Rev. Chris Snow
North Hill Christian Church
September 1, 2019
Luke 14:1, 7-14
For the longest time I found it difficult to watch soccer games on TV. Not that I don’t enjoy soccer, it was just that I wanted to be in the mix of the game rather than just watch from the sidelines. But as I have grown up and my body isn’t as young and spry as it used to be, I have found enjoyment in watching the matches, even if a part of me would like to be playing again. In a way my time away on sabbatical has been like being a spectator watching from the sidelines. Watching the goings on in the church and in people of faith, while intentionally taking time away from being immersed and active.
Growing up on the soccer field, I recognized the importance of listening to the coach’s instructions, but my mind was still focused on my role on the field. So focused on defending the goal, or moving the ball up the field that I wasn’t aware of the patterns that the coach could see. Unaware of all the passing opportunities that were available because I couldn’t track all the moving parts. Yet now as I watch matches on tv I can see the whole field. I can see the movement of the various players setting them up for scoring opportunities or setting up for an offsides call.
Taking time off for sabbatical allowed me the chance to go from being on the field to the role of a spectator seeing patterns and blind spots that one can loose sight of on the field.
Each time I have preached on this text from Luke in the past, I have talked about the role of the guests and the host. How the guest should be humble and not assume that they deserve the place of honor, and that the host should not simply invite those who can return the favor. But what about the onlooker. The one who is watching from the sidelines, watching from across the street, watching to see what kind of party this is, and deciding if they want to join in. Watching the guests to see if they are fighting over the place of honor or find a seat and wait for the host. If the host is generous and kind in who is welcome to their table or simply surround themselves with people of means and power.
This past summer I had the chance to be a fly on the wall for several different congregations. As I watched to see what they were doing, what made them unique, what their worship service said about who they are as a congregation, and how they welcomed the stranger.
One congregation specialized in hearing and telling stories. The only part of their two hour worship that felt like a worship service was about half an hour around a communion table. The rest of their time together was in sharing a meal, listening to one another’s stories, and then providing a space for individuals to share their stories with the whole group.
Another congregation’s unique identifier was its bold and vocal stance regarding issues of justice. From the banners and flags in the sanctuary, to articles in the bulletin, and the words spoken from the pulpit and during the time of prayer.
Another congregation we visited, reminded us of the importance of signage and instructions for greeters, as visitors are welcomed. For this congregation we entered on the main level, or what we could assume was the main level. Immediately greeted by individuals with bulletins but we were left to find our way to the sanctuary which was through the fellowship hall, up a flight of stairs, and through the narthex before we found it. Luckily we were able to follow the sounds of the congregation preparing for worship.
But something that all these congregations had in common, they did not have a huge attendance. Overall their attendance was about the same to 10 or 20 more than our average. These congregations didn’t seem to be dead or dying. Rather they were congregations who know who they are and continue to live into God’s call for them in their place. Now, I’m sure they all have those grumblings of only if we can attract more people. If only we can attract young families. If only we could do this or that…then maybe we could be as big as we used to be.
We know these grumblings, and yet were are still called to be a congregation listening for God’s constant calling upon our lives to declare the good news as best as we can knowing the divine is there with us helping us along the way. We are not listening for God’s calling as if we are the same church we were 20 years ago, but rather as the church we are today.
Several years ago this congregation set forth a vision statement that says: “As a community of people called by God, blessed by the Holy Spirit, and following Christ’s example, North Hill Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is bound in covenant to continually seek God’s guidance, to act and to take action in ways that embody the reign of God, and to serve human need wherever it is found. God calls us to be a whole community and we are a place where all people are welcome, all are accepted, and each of us has an opportunity to find and joyfully share our gifts, talents and passions through worship, prayer and mission. We seek God’s guidance in building up people who explore and expand the depths of their personal relationship with God. God calls us through relationship as a whole community to minister and live as examples of the present and coming reign of God.”
The one constant of our worship and faith journey together is our time around the table. The words and actions that are shared at this table should embody all that we wish to be defined by. Where all are welcomed, all are invited, and barriers are removed for anyone who wishes to come.
As I visited several congregations this summer and engaged in conversations, I have recognized that we can say we are welcoming, but our actions and traditions don’t always say the same thing to the on looker. The one who is watching from the sidelines to see who we are and if they are truly welcome. They are watching to see who is invited, and who is welcomed into the party that is our community.
In the coming weeks and months we will be asked how are we doing with living into this statement, and is it who God is calling us to be at this time and place. We will be in conversations about who we are as a congregation, what makes us unique and what are the ministries that define who we are. I hope that we will all continue to listen to God’s calling upon our lives and this community of faith as we take the time to discern what God is doing in this place.