A couple of times a week, when our schedules let us, Mariah and I sit down on the couch, and open a bottle of wine, and turn on the tv, and start flipping through the streaming services.
And we could just go right to one of the shows we’re in the middle of right now. We could just watch Hustle, or 30 Rock, or Mythic Quest. But we don’t.
We look for a movie.
Now it’s important for you to understand that we don’t have a movie in mind. We don’t have a genre in mind. We don’t even have a streaming service in mind. We’re just browsing.
So we scroll through the movies on Apple… and Netflix… and Amazon… and Disney… and maybe even Hulu. And because we have done this many times before, we say that we’ll only browse for five minutes.
And that’s what we do. We browse for five minutes. And then, nine times out of ten, we watch Hustle, or 30 Rock, or Mythic Quest.
And here’s the thing. We have all of these subscriptions to streaming services like Apple and Netflix and Amazon and Disney and Hulu. But we’re not always using them.
We might go a month without watching anything on one of them, or two of them, or three of them. And I could research what’s going to be on and strategically unsubscribe from each one when there’s nothing on, and resubscribe to each one when there it.
But I don’t. I just pay the monthly fee… and they sit there in the background… waiting for me to decide that there’s something I want to watch… or not.
Because here’s the thing about those subscription services: in general, they don’t care if I use the service; they only care that I pay the subscription. And I know that the truth is a little more complicated than that. But there’s the kernel of a truth there.
This week, we’re continuing our other summer sermon series.
On those Sundays when we’re only meeting at the church building, we’re doing a sermon series called Be a Blessing. And if you haven’t been to those services, I encourage you to join us sometime; or to check out the worship videos on our website; or to listen to our podcast.
But on these Sundays, when we’re also meeting by the vines at TYCOGA, we’re asking this question: Why Church? Why do this thing? Why get up on Sunday mornings… or show up at meetings… or mentor a confirmand… or lead the youth group… or commit daring acts of charity… with these weird people?
And there are a lot of possible answers to those questions. A few weeks ago, we heard one of them. Why Church? Because this is a community where you matter. And this week, we’re hearing another one of them: Why Church? Because this is a community with a purpose.
And our reading today is from this letter that James wrote. And we know that it’s a serious letter, because it’s not a letter to one person, and it’s not a letter to one congregation. It’s a letter to the whole church. It’s a letter to all of us.
And he writes, basically, more or less,
Y’know, there are some people who hear the word—who hear the gospel, who hear the good news—and then… don’t do anything with it. They’re like people who look in a mirror. And they see who they are and they see who God is calling them to be. And they get fixed up. And then they step away from the mirror… and they forget everything that they saw.
Don’t be like that. Don’t hear the word and then forget it. Don’t see the sight and then forget it. Hear the word. See the sight. And do the thing: care for the orphan and the widow, care for the most vulnerable, love your neighbor as yourself, love strangers, love enemies, show mercy, commit daring acts of charity, follow Christ.
Believe. Have faith. Do the thing.
And the truth is that it is easy to… y’know… not… do the thing.
It’s easy to put on the symbols of faith… to be part of worship on special days, to put fish stickers on our cars, to tick the little box next to ‘Christian’ when we fill out a survey… to pay our subscription fee… and then to go on with our lives… and leave our faith sitting in the background, waiting for us to decide that there’s something we want to do… or not.
And I know that’s easy to do because I do it. I get caught up in the ways of the world. I measure success in terms of website visits, and worship attendance, and budget size, and new members.
And I’m a pastor. I spend a lot of time looking in that mirror, seeing who I am and who God is calling me to be. And then I step away from the mirror… and I forget what I saw.
And I suspect—I don’t know, but I suspect—that if I had a life where I didn’t look in that mirror as much… I would forget even more.
Earlier, I said that those subscription services don’t care if I use the service; they only care that I pay the subscription. And I said that the truth was a little more complicated than that, but that there was a kernel of truth there.
Every so often, I get an email from Netflix. They say things like, “Hey, you started watching Lupin and there’s more Lupin and you should get back to that,” or “Hey, here’s this Maria Bamford comedy special that you might like,” or, “Hey, we just made this show called We the People and we think you should watch it.”
And it’s not that they care if I watch. Not really. But they measure their success in terms of the number of views. And they want my precious, precious data. And there’s more to our little transactional relationship than my subscription fee.
And if that’s true about Netflix… well…
Faith is not a subscription to Netflix; faith is a membership in the Peace Corps. Faith isn’t something that sits in the background, waiting for us to decide that there’s something we want to do or not; faith is the act of being in the world-as-it-is and living as though we were in the world-as-God-is-calling-it-to-be.
Let me say that again:
Faith is the act of being in the world-as-it-is and living as though we were in the world-as-God is-calling-it-to-be. Faith is the act of loving our neighbor as ourselves, of loving complete strangers, of loving total enemies. Faith is the act of demanding justice and handing out mercy and knowing that mercy triumphs over justice every time.
Faith is the act of seeing someone who is homeless and hungry… and saying, “keep warm and eat your fill,”… and giving them shelter and food… and trusting that it will work. And, if it doesn’t work, trying again and doing more.
Faith is the act of changing the world.
So why church? Why do this thing? Why get up on Sunday mornings… or show up at meetings… or mentor a confirmand… or lead the youth group… or commit daring acts of charity…
…or volunteer at the Referral Center or for the Summer Lunchbox Program… or visit someone in the hospital or at the old folks’ home… or stand up for the oppressed… or do anything else that is wild and dangerous and full of grace…
…with these weird people?
Because this is a community where you can see the world-as-it-is and the world-as-God-is-calling-it-to-be. Because this is a community where you can see who you are and who God is calling you to be. Because this is a community where we can gather around a table with the one who is calling us into a kingdom of love…
…the one who called the worlds into being… the one who saw that we were broken… the one who came into the world as one of us to share our common lot among a dispossessed people in an occupied land… the one who redeems us and repairs the world…
…and receive food and drink… grace and mercy… for the work ahead.
And because this is a community where we support one another in that work. Because this is a community where we support one another in doing the thing.
And a community of people who do the thing—who follow Christ wherever he leads—is good news. For you. For me. For us. For the world.