One of the reasons I say the preachers prayer from Psalm 19:14 each week before I speak is because I am in awe, humbled by the task before me. It is a privilege and a challenge to be tasked with offering something for you each week, especially this one. I covet your prayers that my words will be blessed by our God and carried right where they need to be.
Please join me in a spirit of prayer.
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen.
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
And I believe so are we, the Church. When the earth is changing and the mountains are shaking and the heart of the sea seems to be breaking; when the water is roaring and it feels like the whole world is trembling, I believe God beckons us as Church to be a refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
In the past months, I have seen how this community, this place and this group of people has offered a chance for the hurting and the hurried, the lonely and the disconnected, seekers and the healers to be welcomed in fully, to belong and to feel what it is like to have found a spiritual home at the intersection of love and justice.
We chose this as our stewardship theme this year in part because this community of faith and compassion exists at lots of intersections- intersections of class, religious background, age, beliefs, political priorities and wide geographies. We come from Louisville and Lafayette, Gunbarrel and Golden, Superior and Broomfield, Longmont and Lyons. We are not just South Boulder or Boulder, but far beyond. And what seems to bring all of us here is not a shared set of beliefs, but shared commitment to be a certain kind of people together. We are a church that is a verb. And in this time that means we are a refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
I believe this is the call of church in this moment.
For the first time in the history of the United States of America, a majority of young adults do not identify as Christian. In the last decade alone, the number of adults in this country who identify as Christian has fallen by 12 percent according to the Pew Research Center poll. And not surprisingly, in response some have extended warnings with dire predictions, including cable news outlets who proclaim that Christians are being persecuted sharing headlines like, “Christians and Christianity are mocked, belittled, smeared and attacked.”
Indeed fewer people are identifying as Christian and fewer people are finding any use in a church. But it is not because of anything that Jesus said. It is not because of anything God has done. It is because the church in many places has failed. The church has failed to be a refuge and strength for people, it has failed to be a very present help in trouble. It has sold out the poor people and refugees, denying freedom and denigrating the earth…
But not us, not now, not here.
In a trembling world where trouble abounds, I have heard from many of you that Community United Church of Christ is something like your refuge. We are a chance to show up in real time to be love and feel love. We are a refuge from a world of clubs and niches. Instead here all who aim to grow in love are welcome. We are a wonderful, weird and wide tent where spiritual journeys are interwoven with a beautiful, eclectic mix of human beings. We are not something abstract, rather we offer shelter from cynicism and disengagement, instead directing our fears and anxieties toward acts of caring for one another and for our world.
In a culture of consumerism and materialism, where all of us are made to feel like we can never be enough or do enough or have enough, we are a refuge. Instead here, we remember together that our value is not economic, that all that we are is enough. Here we remember that we are not mere consumers, but beloved children of God.
In a fast-paced, short-term, race, where the days go by without gratitude, we are a refuge. Instead here, we slow down, we listen to one another, we welcome silence, we stop long enough to give thanks.
In nature, the main goal of a refuge is to preserve life in all its wholeness and glory- to offer shelter from the forces that threaten. In a time of rapid decline in religious observance, our congregation is growing and I think that part of the reason is that we are a refuge.
We held a vigil for our beloved pianist and gifted musician Kathy Rinehart on Thursday. There were so many tender stories shared about how generous she was and what she meant to this congregation, to her neighborhood and to the community of musicians with whom she played and created music. Kathy was an introvert so when she spoke it had power and people listened. If she said something, she wanted you to hear it. Her husband Randy told me that over the almost a dozen years she played here, this was the best musical experience of her life. She felt supported. She felt heard. People listened. As I shared at the vigil, Kathy was quick to say that Community United Church of Christ was the only church she could ever stand.
I don’t know exactly how Kathy identified, but if anything I would guess she would call herself an atheist leaning toward agnostic, but she found the Divine in the trees and the leaves and she found a home here.
I think that part of the reason is because our church isn’t about being right, but about being a refuge- a place for a wide variety of people on a spiritual journey, drawn to a certain kind of life in community together.
Stewardship Sunday is one day in the entire year that we set aside to note what it takes to have this refuge here for all of us. It takes time, gifts of service and it also takes our treasure. Our entire business model is built upon the idea that we offer all we do freely to the world, but underneath all of that is generosity. I didn’t quite understand the implications of this reality when I made the decision to commit my life to this vocation. I suspect that parish ministry is not the only job where this is true. But there is something unique and powerful about how we are all tied together here. This church is not only my employer, but my spiritual home. This means that I give you my talents, my time, my heart, but maybe unlike other jobs, I also give you back my money too. I have discovered that this strikes some as odd, like I am choosing a pay cut as part of my profession.
But to me, it is a joy to be able to and it is part of my faith to be fully committed to being God’s hands in the world in all of the ways that I can. Our family has student loans and because we wanted to live in the neighborhood, we have a big mortgage. We have anxieties about the future and retirement, but we pledge to this church, to this refuge because we are a part of something bigger, something that matters, something that is actively serving as help in a time of trouble. We give because this is an intergenerational place where our kid learns and receives kindness, where she has friends that share our values, where she knows she is not alone in this big wide world. We give because we are an interfaith family and this congregation loves us as we are.
I know that there are lots of sensitivities and vulnerabilities around the topic of money and the church. Many of the church horror stories I have heard are about money.
It is personal and sometimes the conversation can be painful. Jesus spoke about money as much as he spoke about the Kin-dom of Heaven. Because it is the best way to show what it is we value, what we want to preserve, what we love. I believe in transparency and in a time like this, I want you to know that I would never invite you to do something that I am not striving for myself. After our healthcare costs are deducted, I pledge back to this church, my refuge and spiritual home, 5% of what I make, which is about $300 per month or $3,600 for the year.
I know that I am new to the party and that I like many newcomers, am a beneficiary of the time and love and generosity of those of you who were here before me. But I want you to know that I am invested with you and that this is already my church, my refuge in change, my spiritual shelter in the storms of these times.
And I want that for others too. Let this be a refuge for others in need of shelter…
God is our refuge and strength, a very present[a] help in trouble.
And so are we. So is the church. This place. This people. When the earth is changing and the mountains are shaking and the heart of the sea seems to be breaking; when the water is roaring and it feels like the whole world is trembling, let us be a refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. May it be so.
Following the message, each person was invited to write down how they will build up our spiritual home as a refuge this year.