Church is Inconvenient (John 3:1-8)

Joan MacPherson, January 28, 2018
Part of the Sunday series, preached at a Sunday Morning service

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Church is Inconvenient
John 3:1-8
I wonder what Nicodemus was thinking as he started that night time journey toward Jesus. He had to have heard something about this man, at least I think he would have. Why else would he seek him out? According to John’s gospel Jesus has been doing some ministry that likely would catch attention. Changing water into wine and letting everyone know there is enough, don’t fret, God is present with abundant grace. Turning over tables and decrying the temple leadership, well that isn’t such a feel good story. Not a feel good story for those who are in charge and have privilege. But for the marginalized? The ones who feel left out? Are they starting to wonder if this man has something of hope for them and for the world?
We don’t get to know what was actually happening as Jesus was walking the land, praying, gathering, caring. Phones were not rising in the air to document his actions and words. We don’t have facts from reliable tested sources. We have the oral history and passed on traditions of people and communities who have gathered around Jesus and in that gathering had experiences that caused them to rearrange their lives, orient their lives to the love and way of God made known to them in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. That’s it. And it is so much less information, data, detail then I am used to. I know so many more specifics about the next yoga mat I am going to purchase (though I am still researching and gathering even more information) then I do about Jesus and God.
We live in a culture and time that is saturated with information. Much of that information is amazing and helpful and/but sometimes all that information and googling stops us from pondering, wondering, imagining. Our most mature and vital spiritual selves are a confounding and profound blend of both. Intentional study/attention to learning about our Christian tradition and the broad love of God made known to us in Jesus and time set aside to pay attention/connect with/open to the spirit of love that is loose and active in our midst. Time and intention to let God do what God does - hold together the pieces that are fractured, work love into the scars and places of resistance, stretch muscles of compassion and arms of welcome, enfold us in an unconditional, infinite, accepting, transforming love. God and faith limited to intellectual concepts leaves out the wonder, the power, the bold visions and courage that are available to us to make a difference and shape our lives in the realities of the hurts, dysfunction, disappointment that are.
We live in a time that is saturated with data and information. We are surrounded by people who are sure a little time on the net will get us whatever we need. It is jarring and uncomfortable to practice/seek a different way. It was jarring and uncomfortable for Nicodemus also. He didn’t live in our hyper information culture but his experience feels to me like what we experience now. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a prominent leader among the Jewish people. He has studied the scripture, he knows the legalism and laws for proper practicing of his faith. He shares that information and way of life with others. He is doing what is expected and it is working for him. A prominent leader. Got it all in the bag. Except that something starts to happen to him. The gospel tells us that under the cover of darkness he went to speak with Jesus about what was going on. Nicodemus acknowledges that Jesus is doing things/ministry that could only happen if God were enabling it. Jesus affirms Nicodemus. Yup, it’s all from God - but Jesus doesn’t it leave it at that. He goes on to talk about being born from above and Nicodemus’ head starts to hurt. What is he talking about this Jesus? We have the Torah, the laws, the practice, we know what to do and how to access God and God’s ways - and Jesus says, nope, you don’t have it exactly, you have the information but how about you let the experience happen also. Born from above - not physical labor and delivery but opening to experiencing and encountering the love of God loose and transforming the world. Jesus says, in John’s gospel enigmatic way, be open to letting God in and do what God does and let your self find life in the mystery and power of God - which is gift and challenge. Sometimes downright inconvenient. Love infusing us that both heals and compels us open our hearts more, even when we would prefer not to. Love gathering us together as the church which is profoundly beautiful and inconvenient.
On this morning when we celebrate Aaron, Paige and Al covenanting in membership with us lets take some time to ponder the inconvenience of church. I read this piece written by Pater Marty in the Christian Century and it moved my heart and so I want to share it with you -
“ A parishioner told me recently that her daughter’s family had found the perfect church in Dallas. “They don’t go often,” she said, “because the church live streams its ser¬vices. They can watch it anytime. If the kids are playing in the family room or Mom or Dad are busy pulling brunch together, they can have worship on in the background. It’s really neat. Have you ever heard of this?”
“Yes,” I told her, “I know all about live streaming.” My eyes must have reflected a lack of interest because the conversation moved on to other topics….
I have decided that making Sabbath worship an integral part of one’s life is highly inconvenient. For those who stay away from communal worship because Sunday is the day to arrange personal leisure, take special care of oneself, or get the kids off to soccer, making time for church is just plain inconvenient.
For those of us who make church a priority, Sabbath worship is equally inconvenient, though in a different way. We sing songs we didn’t pick, hear scriptures we didn’t choose, commit to endeavors for which we must sacrifice, and—here’s the worst—sit next to people who aren’t even our closest friends.
Those who regularly avoid church often harbor misperceptions about religion and see it as an antique way of life. Plenty of cultural Christians I know seem indifferent to God and are convinced that the church’s priorities are out of line. But in our world of customized living, where a mobile device can effortlessly order up my preferences and bring most everything to my doorstep, church is simply inconvenient. Church pulls me away from my self-designed life and requires that I take some initiative in another world that has nothing in common with “doing whatever I please.”
Convenience often feels great, but it’s not an unalloyed good. If I exercise only when it’s convenient, or buy groceries only at the convenience store, or drink coffee only from paper cups, these choices do not make a good life. Inconveniences can hold their own deep value, especially when they ask us to experience a larger life than the one we typically design around our personal comfort.
We Christians love to talk about Jesus, and with good reason. But it’s impossible to have Jesus Christ apart from the church. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s reading of the apostle Paul led him to say that we cannot know Christ apart from Christian community. As wonderful as it might be to have Christ apart from the hypocrisies and distractions of other people who believe, Christ is embedded in the church. Sounds foolish to say, but we are Christ’s body. That inconvenient claim, that we are joined to other body parts that don’t necessarily think or look like we do, can seem either ugly or beautiful. I find it beautiful.” Amen.

Joan MacPherson
Main Street Congregational UCC
January 28, 2018

Note: This manuscript was prepared for oral delivery only.
It contains excerpted material not properly cited.
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