Rev. Stacy Swain
Will you pray with me: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O God our rock and our redeemer. AMEN.
Head into Boston these days and you will see on the side of the public buses a rather ubiquitous advertisement for the Gap, that rather trendy clothing store. It shows a lovely young man and young woman turned slightly in upon each other as together they wear one large, lime green, T shirt. One has one arm through one armhole. The other has another arm through the other armhole. There is a look of serene contentment on each person’s face. The banner across the ad reads “Be One.”
This ad caught my eye because today we celebrate being one gathered body. One faith community. We will be headed downstairs after worship for our annual meeting, where we will recognize and celebrate all we have done this past year and all we will do in the years to come. This ad caught my eye and got me thinking, though thankfully for only a fleeting moment, that perhaps I should dash out to the Gap and buy matching Union Church T shirts for us all
You know by now that I seem to have a thing for advertisements and bumper stickers. They often show up as sermon illustrations and can be seen scrawled across the chalk board in my study. I am fascinated by these short, pithy messages because those that craft them are superb diagnosticians. They seem able to see into the heart and soul of our culture. They see and then tap into the deep psychological, viscerally deep seeded desire or need that we all have.
But I also love them because they always get it just half right. They hook us in by speaking to our hearts desire but then pull out the snake oil and begin proposing that they have just the thing that we need to meet that desire we have. Just buy a t shirt at the gap and your for need for intimacy, to draw close to others, to be one will be met. It is that easy.
And often times we fall for it, don’t we? I know I have. I have fallen for those simple truths and easy answers more than once. But what happens when you buy that T shirt, get it home and put it on? Nothing. Its just me standing there in front of a mirror wearing a shirt that actually does nothing for me. And so there it goes into the back of the closet with the others. And the desire, that underlying need that prompts one to buy the T shirt in the first place, well that remains and ache on the heart.
Because these advertisement crafters are so adroit at diagnosing what ails us and because the elixir they offer is so appealing, I think we need church more than ever. We need church as an anecdote to the quick truths and easy answer culture we are in. We need church because it is here that we take the time to really get down into the heart of our heart. Here we hold each other gently and walk with each other faithfully as we ask the hard questions of faith and as we really take the time to explore what is on our hearts. What are our hearts desires? We ask how are we to be in relationship with each other? Is there really more to the world that what we can see and call the secular and if so what does being in relationship with that “moreness,” that sacredness looks like? And we need this church for it reminds us that the way of exploring these questions and truly gets down to know our hearts desire has nothing to do with conformity. I am so glad I quickly abandoned the matching T shirt idea for this church, this gathered community has nothing to do with looking the same but everything to do with discovering and being our true selves.
The foundational identity of this gathered body is one of inclusion but it is not one of sameness. We are gathered in from many church and faith backgrounds and experiences. We are about inclusion of differences among us and delight in our multi textured tapestry that through the multiplicity of our back grounds and beliefs we weave together into our life as one body. As we be one, together.
And weaving together a multi-textured tapestry was exactly what the spirit was doing on that day of Pentecost so long ago. “Suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began talking in languages they did not even know they knew. But during this festival time, Jerusalem was filled with people from every nation under heaven and at the sound the crowd gathered around the disciples and this great crowd was amazed because regardless of where they came from, regardless of the different languages they spoke, or the customs they carried, they could understand what the disciples were saying. It was as if the Holy Spirit was knitting all together as one. All gathered there suddenly had an incredibly powerful experience of being one. Of being a part of something amazing, and life changing.
It is this same spirit, writes Paul to the community in Rome that knows us deeply. This same spirit hears the groans our hearts desire. It hears that which those advertisement experts at the Gap diagnosed. God hears our deep craving to be one, to be in life giving loving relationship with each other and all the world. And based on his own very powerful experience with the presence of God in his own life and touching his deep hearts longing, Paul assures the community in Rome and us that through the love of God our deepest longings can indeed truly be met. We do not need to rush out and buy T-shirts. We just need to be with each other and with God.
And so on this day when we celebrate the life of this church, let us celebrate and recognize the tapestry of difference that through the power of the Spirit and our love for each is woven together as one. And let that difference among us enrich and enliven our life together. Let us resist the pull to sameness and conformity and instead live into our deepest truest selves. Let this church stand as a critique and counter to prevailing cultural currents that leave so many people out there unsatisfied, lonelier than ever and that leave them, most likely with closets full of green t shirts they will never wear. And Let us walk gently and lovingly with each other so that each and every one of us may encounter that deep place within us where our hearts longings meet the love of God that holds us all. Amen.