Please note that we had a power outage halfway through the service, and you can watch the service in two parts.
This place is special. All churches are unique, each with their own particular ethos. For a while we’ve been trying to articulate what it is that makes Zion feel like Zion. Two weeks ago Church Council affirmed a list of Zion’s core values, which we think is the “secret sauce” of who we are. We believe these values represent both who we already are and also who we want to become even more. Our corporate life, including our Sunday morning worship gatherings, must be rooted in our core values. We should be explicit about naming them when we are together so that we can live into claiming them when we are apart. This is the particular combination of attributes that makes our congregation distinctive: this is what makes us feel like us. We want to share these with you this morning.
First of all, we are Christian. We specifically align ourselves with the ancient movement that claims Jesus the Christ as its inspiration, even as we appreciate the wisdom and practices that come to us from other faith traditions. We acknowledge the harm done by the Church in history and present, and we affirm the contributions of Christianity toward a better world.
As you’ll see in the following core values, we leave room for the fact that different people are Christian in different ways. But we are Christian. When we gather, the songs we sing are Christian. The text we study is Christian. Not because other ones aren’t valuable, but because to really go deep, we must choose where to focus. We together have chosen to focus in this way. I teach the Bible. If you want to supplement with insights or practices from other traditions, go for it. I don’t know about all religions, so I serve you best by helping us focus and teaching what I know.
Progressive – we know things change. We embrace the use of biblical scholarship, history, literature, and the sciences to enhance our faith. We reject the use of fear and shame. We claim the sacredness of both our hearts and our minds. Our minds are open to how God the Holy Spirit is still speaking new words to us for our time and place.
We are forward-thinking. We try to manage the tension between honoring the tradition and interpreting the Bible in ways that make sense here and now. Friends, if people before us hadn’t changed, we wouldn’t be here. The United Church of Christ’s constitution says “It is the responsibility of the Church in every generation to make the faith their own in reality of worship, in honesty of thought and expression, and in purity of heart before God.” If we really believe that God is still speaking, we have to be progressive, because we are going to hear something new.
Inclusive – we insist that all humans are created in God’s image and worthy of belonging. God celebrates who you are and so do we. We have a public commitment to cherish each person, specifically LGBTQIA folx. Together we create a safe space where we don’t discriminate in membership or leadership.
We are an Open and Affirming congregation, which is a specific designation in the United Church of Christ. In order to receive that designation, a church’s covenant of welcome has to be explicit about inclusion of LGBTQIA folx. If you’ve been here for a while, you may have forgotten how rare and crucial this is. I was reminded very strongly just this week about how much people need churches to tell them that God loves them and welcomes them exactly the way they are. Church, we must do this. But also this core value of inclusivity includes and transcends sexual identities. We welcome all. And we recognize that we can’t be all things to all people. We welcome all people, but we don’t allow every perspective to preached from our pulpit. We are particular about how we are represented. Also we realize that even though we are committed to welcoming all, not all will feel welcome here. But we don’t use labels to discriminate.
Humble – we realize that smart people who love Jesus think differently about important issues. We might be wrong. We have more to learn. We’re not afraid to fail.
We reject the ickiness of pridefulness and its twin: false humility. It takes real humility to manage the tension of both doing justice and loving mercy. In my opinion, humility is the characteristic that most indicates spiritual maturity. People who are humble remind me of Jesus as I understand him from the Bible and as I imagine him. The poet, playwright, lawyer, librarian, and statesman, Archibald MacLeish said “Religion is at its best when it makes us ask hard questions of ourselves. It is at its worst when it deludes us into thinking we have all the answers for everybody else.”
Bold – we are not ashamed of our progressive, inclusive, Christian beliefs, and we share them openly with our words and actions.
This one is so important and it brings a critical balance to a couple of the others. It is possible to be both humble and bold. In fact we must be. Let me say why: other Christians whose message is different from ours, they are very bold. And right now, that version of Christianity is the one that is getting all the air time, it’s the one that is culturally recognized. But it’s not the only way to be faithfully Christian, and the world needs to know that. We need to be as bold about our theology as we are about our commitment to justice.
Loving – we affirm that God is love and that we love because God first loved us. Following in the way of Jesus, we spend ourselves on behalf of our friends and our enemies.
This was actually the hardest one to write succinctly and we couldn’t do it without using the word love to define what it means to be loving. In the end what we lean into in this one comes straight from the Bible. 1 John 4:8-12 and 16–19 says “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. … God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.” In Matthew 20 Jesus says that he did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many, and Isaiah 58 paints a picture of what a healthy faith community looks like, saying “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” And then of course, the command that is so distinctive to Jesus is that we are called to love not only our friends but also our enemies.
People of Zion, this is who we are and who we long to be: Christians who are progressive, inclusive, humble, bold, and loving. Some of those live in tension with each other and we know that it is in managing the tension, in holding on to both, that we are made into the likeness of Jesus. People who choose to join this church find this unique combo of things to be something that they want to commit to. We have people here today who plan to do that.
Becoming a member of a church is not like becoming a member of a club; it’s like becoming a member of a family. When a family gets a new member, like a new baby or someone who marries in, that new member doesn’t just assimilate to the family’s way of doing things. The family actually changes because of this new member. So while our new members today will learn some of our family’s traditions, we will also be changed by our new members. We welcome their different perspectives, we will listen to their wisdom, and we will grow and change because of their gifts.
Church membership is not about who’s in and who’s out. It’s about who wants to be in a relationship. In church, we are invited to share life with people who are different from us: theologically, politically, racially, economically, sexually. And when we choose to be together, even when we disagree, we all grow in grace and love and humility. Church membership, committing to one another, is how we manage the tension between community and individuality. We don’t allow ourselves to be absorbed and used up by others. But we do make ourselves available to others, remembering that our lives are about so much more than just our own comfort, safety, and power. This is the beautiful invitation of church membership.