Why Are You in Church?
Two weeks ago when we celebrated a baptism, I came into this pulpit
and asked what we are going to do together to make sure that this
church is visionary and relevant and God-centered years from now when
today's babies are considering whether or not to be confirmed. Today,
in the midst of several people who have chosen to join this parish, I
want to ask: what are we now? What does the Protestant Church offer,
and why do we join it? And in order to do this, I am going to compare
us to Fenway Park, Jehovah's Witnesses, and a fictional insane asylum
character. Now, stick with me for a minute because I do have a meaning
in my method. And it is largely based on questions that I have been
Here is what I mean: in almost every new members' gathering, I say
some of the same things, and I hear some similar questions. What I say
offers a description of Protestant essentials. And they are the Bible,
the Trinity, and especially something about Jesus and something about
salvation and forgiveness and all that being grounded on faith and
grace and not works. And what people usually ask is, what is the
Trinity? What do we see in the Bible? What do salvation and grace and
faith mean, anyway? Which is nice because it shows we are on the same
A seminary education takes at least three years. Our new members
gatherings cover several hours. I have about fourteen minutes here, and
I am about to explain the Trinity, the Bible, and our mission. Please
hold your questions until after the Benediction.
The Trinity is like Fenway Park. All right, not really, and in fact
there are even better analogies or metaphors, but you'll remember this
one. Because Fenway has three bases or three outfields for one
identity, and Christians say that God has three dimensions, too, all
part of one whole. Traditionally they are Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
or Creator, Christ, and Connector. Why can't we just have one God like
the Unitarians or thousands like the Hindus? Because our people,
Hebrews, Jews, Jesus, disciples, and Church founders all experienced
God in several ways but not thousands of identities. Because they long
knew God as creator and creative, as transcendent and distinct, as
mysterious but giving, and that is one whole face, some say, for God.
In our benediction we speak of the love of God. Our summary
description says, "God is love." And all this is sufficient
to describe what faith calls one complete person.
But our people also experienced God in Jesus. And this makes
us different. They said God was really in human Jesus. God lived with
us in Jesus, suffered with us in Jesus, touched us in Jesus, and healed
us in Jesus. Jesus was a Jew. Never forget that. Yet Jews around him
began to say that they were learning new things about God from him so
their sense of things changed, even as Judaism itself has changed over
the millennia and should always be considered our sibling as people of
God. But Christians do say, as in our Benediction, that in teaching,
serving, and even suffering and triumphing, Jesus brought forth
something about grace that didn't happen in any other way. He
was uniquely touched, or anointed, by God. And
that was a complete revelation or person, too.
Finally, while God may be transcendent, and Jesus may not be
specifically materially obvious, we still sense God with us. That's the
Holy Spirit. The benediction calls it fellowship that we sense,
but the Greek word also means communion and community. There is
something going on here that is counter-cultural and counter-intuitive,
and that's the Holy Spirit. It's a complete thing, too.
St. Patrick picked up a clover in Ireland and said, "See: three
parts of one whole." I point to a baseball diamond that is
complete with three bases and a place called home for us, but a scholar
named Jurgen Moltmann has a deeper idea. He says, "It is only
from the perspective of a Trinitarian God that we can claim 'God is
love' because love is never alone." He says, "A triune God is
a social God, rich in internal and external relationships." And
because of the relationships within the fullness of God, he says, we
can see a way in to God. That is, if Jesus can be a child of God, can't
we be children of God? Indeed, we learn about community from the
existence of a trinity.
So how are we like Jehovah's Witnesses? Well, I don't know a lot
about them. But I know this. They believe they hold something important
and it is the scriptures. So this was my way of saying what we have as
Christians and what we value as Protestants is the Gospel. Not just the
Bible but the Gospel. It distinguishes us from strict Unitarians or
Moslems or Atheists,
though they may be nice people, all.
So what is the Gospel? Again my two-minute explanation. The Gospel
is the God-inspired or God-given essence of how we live together, serve
the world, heal things that are broken, and engage eternity. It is the
core, the summary, the kernel of our New Testament writings. It is not
the words but the way. Love God, love your neighbor, love yourself.
Blessed are the poor. You serve God whenever you serve the hungry, the
thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, the imprisoned. You reflect
God whenever you reach out to the exile, the cultural outcast, the
hopeless. And God is with you in all of this. God gives us words and
ways and energy and even freedom from death and its fears. God loves
peace: put away your sword. God loves prayer and community and people
who give. That's the Gospel. There is more to it, but there is not
anything else like it. No other assembly of ethics is its equal for its
enormous demands and its shocking essence of forgiveness. No other
compilation has one foot in divine shoes and the other in the swamps
East of Eden. No other so upholds joyful life while facing the
suffering of reality. We have the Gospel. And we do not hoard it,
but it immerses us in blessing and challenge, opportunity and mystery.
We're not exactly like Jehovah's Witnesses, but ours is a light not
designed for places under bushels. The Gospel is why to come and why to
Finally I bring you an image for membership taken from a film I saw
in 1976: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. I haven't seen it
since then but the image has stayed with me. Jack Nicholson, the lead
asylum resident, hates his confinement. And he is not a compliant
boarder. He wants out. And he tries everything to get out, even to
liberate others. Now all through the film the characters are walking
around this big piece of marble: I can't remember if it is a fountain
or a table or a statue. But it is consistently
obvious that if it could be thrown through a window, folks would be
Well, Jack tries everything to get away and in a near climactic
moment, after a speech about dangers within and beauty beyond, he goes
to this marble thing and tries to lift it. He struggles, strains,
fights to lift this object of opportunity, and it doesn't move an inch.
Everyone looks at him like he is crazy. And after his failed
attempt he says, "At least I tried."
Church is the place where we try. On behalf of ourselves, on behalf
of our neighbors, on behalf of our God. There are a lot of apparently
immovable objects in our society and in our world, even in our parish.
But they may be tools for our liberation. They may be opportunities to
serve. And I don't cite that movie to remember that Jack couldn't lift
the marble and just to revere his attempts, but also to remember that
someone else came along just after him and picked up the rock and went
forth to new life. That's why we're here.
You can study the Trinity, the Gospel, and the mission of the Church
your whole life and still not reach the end of any subject. So in a way
I should apologize for trying to describe them so briefly. But I am
delighted to remind myself why I am here and what gives us identity and
strength. I am delighted to say that there is a reason why we are here,
and we do have a gift from God that presses us to activity.
The next time you drive by Fenway, or entertain a Jehovah's Witness,
or see a movie about liberation or hope, remember that you are part of
all this. And that God is calling for your engagement right now. And
God is here with you in community forevermore. Amen.
from Jurgen Moltmann come from The Triune God:
Rich in Relationships
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Copyright © 2003 Kenneth F. Baily. Used by