Do you not know that you (as an assembly)
are God’s sanctuary, Paul said,
and God’s breath dwells in you?
On Pentecost, the birthday of the Church,
we celebrate our faith that God is here
in a special way doing something wonderful.
Together we become the sanctuary where God
is most palpably present and manifest.
But, today, we are in a curious condition.
92% of Americans believe in God
but only 10% attend church –
which means 82% of Americans believe in God
but don’t see any connection with Church.
So what do they think Church is for?
What do we think Church is for?
A few hundred years ago Christianity
turned into a carrot and stick religion
all about going to Heaven and staying out of Hell.
Church attendance was our admission ticket
at the pearly gates.
If we put in enough hours listening to boring sermons,
God rewards us with a get out of Hell free card.
Eventually someone decided
all we have to do to go to Heaven
is believe that God exists.
As theologian and country singer, Don Williams, said,
I don’t believe that Heaven waits
For only those who congregate.
Granted, God does not require us to log x hours in the pews
as our price of admission to Heaven.
But without the inner transformation that comes
from a lifetime of spiritual practice,
Heaven may feel pretty uncomfortable.
As Milton said,
The mind is its own place, and in itself
can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.
For Milton, like Paul, getting into Heaven isn’t the point.
It’s about the mind.
St. Paul said, Be transformed by the renewing of your minds.
Christian practice is intentionally
turning our attention to Christ
to have our hearts and minds changed by that encounter.
Gathering as his Body is at the heart of that practice.
Our central act of gathering is Communion.
Jesus said, Do this to remember me.
That could mean to bring Our Lord to mind.
And that’s a good thing.
Turning our attention to the Christ in our hearts
brings us peace and empowers us to love
as he loves.
But the word remember also suggests re-collection//,
reassembling that which has been dispersed.
Jesus grew up in Egypt
where he learned some Egyptian religion
which he sometimes used in his teaching.
A central story of Egyptian religion was about
Osiris, god of the afterlife.
Osiris had been killed, his body dismembered,
and the pieces scattered all over the world.
But Isis, no relation to the Islamic militants,
reassembled his body and brought him to life.
Ritually reassembling and resurrecting Osiris
was the central act of Egyptian worship.
We each have something of Christ in us
as we go about the world.
But we have to gather to bring the scattered parts
of Christ together in one room
to be his Body, to know his wholeness.
No one can be the fullness of Christ alone.
But together we are the Body of Christ.
He is here with us and in us.
Our Communion is an encounter
with the Recollected and Risen Lord.
That changes us head to toe.
Communion is the ritual transformation
but there’s a psycho-social side of it too.
The problem with solo spirituality
is it’s all about us.
Left to our own devices,
we create a God in our own image
who will only add bricks to our prison of ego.
But working together as the Church
to carry on Jesus’ mission
is an exercise in transcending our egos.
It requires us to cultivate the qualities of character
essential to working together
despite each other’s quirks, foibles, and idiosyncrasies.
Year by year, Church life makes us new people.
When Paul talked about beingin Christ,
he meant being part of the Body of Christ.
actively engaging in the life of the Church.
Paul said, If anyone is in Christ,
look, they are a new creation.
The old has gone. The new is here.
The Holy Spirit, the Church’s very life,
makes us capable of new things.
In Galatians, Paul gives us a list of 9 things
we can do by the power of the Spirit.
The first is love.
We come to Church to learn the art of love.
And Paul says that opens the way to joy –
deep down shout hallelujah joy – then peace,
forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness, and self-control.
Being Church isn’t easy.
It’s a challenging ropes course in all these
disciplines of relationship.
That’s how we become new.
In Ezekiel, the Lord said,
I will give you a new heart
and put a new spirit within you.
I will remove from you your heart of stone
and give you a heart of flesh.
If we want to do this world any good,
we need to get clear on what we have to offer.
It isn’t admission tickets.
This isn’t the celestial box office.
We are in the business of new spirits and hearts of flesh.
Together we are doing something no one can do alone.
We are harnessing for God the energies of love.
Our life together has a mission
-- to fill our world with God’s love.
That’s the difference between just believing in God
and becoming disciples of Christ.
Solo believers are like the Desert Father, Abba Lot,
who knew he was missing something,
so he visited Abba Joseph.
Lot said, I keep my little rule, my little fasts,
my prayer, my meditation, my silence . . .
What more should I do?
Abba Joseph held up both his hands
and his fingers turned into 10 lamps of flame
as he said, Why not become fire?
And what is that fire?
The Jesuit physicist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, answered,
Someday . . . we will harness for God
the energies of love.
Then for the second time in human history
we will have discovered fire.