TOGETHER L. Michael Spath, D.Min., Ph.D. First Presbyterian Church 24 January 2010 I Corinthians 12:12‐21 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body ‐‐ Jews or Greeks, slaves or free ‐‐ and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single organ, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those parts of the body which we think less honorable we invest with the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part, that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. Luke 4:14‐21 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee, and a report concerning him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." This past Friday, I was invited by the Vice-Chancellor of Student Affairs through the Division of Student Services to be the keynote speaker at a meeting of the academic and guidance counseling staff at IPFW. The topic given me to address was “Religion and the IPFW Student.” So in preparation for my talk I went to the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, the most renowned US organization polling about things religious in the country today. I read over about a half dozen studies from the last year and a half, and this is some of what I shared with the campus counseling staff: One of the studies was entitled, “America: a very competitive religious marketplace” America is on the verge of becoming a minority Protestant country (only 51%); Catholicism has experienced the greatest net losses as a result of affiliation changes (roughly one in ten of all Americans are former Catholics) 92% of Americans believe in the existence of God or universal Spirit, six in ten believe in God as a person, and one in four see God as an impersonal force. Seven in ten religious people in the US say many religions can lead to eternal life, including more than half (57%) of evangelical Christians. 54% of people who attend religious services at least once a week say that the use of torture against terror suspects is “often” or “sometimes” justified, including more than 60% of white, Evangelical Protestants The religious group most likely to say torture is never justified were mainline Protestants; and among them, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Presbyterians ranked the highest in saying torture’s never justified. There was a lot of information about the so-called “unaffiliated.” 50% of Americans, whether affiliated or unaffiliated, report having a “mystical experience,” what they describe as “a moment of sudden religious insight or awakening.” Americans who say they are unaffiliated with any religious tradition are the fastest growing segment of the population, now 15% (almost one in six Americans) up from 8% just 20 years ago. However, they say that the reason for their leaving is not loss of belief but a disenchantment with the institution Almost half of the unaffiliated complain that religious organizations focus on rules at the expense of spiritual experience, and 40% of unaffiliated former Catholics and Protestants say their spiritual needs aren’t being met 41% of unaffiliated say religion is at least somewhat important in their lives, seven in ten believe in God, and 27% attend worship services at least a few times a year 40% of unaffiliated still say that religion is important in their lives, and a third say that they just haven’t found the right religion yet And three-quarters of the formerly unaffiliated who have joined churches said they did so because of the church’s worship style And finally there was some data about how people practice their faith – and notice the spiritual smorgasbord – this isn’t your daddy’s religion anymore. About a fourth of both Americans and Christians say they believe in reincarnation, in astrology, and that spiritual energy can be found in crystals, trees, and other natural elements. About one in six of both Americans and Christians believe in the evil eye, that people can cast spells on others, and say they’ve consulted a psychic 20% of Americans and Christians say they have seen or been in the presence of a ghost (doubled in the last dozen years) And finally – I like this one – by a margin of almost two-to-one, conservatives and Republicans report fewer experiences than liberals or Democrats in communicating with the dead, seeing ghosts, and consulting psychics. A very competitive spiritual marketplace, indeed. In this period of transition and anticipation for our church, what can we learn from this information and how it might apply to our ministry? 1. This is a critical time in the life of the mainline in this country, a vital and decisive time in the life of this church. I ran across a newly-defined malady known in the business world, that embraces a philosophy that plays it safe, that’s happy the way things are, that continues to do things the same way even though conditions change, that’s risk averse, that’s reluctant to change. It’s called: Comprehensive Risk Assessment Psychosis. That’s Comprehensive Risk Assessment Psychosis. If you believe the results of the polling of the last few years, people are ready, people are hungry, people need what we have to offer – do we believe that, that what we offer here is what people need? – and the time is right, my God, the time is now. No matter how comfortable yesterday might be, tomorrow must be our guide, not yesterday. 2. People want leaders with vision that encourage participation, who focus on what they can do together, not what they can’t. If you study groups and the dynamics of change, the more you focus on what you don’t have, what you can’t do, the more difficult it is to change behavior. But the more you focus on what you get when you’re free, on what you already have to build on, on a hopeful vision, if you focus on what you can do, if you focus on the positive power of the possibilities of the present, the easier it is to change what has always been and create what could yet be. Realism, yes; Negativity, no. Honesty, yes; Cynicism, no. Clarity, yes; Distrust, no. Can-do, yes; Apathy, no. Possibilities, yes; Doubt, no. I’m wanting from now on for the word on my lips, our lips, to be: Yes, I believe, Yes, there’s no holding us back, Yes, we can do it, Yes, Yes, not No. 3. People want a church that’s relevant. If it’s true that the church is you, then each of you, every day, every moment of every day, heads out into your own little mission field, and what people are looking for is not so much a church as a end unto itself, but a church that prepares them to live fully in the world, that sends them out into their families, into their jobs, into the world with the proper tools to plant seeds of grace, seeds of God. The average church member has listened to over 6000 sermons, prayed 8000 prayers, sung 20,000 hymns over and over again. How many people have we talked to about Christ, with how many people have we discussed our faith, how many people have we invited to church? Do we believe that what we offer here is what people need? And if we did, how would that change what we say, what we do? 4. People are yearning for community. Each one of us has come here this morning, some of us bearing great burdens, some of us wanting to shout for joy, some depressed and holding back tears, some wanting to share great successes, and still some others simply because it’s where we feel we belong. Will this be a safe place to share, a safe place to be known, a safe place to grow, a safe place to question, a safe place to make mistakes, a safe place to forgive and be forgiven? Look around – Who would you like to get to know better? Who– not already someone you know – who do you need to reach out to? And who needs you? Who do you need to forgive? Who do you need to be forgiven by? 5. And finally, people are spiritually hungry. Hungry is the right word. And they’re so hungry that they’re experimenting with various forms of spiritual experience. They may not be in our pews yet, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be. They’re ready for us; are we preparing for them? They want to both think and feel. Let’s face it, in most Protestant churches, we find word bombardment, but no excitement, no tingle, no power. More and more, my friends, I’m not so much looking for the meaning of life, but for the experience of being alive. I’m not so much looking to understand the nature of God, but to feel God alive inside of me. We think we know, but we don’t; we must learn again in our generation what it means to be church. Isn’t the vision clear? It’s so clear to me, so clear … Inspired worship, moving music, and bold preaching; Service and mission, mission and service, for the least of these, both near and far; And personal, intentional, and deep caring for each other in plenty and in need; Paul says God gives the greater honor to the weak, so that there might be no discord, so that all the members of the body care for one another. If one suffers, all suffer together; if one is honored, all rejoice together. Together. And all of this, all of this with a touch of Grace and a sense of Joy. We have the book. We have a table, and on it, the bread and cup. We have the water. And here we are – together. My gosh, we have everything we need, and everything they need, too. Are we together? Sitting next to each other does not assure that we are together. Shall we be together? Let’s be together, together as we’ve never been together before. Together … Together … Together … Together … Together … Together, my friends. If one of us suffers, we all suffer; if one of us is honored, we all rejoice. Always together.