The Rev. Dr. Martha Jacobs
1 Cor 12:12-31a, Luke 4:14-21
Sunday, January 31, 2016
I suspect that, as we journey through Lent, the fruits of my silent retreat will grow and blossom and find their way into my sermons. This morning, I offer you a first fruit.
As I drove up to Holy Cross Monastery for my silent retreat, I wondered what would be in store for me. I wondered how my spiritual health would be affected and how our spiritual life as a church would be affected. Would I find my time there to be filled with peace or filled with chatter? Would God be easy for me to connect to or would I have to work really hard to hear what God wanted me to hear? Was I going to be there long enough to make it a worthwhile retreat? Was having to work on my sermon for the MLK service going to interfere with my retreat or make it that much richer? I then realized that I had so many questions swirling around in my head that I then questioned if God would even be able to reach me through all of the questions that kept surfacing. And, yet, there was still one more question: could I be still enough to spend time with God and continue to keep all of you in my heart, and have it be a meaningful silent retreat?
When I got to the monastery and walked into my cell, my room for the next several days, I put my bags down and looked up and gasped. There, on the wall, between the two small windows, opposite my bed, was a cross that was a smaller version of our cross. I felt an immediate sense of God’s presence and yours and knew that this was going to be an amazing period of time for me. I don’t believe this was a coincidence. I even looked into some of the other rooms to see if they all had similar crosses. The room I had been assigned appeared to be the only room with this kind of cross in it. So, I realized at that point, that my time with God had already begun. I was able to remain faithful to all of you and to my prayers for you and concerns for you by leaving them at the foot of that cross, as I felt my heart open in a new way to what God had in store for me.
My first day, I was aware of counting the people around me during each of the worship services. There were 5 worship services every day – 7 AM, 9AM, noon, 5 PM and 8:10 PM. At each of these services, I would find myself counting the number of brothers from the monastery and then would look around for a moment to see how many other people were in worship. There was a group of 30 seminarians on retreat, as well as a few others like me, who were on their own personal silent retreats. So, it seemed to me that there should have been about 40 people in worship along with the brothers.
Well, there were usually 10, maybe 12 of us at each of those services that first day and I noticed that they tended to be the same people. I would then leave the chapel and see the other people who had not taken advantage of worship. They were reading, writing, going out for walks, sipping coffee or tea, napping, or just sitting and contemplating.
Initially, I wondered why they weren’t in worship – I mean this was a retreat at a monastery. Shouldn’t worshipping with the brothers be an important part of their retreat experience? As I contemplated this, it occurred to me that I was judging them for what they were doing or not doing on their retreat. Boy, was that an eye-opener for me! It was not my place to tell them (even silently) what they should be doing on their retreat. That was between them and God, just as my retreat was between me and God.
As I was writing about this in my journal, I realized that we do the same thing here. We wonder why people don’t come to worship and yet they do other things that are important for the health of our congregation and greater community as well as for their own spiritual health. While it may seem obvious, as I thought about this, I realized that, not unlike the others on silent retreat, the members of our church are not doing anything less than we who are in worship are doing. They too are connecting with God, but in a different way that is between them and God.
This led me to wonder why we are so fixated on how many people attend worship and how many don’t. When I first started here, one of the things that the deacons and other members stressed to me was their desire to have more people in worship on Sundays. I agreed with that need and have worked along with Keith and our Deacons to ensure that worship is meaningful and has elements that are hopefully interesting to the majority of our congregation. However, over the past almost 3 years, the number of people attending worship, while going up, has not increased by a large margin. And yet, there are more people doing things in and for our church and for the wider community. We have welcomed almost 30 new members into the church over the past 2 years, and yet attendance at worship has not increased by the same number.
So, after my first day on retreat, I stopped counting. I had learned a valuable lesson that was important not only for me on retreat, but for us as a congregation. When we concentrate only on filling the pews, we are negating the other kinds of worshipful work being done here at FCC. As I wrote in my Annual Report message, it takes each one of us, serving as best we can, to make a difference. It is the people who make up our church and who agree to serve in various capacities and give of whatever time, talent and treasure they have so that we can grow our church. What matters more is what people do in service to those who are the “least” of these, rather than the number of people who attend worship.
Some of you may be uncomfortable with this idea; I certainly was and continue to have some angst around this. But think about it – we have members of our church who do incredible things on behalf of our church. They should not be discounted because they find their call to be serving others while not necessarily sitting in the pew. They are as valuable a member of our church family as those of us who do attend worship. And, all of us have different ways that we connect with God and serve God, and all are important.
Which brings me to our readings today. The Gospel reading starts out with “Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, returned to Galilee.” The word “power” caught my attention as I read through this passage in preparation for this sermon. And, then when I read the 1 Corinthians passage, I realized that these two readings connect in the following way:
When the body acts together as one body, there is more power than when individual parts act alone. The power of the Holy Spirit moves through us which brings us a greater power and sense of God’s Holy Spirit. As many have commented in the past year or so, the power of God’s Spirit here at FCC is almost palpable. We are better together. We are much better together because we can accomplish so much more when we work together as one body of Christ. It doesn’t matter if we all worship as one body; it doesn’t matter if some people do things other than attend worship. All are valuable. All are part of this one body of Christ together doing God’s work.
There is no greater or lesser part of Christ’s body here at FCC, whether it is worshipping together, working together on ESP, the Barn Sale, the Tag Sale, singing in the Choir, being a confirmation mentor, serving on a committee or on the Board of Trustees, everything, everything that we do is worshipful work and is part of the body of Christ. And, as such, just like Jesus, we too have the power of the Holy Spirit within us, as we seek to serve the God that is still speaking and the God that is still moving in our world despite the ups and downs that we may see every day. God continues to work through each and every one of us. How much more powerful it is when we act together as one body and not disparate pieces of one body.
Friends, don’t get me wrong, it is wonderful when we worship together and I pray that most of us find worship to be fulfilling. It is also wonderful when we do worshipful work together in committees and on boards, whether it includes opportunities to sell Christmas trees, pour wine for the Wine Tasting, bring in gently used Christmas ornaments and such for our Christmas Bazaar, or setting up the Advent Workshop, all of us are working together for the good of the body of Christ and that is what is required of us.
So, as we move into our Annual Meeting today, let us be mindful that all of us are equal parts of the body of Christ.