Inclusive and Inviting


Fifth Sunday After Epiphany •
February 4, 2018

Recommended Readings:
1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 12-13;
Colossians 3:12-16

    “Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
– 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 12-13

We are members of one body and we were made by God to drink of one Spirit. Like babies, we crave the spiritual milk that gives us the ability to taste the goodness of God. Our spirits long for connection. [repeat]. We long for deep connection with one another that allows us to experience God deeply, too. For me, at least, that’s why I resonate so joyfully with the song we have often sung over the past year: 

When the spirit in me sees the spirit in you, 
When the spirit in me sees the spirit in you, 
It’s so easy, it’s so easy, it’s so easy, so easy to love. 

     I love the sentiment and it gives me joy every time we sing the song, but I also recognize that connecting deeply is not so easy. We have to make the time to get to know one another. Given our very busy lives, that’s often a challenge. We have to open up and share our joys and struggles. We have to overcome our fear of being vulnerable. Resentment, suspicion, and unhealed or unacknowledged wounds get in our way. If you have been hurt in past attempts to connect, you may be wary of trying again. Or, you may be introverted by nature. And, especially in urban churches like the Church of the Village, it’s easy to have shallow connections with the people in the seats or pews around us. It’s too easy to fail to even learn each other’s names. And, because folks tend to come and go with some frequency in our community, we may even be inclined to avoid building significant relationships because we feel hurt when people leave. Just think of some of the folks who have moved away over the past couple of years: Matt Deavers and Jessica Kawamura to Atlanta, Cecelia Grant to North Carolina, Josh Williams to Chicago, Jamie Jones to Australia, and there are many more we could name. And others have just drifted away from our community. We miss them. It’s painful to lose so many friends and fellow travelers so frequently. 

     Yet our community also works for us because it is a place where we can experience spiritual connection, as imperfect and as difficult as that may be. God calls us and our own spirits call us to become a community of spirits. We were all baptized into one body – Black, Latinx, Asian, European American, rich and poor, transgender, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and straight, extrovert and introvert – we are called to drink of one Spirit. 

     Our spirituality has a very personal aspect. We need to connect with the spirit that is within us. That requires some solitary effort involving meditation, prayer, and reflection on our strengths and where we need to grow. We need to forgive and affirm ourselves. But our personal spirituality cannot be separated from our communal spirituality. Our spirits long for connection and cannot thrive apart from our experience of love, our experience of empathy and compassion, and our longing for justice, not only for ourselves, but for others. 

     We understand God as a trinity. That means God is a community of persons. Our own relationships are meant to be modeled after the Divine, who is three in one. We were made for community and our deep desire is for the kind of community in which we can live out radical inclusion and the belief that God’s most fundamental call on our lives is to love one another. This is the ground of our progressive Christian spirituality. 

     Now, it is not enough to say we are inclusive or even to welcome everyone who walks through our doors. Our spirituality also calls us to be inviting. We can’t only claim that “all are welcome” and then wait to see who shows up. We also have to ensure that our invitation is reaching out widely and reaching the whole spectrum of those we desire to welcome. 

     Many of us have been harmed by oppressive theologies and bigotry in the guise of religion. The exclusivity practiced by many faith communities is probably the most biggest factor that has driven a huge portion of the U.S. population to abandon churches and synagogues and declare themselves “spiritual, but not religious.” This movement, especially among millenials, is actually a positive development in many ways because it shows that people recognize the unhealthy nature of such exclusive communities and are seeking God elsewhere. So, as progressive Christians, our spirituality is necessarily inclusive. At the core of our theology is the belief that God not just the God of all Christians, but of all people. At the core of our anthropology is the understanding that we are siblings not only with other Christians, but with all human beings. And at the core of our mission and purpose it the desire to build loving and just community with all persons. By forthrightly declaring our intention to be progressive, radically inclusive, and anti-racist, we offer the world a powerful space of affirmation and a powerful vision of the kin-dom. 

     Our spirituality is expressed in the core principles of The Church of the Village. First, “we are not bound by tradition in the way we worship and show our gratitude to God.” As I said last week, tradition should serve us, not the other way around. Second, not only do we celebrate human diversity, we believe that embracing and including the beautiful variety of human persons and cultures is not optional, but is our foundation. Our focus on social justice and our advocacy with persons experiencing poverty, hunger, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and gender inequality, is an expression of our fierce commitment to love God and all of our siblings. This is also true of our informed and intentional care for and stewardship of our global environment. We have a deep love and faith commitment to Jesus, but we affirm that many roads lead to God. We live out these beliefs with a spiritual vitality that flourishes because it listens to many points of view, offers opportunities for creative expression, embraces many traditions, and encourages worship that is engaging,  participatory, and full of the Spirit.

     Our spirituality is personal and communal, inclusive and inviting. It is curious and open to learning from many traditions, perspectives, practices, and cultures. It not only tolerates, but embraces and celebrates the stranger, the outsider, the differently-abled, the hetero non-conforming, and gender fluid. Our spirituality impels us to stand with the marginalized and outcast. 
     Perhaps nowhere is our inclusive spirit demonstrated more powerfully than when we celebrate communion as we will do in a few minute. When we gather around the table of grace, we say what we mean and we practice what we say. What we say is, “This is Jesus’s table. This is God’s table. And God invites everyone to the table. As we seek to live into the communal, all-embracing, extravagantly loving Spirit of God, we strive to open our hearts, minds, and spirits to all. You don’t have to agree with a list of doctrines and dogmas to come to the table. You don’t have to proclaim Jesus as the messiah. You don’t need to be baptized. You don’t have to reject the religious tradition you grew up in or currently hold. You can be “spiritual, but not religious” and be welcome at this table. Because worship, and the table of grace, and the community of spirits are all means of grace. They are all ways for us to connect with God and with one another – no matter who we are or where we come from or what we have done or failed to do.  
     Still, this is a challenge for us. We have plenty of room to grow in practicing a progressive spirituality that is radically inclusive and inviting. We don’t always do it well. But I am inspired by what we have already created, against the stream history and of social norms. I thank God for this community of spirits that is committed to seeking and striving and longing to grow as one body, drink of the one Spirit, and taste the goodness of God together.