October 2016 – Renewing our Vows

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.   Romans 12:1

I didn’t grow up going to church, and even when I first began to believe in God and the biblical story, I still had plenty of doubts about the church. Over the years God has been gradually wearing down these doubts – mostly by bringing me into the company of believers, including you, who have shown me Christ’s grace at work.

But having been outside the church for many years, I’m very aware of many of the reasons why some people don’t attend church. Church doesn’t come naturally for most of us, and even when we become accustomed to church, we benefit from periodic renewal of our vows – much like married people renewing their vows.

We’re in the middle of a Sunday series in which we’re reviewing the promises we’ve made to God and one another to actively participate in the life of Christ’s church through our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. We’re renewing our vows together in part because we live in a culture in which church (much like the institution of marriage) no longer enjoys the same breadth of support it once did. When public opinion pollsters ask Americans about their faith preferences, the category that has grown (by far) the most over the past decade is the so-called “Nones” – as in “none-of-the-above.” Without renewal, it becomes easier to forget the vows we’ve made.

So I thank God for all of you who are part of our parish. I thank God for all of you who honor God with your presence. It’s a joy to be with you in worship and fellowship and in all the ministries of the church. It’s a blessing to join with you in our parish’s annual selling of pumpkins to raise funds for the Bourne Food Pantry (we do need your help!)… and in contributing to our School food for Back Packs Project, and all our other spiritual formation and outreach ministries.

When we join the church and whenever we welcome a new member into the church we say together these words from our Methodist Hymnal: “As members together with you in the body of Christ and in this congregation… We renew our covenant faithfully to participate in the ministries of the church – by our prayers – our presence – our gifts – and our service – that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”

Each part of our vows depends on all the other parts. But in this season in the life of our church, the word that particularly stands out for me is “presence.” It’s often said “showing up is half the battle.” The ancient philosopher Woody Allen has even said: “80% of success is showing up.”  What the actual percentages are, God knows. But whether we’re talking success in the workplace, making friends, staying married, being church together, or life in general – showing up is, at a very minimum, absolutely necessary… And when we’re talking about church, showing up in person, bodily, transformed by the Holy Spirit, ready and willing to participate…may be close to 100% of the battle.

Showing up – body and soul, heart and mind – is our spiritual worship, the bible tells us (Romans 12:1-2). Presenting ourselves bodily is the living sacrifice God requires. Don’t be conformed to the world’s ways of thinking, but be transformed in the renewing of our hearts and minds in Christ. This is the only way we’re able to know the will of God, Romans tells us. If we don’t show up, transformed in and through worship, we really can’t know God’s will.

We’re saved by God’s grace, working through faith and love – not by a precise formula regarding church participation – but we are saved for participation in the one body of Christ, in which Christ is head and we’re all members of one another (Ephesians 1:22-23, 4:15-16; Romans 12:4-13; 1st Corinthians 12:1-31).

We know God is bigger even than all creation. We know no building can ever contain the presence of the Lord. Yet we also know congregational worship is our right and proper response to Christ’s death, resurrection, and promise of life eternal. Of course we can and should feel close to God in nature, taking a walk, sitting quietly, talking with family and friends. But we can only live the whole life of faith that Jesus calls us into together, as a congregation. (We know not everyone is physically able to be in church, and we reach out by visiting, and broadcasting our worship on Bourne community-access cable tv, which can also be watched online from our church website – bournecataumetparish.org.)

The word of God compares our relationship with Christ to marriage (see Ephesians 5:31-32). Like marriage, Christian life is not something we can do alone. Christ pledges his love for us today, tomorrow, and forever. Surely Christ is not asking too much as He asks the same from us.

The grace and peace of Jesus Christ our Savior be with you always,

Pastor Tim