A January 28, 2009 Gallup Poll entitled State of the States: Importance of Religion reports that when asked “Is religion an important part of your daily life?” 65% of Americans reported that religion is an important part of their daily lives. This conclusion was based on interviews of more than 350,000 participants around the country. The poll also breaks down responses to the same question state by state. Here the information gets a little more interesting. The poll finds that “Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana and Arkansas to be the most religious states in the nation, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts are the least religious.” In fact six out of the ten least religious states are located in the soon to be New England Conference. (VT 42%, NH 46%, ME 48%, MA 48%, AK 51%, WA 52%, OR 53%, RI 53%, NV 54%, CT 55%). (www.gallup.com)
I am of the opinion that this Gallup Poll reveals some deeper questions such as: What is the future of “religion” in New England? What is “religion” in New England? Why isn’t religion an important part of peoples daily lives in New England? While some like to believe that New England may be on the verge of a “religious revival” I am not sure the evidence would bear that out, but what if we were in the verge of a “spiritual revival?” That’s the question I would like to see answered, “Is spirituality an important part of your daily life?” I believe that the answer to that question would be vastly different.
One of the things I have learned over the years working alongside people in recovery, as well as in my own spiritual journey, is that addicts who identify themselves as Christians are often resistant to embrace step three in the twelve step program: “Made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God as we understand God.” Some have speculated that this is because addicts who have been raised in the church note that they have already tried the “God stuff” and it hasn’t worked, thus creating a resistance to trust and an unwillingness to “do it again.” Others have noted that addicts who are also “religious” may be unwilling to let go of a childlike understanding/relationship with God; an unforgiving, punishing, judgmental, unlistening, and failed miracle God. In any case part of recovery is “reframing” a relationship with God that is personal, maturing and spiritually connected. It is the willingness to turn “will and lives” over to God, and letting something new develop that may have nothing to do with the past and may even make the future a little scary.
In my church travels I often hear churches discuss the need for new members along with the appropriate reasons why. The conversation is often about the needs of the church and not the spiritual needs of those who might be coming into fellowship. It is much like asking; Where is religion in your life, verses where is the working of the Holy Spirit in your life? When churches have assumed values of what it means to be “religious” or what it means to have “religion” in your daily life and try to impose it on others the result will often be a dying church. When a church understands the centrality of the Holy Spirit working, reshaping, reforming, recreating the body, exercising a mature and bold faith, the result is often that the church will grow. The “concept” is the same, at AA or UMC; it is about allowing God to direct us, and not us correcting God.
New England might not be the hotbed for a religious revival, but I am convinced that there is a spiritual awakening among us, the question for our churches is: Will we have the ability to adapt and allow the working of the Holy Spirit guide us deeper into something we don’t quite understand or will we try and assimilate the Spirit into the institution and extinguish the flame. It’s a personal question that requires turning oneself and the church over to God.
“In my view, the mission of the church is not to enlarge membership, not to bring outsiders to accept its terms, but simply to love the world in every possible way—to love the world as God did and does.
The body of Christ is a network of organic connections between people, connections which make one’s joy another’s joy, one’s suffering another’s suffering. In this sense, everyone, Christian or otherwise, is included in the body of Christ—included not within an organizational framework or theological point of view, but included within a community of compassion. I do not believe the church enters into the public realm to aggrandize itself, but to glorify God; and God is glorified as we manifest the unity in which we were created without dishonoring the diversity we have become. If we are able to love the world, that will be the best demonstration of the truth which the church has been given.”
“If the church is to serve as a school of the Spirit, and as a bridge between the private and the public realms, it must find ways of extending hospitality to the stranger. I do not mean coffee hours designed to recruit new members to the church, for these are aimed at making the stranger “one of us.” The essence of hospitality—and of the public life—is that we let our differences, our mutual strangeness, be as they are, while still acknowledging the unity which lies beneath them.”
From THE COMPANY OF STRANGERS by Parker Palmer
This poetic admonition was written to the Jews in Exile in Babylon . We talked about what it meant to “wait on (or upon) the Lord”. DC spoke about the ancient concept that gods inhabit certain geographical spaces and that, being in Exile, the Jews needed to be reminded that their God was with them even in Exile. Like Jonah, they couldn’t escape him if they wanted.
Waiting implied patience and time spent giving attention to God. The poem contrasts the vastness and order of the heavens and the “grasshopper” mortality of man. Isaiah has God scold those in exile who feel abandoned.
AD added tha the promise to renew the strength of those who wait upon the Lord speaks to us to wait upon, or serve, God by waiting, being patient, letting the Holy be in our lives on God’s terms and time table.
We asked ourselves “What is it about our experience with Jesus that like Paul, we simply must share with others.” PC recalled Paul’s circumstances, preaching to Jesus followers in small groups, Jews in synagogues, people in homes and in a wide spread territory and that his letters were written not to explain Jesus comprehensively but to answer certain questions and deal with a variety of events. DC remarked how “Being all things to all people” now has a negative connotation, as if there were no substance to an argument if it can be altered by circumstance. But Paul’s message was a deep enough constant that telling it in different ways was not a weakness. PG referred to the commentary that suggested that we were called to “walk beside” people in faith rather than try to tell them answers. Perhaps just being in the spiritual company of others communicates what is Holy.
AD referred to a commentary she’d read that suggested that Peter’s mother in law may not have been “serving” a meal after her healing, but serving Jesus as an emissary. If she had been sick, she would have been “unclean”, said another commentary. That Jesus and the others kept her company exemplifies how they set aside the letter of the law for higher purposes of the law. PC remarked about healing being the driving out of “unclean spirits” and what that might mean in contemporary times. We wondered why Jesus chose to stop healing to go pray and then to move on to preach to new neighborhoods when there was healing left. Perhaps, we concluded, his message of God’s proximity and accessibility, was more important to him than the individuals who benefited from his message. We also remarked that even the most perfect and holy of human beings needs to pray, to renew his spirit and his direction with Holy guidance. SC tied it all together with the Isaiah passage: “those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
Woody Bowman of West Tisbury, Director of FOCUS, will be our guest preacher on March 8. We will post more details later.
Chilmark Community Church
February 8, 2009
Prelude: Invention #8 J.S.Bach
Gathering and Announcements
Call to worship: Isaiah 40:21-31
Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning?Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
To whom then will you compare me,or who is my equal: says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these?
He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.
Why do you say, O Jacob,and speak, O Israel,”My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God? Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
*Hymn: 139 Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
Presider: Let us confess our sin and faithlessness to God and to each other:
All: God, our creator and redeemer,
you never grow weary or faint
but we have doubted your will or ability to care for us.
We have said, “My way is hidden from the LORD,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
We have let anxiety to consume us
and we have let fear paralyze love for the poor and lonely.
Forgive us for holding to our doubt.
Free us to walk in faith
and the strength of your mercy, Amen
Presider to the people:
Hear the good news:
“Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.”
Through God’s love, you are forgiven.
Proclamation and PraisePsalm: 147:1-11;20c
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Response to the Word:
May our words and thoughts and reflections be acceptable, O Lord. AMEN
(background of passages and open discussion.)
*Hymn: 265 O Christ, the Healer
Concerns and Prayers
pastoral prayer; We ask that your healing love come into our world which is in great need. We pray that it reach the victims of storms and wars, and the victims of loneliness or pain. We pray that your love touch people in all corners of the earth, people whose names we do not know, but whose lives are precious to you.We pray for our parents, children, spouses and friends. Fill them with your love. Silent prayer
Prayer of Dedication: Holy One, whose heart abounds with gifts, receive this offering as a sign of our intention to live surrounded by your mercy, inspired by your Spirit, open to the joy of your presence, hospitable to one another, and generous toward your world. AMEN
*Hymn: 670 Go Forth in Peace
Benediction: 1 Thessalonians 5:14-23
“Encourage the faint hearted; help the weak; be patient with all; seek to do good; rejoice always; pray without ceasing; give thanks in all circumstances;” and so may God keep us till we meet again. AMEN
Postlude: Andante by Maurice Greene
Next Week’s Scripture
2 Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 ; Mark 1:40-45
Organist: Carol Loud
Lay Leader: Ann Deitrich
Arlene spoke without notes, so this is a report of some of her remarks by a witness. She preached from Mark1:21-28 about Jesus’ teaching with authority, a new kind of teaching.
She gave examples of people with authority and emphasized that they had experienced what they taught. She told two stories to illustrate her remarks. The first involved a teacher who was approached by a distraught mother who wanted the teacher to lecture her son about his bad eating habits, especially his sugar intake. The teacher met her on three occasions and told her to return in a week. Finally he spoke to the boy and the mother, frustrated and angry, asked him what had taken him so long. He replied that it had taken him three weeks to give up sugar.
The next story involved two rebellious boys who thought their teacher was a know it all and wanted to stump her. One caught a small bird and held it cupped between his hands. He and his buddy planned to ask the teacher if the bird they held was dead or alive. If she said DEAD they would release the bird to fly away. If she said ALIVE, they would crush it and produce a dead bird. They brought the test to the teacher and asked her to guess. She looked into the boys’ eyes for a long time and answered:’The fate of the bird is in your hands. The congregation was encouraged to nourish the BIRD in our hands and to step out in authority from our experience of God’s presence and promises in our lives.
Arlene Bodge created the order of worship and it was not transferable to this site. But she spoke about the validity of the traditional order of worship. The Gathering comes first, remembering the early Jesus followers who met in their homes or synagogues. The praise and celebration begins the service with the call to worship and a hymn. The Peace comes before confession and prayer to symbolize our forgiveness of one another and our unity and brotherhood under God. Confession is our turning to God’s presence, away from distractions, followed by words of assurance. Proclamation and Praise is the reading of the lessons. The sermon or discussion for discernment follows the lessons. Prayer is followed by offering of our selves and service and dedication of gifts. Thansgiving and communion and Benediction close the gathering.
Chilmark Community Church, Methodist
January 25, 2009
Prelude: Little Prelude in C major by Bach
Passing the Peace
*Call to Worship
And men will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God. Luke 13:29
*Hymn 428 “ For the Healing of the Nations
Prayers: Concerns and Celebrations
Silent prayer :Let us be in the attitude of prayer, bringing our concerns into the presence of God in our hearts.
Collect: O lord, who sees that all hearts are empty except thou fill them, and all desires balked except they crave after thee; give us light and grace to seek and find thee, that we may be thine and thou mayest be ours for ever. Amen
The Lord’s Prayer
Psalm 62:5-12 p.787
For the President and others in authority: (by Bishop White)
*Hymn 120 “Your love, O God”
Scripture: Jonah 3:1-5,10; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1: 14-20
We give thanks, O god of sacred stories, for the witness of holy scripture. Through it, you nurture our imaginations, touch our feelings, increase our awareness, and challenge our assumptions. Bless, we pray,our hearing of your word this day. Grant that by the power of your Spirit, we may be hearer and doers of your word. Amen
Comments and discussion by those who feel like it. Don’t feel bad if you don’t.
Confession: Holy God, who loves us. We are sorry that we hurt our loved ones; that we turn our backs on need; that we seek revenge for petty wrongs in petty ways. Even as we speak these words, we know your presence and your love. We are sorry, O God, for what separates us from each other and from You. Make us strong and tender, we pray, that we may live more as you would have us live. Amen
Thanksgiving: Almighty and most merciful God, we give thanks to thee for the light of another day, for the work we have to do, and for the strength to do it. Guide us, we pray thee, by thy truth; uphold us by thy power; and purify us by the continual indwelling of thy spirit. Grant that in every circumstance we may grow in wisdom, and, knowing the things that belong to our peace, obtain strength to persevere.
Hymn 399 “Take My Life and Let it be”
Closing prayer: Grant, O Lord, that what has been said with our lips we may believe in our hearts, and that what we believe in our hearts we may practice in our lives as followers of Jesus. Amen
Postlude: Andante by Telemann
*Stand if you are able.
Organist: Carol Loud
Leader: Ann Deitrich
Next week’s scripture lessons: Deuteronomy 18:15-20;1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28
This week was open discussion again.(next week will have an actual sermon).
We had more to say about Jonah than about Corinthians and Mark..It is an appealing story, a parable, as PC pointed out, that resonates with a sea-going community. She pointed out that there are two lessons from this parable: that you can’t hide from God or ignore God’s message to you and that you can’t control God; God will forgive whomever God chooses.
PG referred to a commentary that excused Jonah’s reluctance somewhat, considering that Nineveh was the capital of Assyria who had been a brutal, occupying force for over one hundred years. It was like asking one of us to go to the camp of Bin Laden.
DC spoke about Jonah’s attempt to flee from God and that God is with you, you can’t escape God. He drew the parallel between Jonah’s dismay at the forgiveness of Nineveh and the anger of the good brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. He also reminded us of the opening of Moby Dick and the sermon there.
As for Mark1:14-20, PG spoke of the calling of the fishermen as being a calling from one life to another. This often implies “repentance” for later followers. One commentator defined repentance as ” aligning one’s values and way of life with God’s ways”. Sin has sometimes been defined as “separation from God”. In Hebrew one translation is ” missing the mark” as in archery. The conclusion was that we should be turning to a life whose moments are informed by an awareness of God’s presence and direction.
AD referred to the book SAY TO THIS MOUNTAIN: MARK’S STORY OF DISCIPLESHIP. The calling from the men at their nets and families exemplified the tension between the Temple and the Wilderness, the center and the margins, the power structure and the outsiders.