Two Cents

Mark 12:38-44

It’s just my 2¢. It is one of those deceptive phrases. Two cents is not much money but whenever I hear someone “add their 2¢” it is always something that they value more than a couple copper coins! So it was when the widow contributed her 2¢, the gift was significant beyond its monetary value.

Jesus was more than a little critical of some of those who were the active church attenders of his day, the scribes and Pharisees in particular. His criticism was that they had lost too much of a sense of what faith was really about.  Instead of being a call to service, it became a matter of showing status and all of the power and privilege that went along with it. He compares the much larger gifts of the rich to that of a widow who places 2 copper coins into the temple treasury, and astonishingly suggests that the widow has given the greater gift because she gave everything that she had; she committed everything.

In many ways I think the reality of what the church is facing is a matter of commitment. I think that even among those who still consider church important, it has been slowly moving to the margins in terms of our priorities. A book I have been reading says this:

“Most churches (with a few obvious exceptions) are drying. Extracurricular activities from music lessons to sports participation are considered by most parents to be more effective at forming good character… than church. Spirituality has become wildly popular but so deeply individualistic that the fastest-growing “religious affiliation” among this under 30 are “none” and “spiritual-not-religious.”*

This is a question I have been asking myself lately: What does it mean to be the church today when it appears that we are no longer going to be the social and spiritual center of the community? I fear that the legacy we have inherited looks back too much and is too “practical.” The church has become maybe too much a building to be maintained, too much of a series of programs to be offered,  and our mission has become too much of a matter of raising enough money to keep it all afloat. The widow’s offering is particularly poignant in all of this because Jesus recognizes commitment over content, faithfulness over results. The faithfulness of God and our own commitment are particularly significant in the midst of change.

As most of you know, I believe that the church is in the midst of very significant change. I think we will need to see ourselves more as an evangelical outpost than a religious institution. That is a risk-filled reality that will involve all sorts of experimentation, reprioritizing, failure, and regrouping. It sounds a bit like parenting in the digital age! Everything has changed and there is only the vaguest of directions to follow. Still, there is hope, and there is a God who calls us, like the widow, for the sake of the Gospel!

*Canoeing the Mountains, Tod Bolsinger, InterVarsity Press, 2015.

Sinners and Saints

I was recently chatting with an old friend. We both have adult children and we both are old enough to see ourselves playing out in the lives of our offspring. The vantage point of a parent is fascinating. There was a time when I was a parent in function, now I am a parent in fact. The work of parenting is pretty much over and I am left to mostly observe. If you have children and are anything like me, you see recognizable positives and negatives.  We do make an imprint on the generation that comes after us. They pick up on our strengths and they pick up on our weaknesses and to that they add that what is distinctively their own.

Made in God’s Image 

I wonder if that might not be something like what it means to be made in God’s image. God makes an imprint on us that is recognizable. I imagine that God looks on us as children and sees the intimate connection we have with the god self, but it would be hard to miss the part that is “distinctively our own,” we have ventured into a reality that is less than what God intended. In the language of the church, “we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of the Lord.”In the language of St. Augustine, we are simultaneously saint and sinner. It is a Lutheran understanding of “saint.” Last evening at confirmation, one of the students said, its like we are completely good, but we sin every minute. That is about as good of a description as there could be!

Of Saints and Sinners

There are those who distinguish “saints” that follow God’s will, and “sinners,” who do not. There are others who set aside Sainthood for those extra-ordinary folks who standout in their faithfulness. Either way, most of us, if we are honest are somewhere in the middle. We do plenty that is saintly and plenty that is sinful. That is a rather Lutheran way of seeing things. “Saints” are not just those who led particularly exemplary lives and so are remembered. It includes those who have not quite lived up to God’s expectations as well, in other words it includes all of us!

The Communion of Saints

In the Apostles Creed, it speaks of the communion of the saints. For me that is a connection not only with those who have gone before, those living and dead who have touched my life with light and goodness, but it also includes those who have not completely measured up. That is good news, because it means there is a place for sinners like me!

A Mighty Fortress

Castle church in Wittenberg, Germany where Martin Luther posted his 95 Thesis Against the Sale of Indulgences that started the protestant reformation. Around the tower the title of his most famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God, is inscribed.

We worshipped at the church where the Reformation officially began 501 years ago this past week. I was expecting a much more humble birthplace for the Reformation. That comes from the legends I have heard of Luther’s father being unhappy with his decision to take Holy Orders as opposed to the more financially lucrative career in law that was planned for him, and with the seemingly obvious thought that the vow of poverty would mean that the church was meant more for the work of the Gospel than for a place to be adorned. Like so many things, the reality is not always the same as the mental picture we paint.

Worship at Castle church on the Sunday before Reformation Sunday

The congregation was larger than attends on an average Sunday at Grace, but not by many. Worship was “in the vernacular,” as Luther would have had it, but in this case that was German, so I was left to look at the format and structure of the service. The sermon was 23 minutes long and delivered from a high pulpit. The children (there were about 8) were led out for “children’s church” right before the sermon. They collected 2 offerings. One at the usual place in the service and another “for the work of the congregation” as people exited.  This may have been where it all started, but it is not a place where the church is flourishing anymore than any place else I have been. 15% of the city’s residents claim to be protestant and 80% claim no religious affiliation at all. Some of that may be a result of 51 years of socialist rule that promoted atheism but still the numbers are striking.

The pastor greeting the worshippers outside the “Theses” doors at Castle church.

I would like to say that I was completely enthralled by the whole experience but I was not. Yes the structure was exquisite. Yes Martin Luther and Phillip Melancthon are buried in the back of the sanctuary. Yes this is where Luther attached his 95 Thesis Against the Sale of Indulgences.  Here is where it all began. Still for me it was not really a “spiritual” pilgrimage. Instead it was an affirmation of how much of a transition we in the church are in the midst of! There was something very empty about Castle Church. That emptiness felt a little too familiar.

Luther had a sense that the Reformation was to be an ongoing pursuit. There was a time when the church was at the center of community (quite literally). The pastors were not simply preachers; they dispensed charity, served as attorneys, took in orphans, taught children and legislated morality. Most of those roles are gone, maybe rightly so, but the change that we are in the midst of now could be even more profound than the Reformation that began 500 years ago.

The gravestone of my Ancestors in Forgue Scotland is so worn that its inscription cannot be read.

The church seems to be becoming more narrow in its focus. More spiritual and less physical. The best of music and sermons can be downloaded to your phone to be watched or listened to at your convince. There are agencies that specialize in all those charitable and social functions that were once filled by the church. If you have a spiritual or biblical question, you can search Google or post it to FaceBook and find more answers than you can read.

I visited the home village of my earliest known Scottish ancestors. The church no longer has a pastor or worships as a congregation, the building is owned by “Friends of Forgue Kirk,” the graves are in the cemetery out back. The stone is unreadable, the site of the house where they lived is a barely evident pile of rocks, which would have been unrecognizable if it were not for a kindly gentleman we met at the cemetery, he knew were Pennyburn was, but you could sense that knowledge disappearing with his generation…

The physical disappears. The structures that we come to depend on fail. The people we depend on fail. It seems like hope is lost. The last stanza of Martin Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” might be appropriate. Sometime in the past the title was added to the tower of Castle Church. It looks and maybe even sounds like the church is the fortress, but really it is the Church. And that is not really about structure at all.

“God’s Word forever shall abide,
no thanks to foes, who fear it;
for God himself fights by our side
with weapons of the Spirit.
Were they to take our house,
goods, honor, child, or spouse,
though life be wrenched away,
they cannot win the day.
The kingdom’s ours forever!”

Hope is not lost!

History and What Remains

Around Europe there are bronze markers in from of the addresses of those who died in concentration camps. These are a couple doors down from the hotel where we stayed in Berlin.

Berlin is a City That Remembers

Berlin is a city that “officially remembers.” There is a memorial to the Jews that died in the holocaust. There is a memorial to the homosexuals who were put to death in concentration camps. All around the city are obvious and subtle remembrances of the wall that once separated the East from the West. As there is in much of Europe, there are bronze markers inlaid in the sidewalk in front of the addresses of those who died in the holocaust.`  There is even a sign that marks the location of the bunker where Hitler lived out his last days (an appropriately undeveloped site which serves as a parking lot). In the latest remodel of the Reichstag the architect Norman Foster even preserved the graffiti the soviet soldiers wrote on the walls with burnt sticks at the conclusion of WWII. Yes, there is plenty that looks beyond these dark past events, but it would be hard to miss their presence.

When the wall coverings from a 1960 renovation of the Reichstag were removed architect Norman Foster chose to leave the graffiti left by the invading Soviet soldiers in place in the 1999 (current) renovation.

My son Ben was 6 years old when the wall separating East and West Germany came down, so anything other than a united Germany is something that he only knows through history. Kathy and I were 4 years old when it was constructed, so the division between East and West and particularly the Communist terror of the East was the truth we grew up with. My mother was 5 years old in 1939 when Germany invaded Poland beginning the European expression of World War II. It is fascinating how having experienced these different realities influences our understanding.

I am a Child of the Cold War

Being born in 1957 means that I grew up with the Cold War. The “Iron Curtain,” otherwise known as the Berlin wall, was the dividing line between ideologies, a separation of people that at the time seemed obvious. This might be a Western view, but it would be hard to miss that West thrived and the East withered. What sat underneath every thing was a great sense that “communism” was an oppressive enemy and that the Berlin Wall in particular, served primarily to keep the East German’s from escaping to the West. At least from a Western perspective, it functioned as a kind of  of local containment of the world’s Communist evil. Though this view of communism’s intrinsic evil was fading for me by the end of the war in Vietnam, and the general opening of the east, it was not completely gone. In 1978, one of our classmates was caught trying to smuggle three East Germans out of the country in the trunk of his car and he received a 2 1/2 year prison sentence.  We understood this part of the world to be a dangerous place. When the wall came down in 1989, it seemed like an impossible reality.

The East and the West

We visited two former SED sites. Hohenschönhausen prison and the Museum “der runden Ecke.” Both seemed like something out of a 1970’s spy movie and both had a peculiar smell which we were told was the smell of East German plastic. It was distinctive and almost 30 years later it is still there. The past has a way of remaining. The University of Potsdam, where my son Ben is finishing his post-doctoral studies, is not an old institution. It was established in the 90’s on the site of a former SED training facility. The original buildings on campus were used to train the Stasi, among the most hated, feared institutions of the East German Government. On the same campus, he works out the inner working of a chemistry that I will never understand. History should be easier, but this is even harder to understand.

One of the tallest “mountains” in Berlin is a debris pile burying a former Nazi training facility. It is now the site of an abandoned NSA listening post turned Urban Exploration destination.

I am told there is a controversy in Berlin these days specifically, and in Germany in general about how central all of this corporate remembrance should be?  Indeed, it would be easy to miss– the line of bricks inlayed into the sidewalk and crossing the street that marks the location of the wall. Berlin today is a thriving city. Indeed it would be easy to miss that the hill we climbing to an old and abandoned NSA (National Security Administration) listening post built to monitor East Germany, was placed on a massive debris pile that intentionally buried a Nazi training facility under the remnants of the bombed out remains of the city.

But Do the Victors Remember?

It has long been said that the victors write the history. I think it could also be true that the victors tend to not be bothered with remembering. I have been to the site of Wounded Knee. It is not a likely destination in South Dakota and I suspect most Americans do not even know what the “Trail of Tears” was. We conveniently forget that there were 10 detainment camps scattered across the west during World War II were US citizens of Japanese descent were held, and it is not surprising that there are those who are opposed to the establishment of the new memorial to those who where lynched in Alabama.

It seems that in this era, when the country I live in is considering the construction of a wall, and there seems to be a general sense of the dangers of those who are racially or socially unlike us, we too might consider the past…

God helps those who help themselves

Mark 10:35-45

“God helps those who help themselves.” It sounds like it is from the Bible but the truth is, it is not. Sometimes we think we have God figured out but most often find God to be different than we expect. Jesus just finished telling the disciples that suffering, death, and resurrection were in the future. This was probably not what they were expecting but it also was not the first time they heard it either. On the heels of this announcement, a couple of disciples come to him with a request.

Sons of Thunder

There is really something a little presumptuous in James and John’s request when they come to Jesus and say “we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” We would have to assume that they somehow thought that they were somehow entitled to make this sweeping request on account of being disciples.  It could have been a bucket of money or a palace or a prestigious position, which is closer to what they asked for– “Grant us to sit, one at your right and one at your left…” Earlier in the Gospel of Mark (3:16-17) they are described as the “Sons of Thunder.” In Luke when the Samaritans were unresponsive to Jesus’ message, they wanted to call down fire from heaven and burn them. (Luke 9:54). These were probably not quiet soft spoken disciples. They were the Sons of Thunder after all! So when they asked, it was a request that came from the power and prestige they must have thought they represented.

Entitlement

We live in an entitled society. Those who study such things often say that as power and prestige increases, people’s sense of entitlement increases too. It would be a great thing if the more we had, the more we would be willing to give more. But often enough, the opposite happens. We become more convinced that we deserve all the things that we have.

I think the reason we resonate with the thought that “God helps those who help themselves,” is because we would rather be in control of our own destinies! God might have plans for us, but we have better plans. We would like to let him know that we too would like to sit at the right or the left of Jesus in his glory. For that matter we can think of all sorts of places in this world where we better deserve respect and consideration we have earned…that we are entitled to.

Power in Service and Prestige in Humility

The thing is that Jesus showed power in service and prestige in humility. It is the opposite of what the world would expect and if we are honest, it is the opposite of what we expect too. In the cross, the hope of the world is invested in the very truth that seems impossible. Life is found in death. Hope is found in the places that seem hopeless. God helps those who are unable to help themselves.

Its Not About Me


Mark 10:13-16

People were taking the children to Jesus that he might bless them. In Jesus’ day it was apparently a common practice, but it is easy to miss the significance of this story. Hebrew fathers had been blessing their children throughout the whole Old Testament. Hebrew parents had been bringing their children to the synagogue way before Jesus’ time for a ritual of blessing. The Talmud contains one of these blessings: That they might be “famous in the Law, faithful in marriage, and abundant in good works.” It is a prayer that is not so different than what we might wish for our own children, that they might work hard and accomplish a lot.

Remarkably it appears that Jesus changed the ritual. You see the the elders of the synagogue, the scribes and the pharisees, while they participated in these rituals, they did not touch the children. In fact they made it a point never to touch anyone, because in doing so, they would have risked becoming unclean. The law had became so self-focused, it physically disconnected them from the community. Jesus changed it all. By taking the little children in his arms, he was showing that faith happened in connection, not in isolation. Jesus was always about connection,  most often with the very people that no one wanted to touch! Jesus welcomed everyone.

I think that while we understand this all inclusive grace filled community that Jesus is talking about, we too often approach life in a way that looks a lot more like personal works righteousness! We believe that God rewards hard work with success; that the more we accomplish the more God will reward us. We talk about teamwork but right under the surface is some thing that is much more selfish.  I fear this self-focused approach to life and faith creates the same misguidance that the elders had in Jesus’ day. We see faith as something that is so focused on me alone, that others really do not matter.  Faith is not really about my personal relationship with Jesus. Faith is always about us in community!

One of the key ingredients of the Faith 5 approach that is central to both the Wednesday evening service and the soon to begin Sunday morning GIFT worship is the 5th step and concluding step, where around a table, the participants bless each other. They make the sign of the cross on their neighbors forehead and say: “Jesus loves you, and so do I.”  I am guess that might be as uncomfortable as the “sharing of the peace,” was when we introduced it into worship 40 years ago, but it is a physical reminder of our connection with one another, but in the simple touch and short phrase, we show our connection.

The Greatest

Mark 9:30-37

We think we are the most important

The disciples were arguing over who was the greatest. I think we can relate to that.  We measure ourselves against each others. We compare and we compete. Mind you, Jesus had pretty much just changed the world order by suggesting that The Son of Man was destined to be betrayed and killed. Still the disciples  were slow to turn that truth into something that really changed their way of being. So walking along the road that day they argued about who was the greatest! They must not have been paying attention when Jesus made that prediction of the passion that was to come! We have the same issue, though most of us have heard that it is in the cross that the truth of God comes clear, yet we still operate like we are going to win!

A child like faith

So Jesus takes a little child and places it in their midst.  A living object lesson, but it is one whose point  we might miss. In Jesus’ day, while children were seen as a potential blessing.  They really were not given much place in society and surprisingly occupied one of the lowest rungs on the ladder of social status along with women, tyrants, and animals! So for Jesus to suggest that welcoming a child was akin to welcoming him was rather unexpected! I think we have come to value children so much that we miss how radical this point is!

Some things need to be relearned over and over again

If the disciples missed the point about how Jesus’ destiny was going to involve suffering and death, they certainly missed the point about children as well. In the next chapter of the Gospel of Mark is the familiar story where people were bringing children to Jesus to be blessed but the disciples tried to stop them.  Jesus repeats his pronouncement that you have to receive the Kingdom of God like a little child. Most of us know the significant truths of our faith. The problem is that we find ourselves needing to relearn the very things we thought we understood! The Bible is one book that needs a constant re-read!

All are welcome!

In the words of the hymn, all are welcome! No matter how important or unimportant you think you are, you are welcome. No matter how much you might think that someone does not belong, they belong.

The Great Disappointment



Mark 8:27-38

I think we often tend to think we know what God has in mind, only to be surprised that God’s plans are not the same as our own.

In 1831 William Miller, a Baptist preacher from Northeast New York, began to preach a message that Christ would return sometime between the spring of 1843 and the spring of 1844. He had come to that conclusion by reading the Bible and assembling a complicated calendar that led him to that conclusion. 1844 came and went, and new calculations were made, those dates came and went. When Miller’s biblical mathematics failed, it led to a time within the religious movement known as The Great Disappointment.

Jesus had just asked his disciple who he was, and Peter is the one who answered with the defining answer, “You are the Messiah!” And as true as that confession was, Peter thought he knew exactly what it meant, destined to be the right-hand man of the one whose destiny was to be the salvation of Israel. Peter must have had a pretty good idea what that meant: power and prestige, privilege and possibility.

So when Jesus began to say something that challenged Peter’s understanding of what it meant to be the Messiah, Peter must not have believed what he was hearing, that the Son of Man must suffer and die. Well, it was too much. Taking Jesus aside to rebuke him, Jesus instead rebuked Peter : “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” I am thinking that was not what Peter was expecting.

Whenever we think we have God figured out we are on dangerous ground. Too often we do not hesitate to speak for God, too often without listening. Jesus had no time for the Sadducees because they could not see the possibility of the resurrection and they had turned faith into a commercial enterprise. He had no time for the Pharisees and their ever growing list of rules, that lost sight of relevance. It is the problem that happens in the space between common sense (the Sadducees), and increasingly complex laws (the Pharisees). There is an all too human truth in both the interplay of common sense and complicated law. We think that we can figure it out ourselves.

Jesus’ exchange with Peter is to say, that we cannot! Faith is about discernment, it is about giving ourselves up to what God has in mind: the suffering, the death, and the resurrection…

Old White Men

Mass Gathering at the NRG stadium in Houston Texas.

For the last few years, I’ve been coming to terms with a couple related realities. First, I am a white male pastor in what is pretty much the whitest denomination in the country. Second, I am getting old enough that I am being keenly aware that I will soon be passing on the mantle of church leadership to another generation.

As we were leaving the 2018 ELCA youth gathering in Houston and settling in for what would be an 18-hour non-stop drive to get back to Iowa, we passed a statue of an old Sam Houston along I-45. We didn’t stop. The almost 70 foot tall, whitewashed likeness of the person who the city was named was literally a concrete reminder of what I had been thinking about the past week at the gathering, and for the last couple years: what should the role of an old white man be in this church, and particularly in this denomination?

On Saturday night, the opening speaker was Stephen Bouman.  He is a man of good reputation, a former bishop of the Metropolitan New York Synod. He was in his office in the city when the planes hit the twin towers of the World Trade Center.  He was present at Ground Zero in the immediate aftermath. It was a fine talk, but as he acknowledged—most of the youth present had not even been born yet…

Rebekah Brusehoff, an 11-year-old transgender girl with purple hair, followed Bouman.  The fact that an 11 year old could stand in front of a crowd of 30,000 is amazing, but that she could articulately talk about what it was like to be born a boy, but be a girl was astounding.  The theme for the event was “This Changes Everything,” I found myself thinking that while the planes crashing into the World Trade Center changed the world, hearing from an 11 year old transgender girl was changing everything. Close, but not the same. I found myself thinking that us “old white men” need to start listening more and talking less.

On Sunday morning, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton preached a good sermon on the difficult text of Jarius’ daughter and the women with a flow of blood. It was a good sermon following the reading of the text from the Gospel of Mark. It was a good message in the usual place and how we usually do things in church.

Then all of a sudden, Savanna Sullivan was on stage. It was a place in the service where someone normally does not deliver a message.  She introduced herself as a former Young Adult in Global Mission.  She talked about the time 3 years ago when in the summer after being assigned to a year in Rwanda, she was diagnosed with an auto-immune disorder.  Her doctors suggested that she stay home.  She described a conversation with her father, where he asked if she was willing to die in Rwanda.  It was a question she could not answer. Savanna said that while she wished she could have answered yes, it was not the answer that came to her. She said she cried ugly tears that night and the answer came to her: going to Rwanda was not something she was willing to die for, it was something she was willing to live for.

In this juxtaposition, I found myself realizing that not all the “old white man” are actually men. There is an establishment of power that gives privilege to some, myself included. It is not always a power that is abused and I certainly did not think that listening to Elizabeth and Stephen. Yet,  if the Gathering showed me anything, it was that we ought not presume to speak for others; instead, we need to empower them to speak.

One of the many people I ran into at the Gathering was my dear friend AJ. I remember the conversation when she was discerning that God might not be calling to use her finance degree to sit in an office and just make money. I remember her YAGM experience. I remember marrying her and her wife Carley a couple years ago. I remember being careful not to ask the bishop’s permission. I remember not being the most forthright about her sexual orientation when she came to preach at the congregation I am currently serving. It was not really my truth to tell, it is theirs!

“This Changes Everything,” was the theme of the Gathering this year

But here is the important thing I know about AJ–I know that she will change things, and she already is! She is in the middle of a growing place in the church. I, on the other hand, am an old white man, who has been contemplating retirement.  I look too much in the past… If I am to be of value, I will have to empower what comes after.  I remember my father-in-law after he retired from ministry saying how glad he was he was not in the middle of all of the church changes that were happening at the time. I remember being a bit offended, because I was in the middle of my ministry and so in the middle of the issues. Now that I am near the end (I will not work until I am 80 like he did!), but also because I do suffer from the white, male power and privilege reality, I am in need of figuring out how to empower and how not to pronounce.  The problem is that proclamation is not all that far from pronouncement, and one can easily become the other.  This is a learning place for me…

Where the World Begins and Ends

I was having a conversation with my mother who is visiting from Montana about how worship attendance is declining pretty much across the church and how I have been thinking about what that might mean for the church. We talked about my current call and how I was seeing the same thing happening here. I talked about how I have been thinking about what it might mean to a Christian where attending worship is not as important as it once was. In this conversation I suggested that worship attendance is probably not “where the world begins and ends.” That is where her 82 years and perhaps the reality of having buried 2 husbands spoke in a clear voice. Actually, she said it sort of is “where the world begins and ends.”

It is true enough. This past Sunday, we baptized our youngest member and not long ago we buried a long time member Yes, for those of us who connect ourselves to places like this, it is where the world begins and ends… but what about the space in between?

The family I grew up in attended worship every Sunday, as did the family Kathy and I raised. While I would like to say that on account of that habit we all still attend worship regularly, it would not be true. While I would eventually go on to become a pastor, for my sister, church attendance would be driven more by the influence of her children than it would be by the imprint of her early childhood experience of regular attendance. Our own children look to be following the same path. None of them attend worship regularly. I think they all would say that Christianity is important to them but it is just that worship is not the central feature in their lives that it once was.

Perhaps my family is a projection of what is happening across the church and across Christian culture. Worship attendance is decreasing in priority. If we are honest, it has been for a long time. I find myself wondering what that might mean for faith. It seems that Christianity at least in the way increasing numbers of folks, participate in it, is becoming unsupported. For increasing numbers of folks things like worship attendance, Bible study, and acts of service have been replaced by a vague sense of “being a Christian.” What used to be a matter of community is increasingly becoming a matter of personal religious conviction. Our culture has facilitated this reality.

I grew up in the era of televangelists, where a televised preacher could allow us to experience worship from the comfort and safety of the sofa in our own living rooms. While this experience was roundly criticized by the established church, it flourished. With the advent of electronic media, you can now find an almost infinite collection of sermons on YouTube that are better than anything I might preach. Music that fits your preference and is better than anything we can produce here is just a search on Spotify away and any theological question you might have can be answered quickly with a simple Google search. But all of it is personal, delivered to your mobile phone or personal computer whenever and wherever you would like.

What seems to have become optional though is what I thought was key to Christianity. Faith is meant to be lived out in community. I am not sure what that means in a world that is increasingly busy. I understand. People are busier than ever. Even if there isn’t a direct conflict on Sunday mornings, for many it is one of few times when they might be able to find a little quiet family time to spend together.

I am asking this as an open question to which I do not yet have a satisfactory answer: What is it that binds us together as a people of faith? It once was worship. I think that is still true for some. But increasingly I find myself wondering what it is that binds us together.

The church is about baptisms and funerals, true enough, as my mother reminded me- “where the world begins and ends.” Throw in confirmations and weddings. Still, what should the space in between look like? I used to have a good idea about that. Lately I am finding myself revisiting even the most basic of these assumptions.