Called to Worship
I want to ask you a serious question. What is it about Trinity United Methodist Church that made you decide that here was the place you would come to have your faith life nourished? You have lots of choices in Sequim, so why here? Have you reflected on that recently? Let me give you some of the reasons people share and why I don’t think they explain fully the reasons that TUMC is your faith home.
“I grew up a Methodist and have always been a Methodist. I didn’t even look anywhere else.” Now, this explanation might be part of the reason for a few but most of you have attended other faith communities. Even cradle Methodists will not continue worshipping at a church unless they are fed spiritually and emotionally.
A reason people say they picked this church is the music. Now I know our choir is good and we are all blessed by their hard work. We have missed hearing them. Yes, music is important but that is not enough of a reason to invest time in worship here or anywhere for that matter.
Some talk about the fellowship and love how they feel when they first arrived at TUMC. We have worked hard on creating a loving, radical hospitality. Yet, friendships as awesome as they are, is not the reason why you took the time to listen to this service this week.
By now, some of you might have spilled your coffee as you jumped up and down in your living room or are ready to honk your horn at me in the parking lot because I seem to be missing the point. You are probably saying or thinking: “Faith, that is why I am here. I come because I believe in Jesus. I come because I believe his promises to forgive us and give us eternal life.” There are many expressions of faith, so belief in Jesus is not enough. It is how that faith is presented that makes you think Trinity is a good fit for you.
Here is why I think you took the time to worship online today. Here is why some of you decided to sit in your hot cars to worship together. Here is why I think you can hardly wait for the pandemic to ease so we can get back together as a body to worship. You can argue with me about whether I got it right or not, but I believe it is these core things that keep you coming back week after week. These things will not change even with my retiring. This is true because you are part of the expression of faith as we experience it at TUMC and you are still going to be here.
You come because you want to hear you are loved and to experience that love through the community of saints. All of us have those hard and challenging times where we are beat up by life. We have experienced great dislocation in our lives recently and I know many of you have found comfort from the sermons, letters I write, and the reminders that God is with us. Think of other crises that we have faced in our lives.
Perhaps we have recently lost a loved one. Maybe we are going through a health crisis. We are worried about a family member or world events. We come battered and bruised by life to worship knowing we will find love. We know people care about us and sympathize with us. I hope you hear in almost every sermon the message that no matter what is happening or what you have done, God loves you. By spending time being bathed in the love of God you are renewed and restored and are able to face the world again. For me, this is one of the reasons we have been growing as a church. We continue to remind all people they are loved, that all means all. In a world that is so divided, and now so isolated, remembering and experience this all-embracing love is why I believe you turn to TUMC to help you on your faith journey. We all know that not every faith community is as open to all as we are. You, by your love, have created an environment of radical hospitality and love. As long as you keep doing this, Trinity will be known for its warmth and love. It is up to you!
I think you connected with TUMC because you want to be reminded to be the best person you can be. In worship, we are challenged to love others even when it is hard. We are reminded to forgive others even when we really want to be mad. We come to worship with our nice little views of life, people, and the world. That balloon is often punctured by the challenges of Jesus. It is upsetting and frustrating in the moment but ultimately we know it to be life-giving. Left on our own, we can read the scriptures and interpret them in ways that bless our views of life. But we know when we gather to worship we will hear other opinions, we will have a mirror held up to our actions that makes us, at times, wince at the reflection as we are challenged to do things differently. This causes us to take actions that cause us to step out of our comfort zones and try something new. We believe that you should be a thinking Christian. We do not tell you what to believe and do but instead invite you to wrestle with the hard truths of the Bible and see how they apply to your life. As hard and challenging as this might be, I think this is why we are here.
Finally, I think we worship to hear that there is hope in our darkest times. When we are experiencing challenging things, we need that beacon of light. Just reading it in the Bible isn’t enough. It is hard to believe it is true. But through the love of the community, you hear the stories of how others made it through similar dark times. Those stories give us hope. During these times of isolation, I know you are sharing stories of encouragement to help each other, and to be reminded we are not alone, God is with us. We are a church that proclaims there are always possibilities. We share that the worst of times is never the last of times. This message of hope is somewhat unique, not all churches share it in this way, and as we live and embody it we see how it changes lives.
I recall an incident that I observed recently. One of you had just gone through that crushing blow of losing a beloved spouse. You were at church and I could tell it was taking all you had in you to even be there. Then another widow came up and gave you a hug and began to talk. She shared how she was getting through that hard time, gave a couple of coping tips, and then said, “Let’s go out to lunch.” I watched you visibly get better. You stood taller, a look of peace came onto your face and I could read your thoughts. You were thinking, “If my friend could do this so can I.” That light, that beacon of hope in a dark time is why we are here.
That kind of encouragement is still happening. We might not be able to hug but people are calling others in need, walking beside them and letting them know they are not alone and that together we will get through this. When we are struggling we come to be reminded God is with us; that there is always hope, to hear the promise that we have help, and be reminded of the gift of life eternal that is offered to each of us.
We gather to worship because we believe God is in control and we want to draw near to that awesome source of love and to be transformed as we are challenged to be agents of transformation. To be able to live out the doctrine of love by sharing and giving it.
Romans 12 talks about the transformative nature of faith. Hear some of the challenges these verses give us: “Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought. We have different gifts but one body, love should be without pretending, hate what is evil, hold on to what is good, stand your ground when you are in trouble, devote yourself to prayer, We are all called to work together, bless and don’t curse and live at peace with each other.” Wow, to live that way is radically different from the world’s way of doing things. We can’t do it on our own. We need each other if we are to be transformed into what God calls us to be.
I have shared this story before, but it fits with this sermon. I preached a sermon about priorities. I asked people to look at their lives and see if what they were doing fit with what they saw as being important. The next day I had a man come to me and say, “I listened to your sermon and quit my job.” I wanted to say, “You fool! You should never listen to the preacher.” He went on to talk about how his job was causing him to work long hours and be gone a lot on the weekends. He said that when they had adopted their son he had vowed that Larry would always come first. In listening to me, he realized his life did not measure up to his intentions. He recognized that he needed to make changes. He was a skilled electrician so he soon got a different job with more reasonable hours. Larry had Cystic Fibrosis. They all knew Larry would not live to be an old man. About 8 years after this moment, Larry’s health began to decline. He was put on the transplant list for new lungs. Before any were available, Larry died. As I was with the family planning Larry’s service, his dad reminded me of the day he quit his job because of what I said. He thanked me because he and Larry had some wonderful time together after that, time he would have missed if he had not changed directions. We worship because we want to be changed.
As a person of faith we are called to worship, but even more to be transformed. I believe you chose TUMC not because of the music, the preaching, or the radical hospitality. These are important and we can’t wait for them all to begin again. I think you chose TUMC because we comfort you and challenge you. Invite another to listen to these services. Perhaps they will find something they are missing in their spiritual life.
We are all called to worship.