Friday, September 24, 2010

What I Learned At Church: a sermon

I decided to write my last Beresheth sermon about the church, since I’m leaving it. Not leaving the church entirely, mind you. Just leaving my position as FBC’s Minister to Young Adults and of Creative Discipleship… leaving working for the church in an official capacity.

I thought about preaching about transition, but I’ve already preached on that subject six times since Beresheth started four years and 9 months ago, so after much thought, and whining, and staring at the clock, it finally came to me… I would write about what I learned at church.

Again, not specifically this church mind you, although this church has taught me a lot and will inevitably make its way into this piece. This is not a farewell sermon to FBC, but rather a sermon about the church in general, what the “little c” church has taught me in my life.

And so, here we go…

What I Learned At Church

I learned at church that you’re supposed to dress up. Apparently God has good taste in fashion and prefers that we look our best. This was not a plus for me as a child because I hated dresses and mary janes, and while my younger sister Amy probably thought dressing up for church all the way down to her ruffley-little-girl-underwear was a little slice of heaven, I hated it. I much preferred in college finding more casual churches. But even at my “it’s cool to dress down at church” churches, I discovered one wanted to look one's best even if one’s best is holey jeans and a hip tee-shirt. For what I discovered as a teenager was that we wanted to look our best not for God, but for the boys we would meet at church, and in college, for the men we would marry.

Except I didn’t marry a man I met at church (or any man at all) which leads me to something else I learned at church. You can’t judge a book by its cover.

Even the “really good Christian boys” who wear slacks to church with pressed shirts tucked in and a belt that matches their either black or brown shoes respectively can break a good Christian girl’s heart, for boys will always be boys and girls will always be girls.

And in that regard, people will be people and the world’s greatest criticism of the church is also what I find to be the most encouraging thing I learned at church… it’s full of broken people. Yep, we have the same number of scoundrels as the country club you belong to or the PTA board you’re on, as many hypocrites as you vote into office and then rip their bumper sticker off your car, as many jerks and sluts and liars and cheats as Enron or the Red Light district or Wall Street.

Why? Because I have not come for the well. It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick, Jesus said.

And the church is full of sick people. Now granted, I wouldn’t mind it if one or two more of them were also in therapy as well, but at the very least I’m glad they’re (we’re) in church. Because that’s the best part: God chooses to work with us, with humanity. Sometimes I just read the genealogy list in Matthew chapter 1 over and over again. Whereas most people skip the genealogies, I love them, for they remind me that God works the most with the most ordinary people. So the same people you see in the drug store, or picking up their kids from school, or at Opal Divine’s are the same people who are in church because God is in the business of redeeming people.


And speaking of, there’s quite a variety of us. This I also learned at church. Red and Yellow, Black and White. I swear I was in high school before I realized there weren’t actually red people walking around on some continent they hadn’t yet gotten to in social studies. I asked my father when I was a little girl if there really were red and yellow people to which he responded yes, and since parents always tell the truth to their children, I believed him. Granted, he should have gone on at that time to explain the nuances of color beyond the eight colors I had in my crayola box, but I don’t fault my father for my over-active imagination.

At church I’ve met so many different types of people. Singers and doctors and architects and postal workers and teachers and lawyers and dress-makers and stay-at-home-parents and the list just goes on and on. And really none of them looked the same or smelled the same or spoke the same way. Despite being primarily at white, middle-class churches all my life, we did have a good deal of diversity. And if we didn’t, we traveled to places to meet new kinds of people and form new relationships to diversify ourselves. And the church taught me not to love people discriminatorily by sizing them up with my eyes, but to love with my hands (which are God’s) and my heart (which is God’s) and my wallet (which is God’s) and my voice (which is God’s). The church taught me from the very beginning that there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, nor male nor female for we are all one in Christ Jesus. And I learned at church how to treat everyone fairly if I believed that was true.

The church taught me much about relationships. (Not just about dating). The church taught me how to love my mother and father while at the same time count my relationship to my heavenly Mother and Father above all love I would experience here on earth. The church taught me how to respect authority – ministers, teachers, leaders – and later, when I was the authority, how not to abuse that position. The church taught me how to live the church’s mission which has an open door policy and also how to guard myself against wolves that sneak in covered in sheep clothing.

The church taught me that above all grace reigns, and that everyone deserves a second or third chance. The church also taught me about my own second and third chances though, and the church taught me that sometimes, in order for me to be healthy, I have to say good-bye to people who take too many chances with me. I learned at church that hope wins and despite what the world teaches me about poverty, war, prejudice, and ignorance, hope wins in my own life and hope will one day win the world over.

The church taught me that I too play a role in the demoralizing and demolishing of this world and for this I must confess my sin as an individual and as a participant in a larger community. It is my responsibility, the church taught me, to live out Christ’s mission of abundant life both personally and communally.

And I think it is for this that I am most grateful. My favorite verse in the Bible used to be, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young but set an example for all believers.” On my 20th birthday, I cried because I thought that couldn’t be my favorite verse anymore (oh for the days when turning 20 meant getting old!). But now, my favorite verse is this… “I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.”

And while I could go on and on about what I’ve learned in church (both good and bad things!), it is this last lessen for which I am currently the most grateful. The church taught me that my relationship with Jesus Christ is one of abundant living. And because of my hope in Him, I can live happily, in freedom, no matter what my circumstances.

And so I’m off, despite the wonder that is First Baptist Church, to do more abundant living in the world. My thanks to the “little c” church and the “big C” of First Baptist Church for teaching me so much about life and God and wonder thus far.

But as I leave, I wonder, and leave you with the question I started with…

What, my friends, did you learn at church?


Naomi said...

i love you. and i thought this was a really fitting sermon. and it really has made me think.

Todd Crouse said...

Hey! My girlfriend worked for Enron.
what are you trying to say?

;) that aside, I really appreciate the paragraph that starts with " ...people will be people and the world’s greatest criticism of the church is also what I find to be the most encouraging thing I learned at church… it’s full of broken people."

I couldn't agree more.

I'm so disconnected with everyone in Austin these days, I had no idea you were on your way out of vocational ministry. I remember beresheth being one of my favorite parts of the week - you created a unique kind of liturgy that helped the those of us with ADD tendencies (and normal people too i suppose)find peaceful and meaningful meditation through a simultaneous multimedia experience (not an easy task). I always admired you for fighting to establish a career in what is probably the most sexist field left in America -- the church. (Kudos to Roger and the rest of the staff at FBC for recognizing the gem they had under their noses!)

I'm not sure what the future holds for you, but I'm sure you will push boundaries and give'em hell wherever you go. wish you the best!

Taylor Sandlin said...

Ann, great sermon. And God's blessings on whatever comes next.

Rev Kev said...

Love it! Thanks for sharing.