to witness & repeat

If you are just joining us, all throughout the Easter season we've been talking about this thing we call “resurrection."
It's the truth our tradition holds that Jesus rose from the grave, but it's also the truths we hold which flow out of that:
that the worst thing is never the last thing,
that there is always hope,
and that love always wins and always overcomes. 

And as we've talked resurrection we’ve been asking one of the questions we should ask when it comes the truths our faith offers us: ‘So what?’  'What do things like resurrection, prayer, incarnation, forgiveness, grace, and justice have to do with being human and alive in the world? What does that mean for me today? What does that mean for how we can be the church?'

Its one of the questions we should always ask because it pulls us into the idea that Jesus isn’t about about life after death, he’s about life before death. Jesus is about helping us become new kinds of people building a new kind of world, a world that is so good and amazing he called it 'heaven on earth.' 

Are you with me? 

So this morning we’ll keep that up but Im throwing a bit of a twist at you. 
Usually this is when I say something like “There’s a story in the Bible” and we jump into our scripture text for the morning.
But today, we’ll be riffing off of a different kind of text,
one that we often dont take seriously enough, 
and thats our lived experience,
what one of my teachers would call “our living text.” 

If we believe that the Spirit is at work in our lives and world,
and part of the spiritual journey is being open to Her movements, 
it’s good for us to always talk about where and how She’s showing up, 
and let that story draw us into some of those questions we asked. 

Still with me? 

So today,
as we wrestle with resurrection and what it means for us, 
we’ll talk about:

the thing that happened to me in Brooklyn,
a Hebrew word, 
and we’ll end it off with a couple questions. 

//

Last weekend Dawn and I went to Brooklyn for my older brother Tim’s wedding.
It was great and amazing,
and part of the reason it was great and amazing,
for me at least,
was because I had the honour of officiating the wedding.

But in order to make that happen, Tim and I had to make a trip down to New York City’s Office of the Wedding Clerk so I could be registered to officiate a wedding in New York state. 

So the day before the wedding,
cause nothing like leaving it til the last minute, 
we head into Manhattan to the NYC Marriage Bureau, 
and the building is,
as the name would suggest, 
the most governmental looking building you can possibly imagine. 

The whole thing just screamed despair.

And if you’ve ever been into these places, 
places like the DMV or the Passport Office, 
you know the inside is even more desolate than the outside.

So we venture in, 
all ready to feel a piece of ourselves die,
and ... well, here’s the thing:

what we found inside was anything but that. 
what we experienced as anything but that. 

Inside this dreary and despairing building was the most joy, love, and excitement Ive seen in one place in a really long time.

I know, eh? Love and joy in a government building? 

But here’s why that was: 

At the New York City Marriage Bureau that morning were around 150 couples waiting to get married.  
150 couples of all kinds of sexualities, backgrounds, religions, ethnicities, and income levels, 
all in that dreary and sad building to commit to a life of divine things like respect, justice, faithfulness, and love.
They were all milling about waiting for their number to be called,
they were kissing and exchanging rings, 
their families were celebrating and taking pictures and throwing flower pedals in the air as they left. 

It really blew my mind. 

And as my brother and I waited for our number to be called, we watched people get married, we experienced all that love and joy,
and I couldn’t help but ask the question, and maybe this is the question thats popping up in your heads too:

“Why? Why would all these people gather here instead of a place like a church, synagogue, or mosque?” 

So with a few hours to kill, we asked. Here’s the common themes of their answers: 

“The Church isn’t really a place we associated with love.” 

and

“We didn’t feel like we’d be welcome there.” 

and

“We tried attending a few times but they didn’t seem interested in meeting us where we were at.” 

Let that sink in. 

Heavy isn’t it?

As sobering as that is, it fits with the research we’re seeing:

more and more the Church isn’t being thought of as a place where people can go to engage in sacred, reverent, and transcendent things like God, love, commitment, community, truth, and meaning. 

And here’s why seeing 150 people gather in a government building to experience sacred, reverent, and transcendent things like God, love, commitment, community, truth, and meaning should give us in the church something to think about:

Isn't that our job?
Isn’t love, community, transcendence, peace, and all those things people associate with God, exactly what we’re here for?
Isnt being a place and people where people can come to experience those things exactly what the church is supposed to be about? 

//

I was thinking about those questions on the flight home and this word kept popping up in my head. 
You can find it in the Hebrew scriptures and you can find Jesus using it.
And it is the word ‘e-dah.’

It’s a Hebrew word thats used whenever someone is talking about a group of people who have experienced God moving in their lives and world, who have felt something reverent and true and meaningful, who have had their hearts and worlds opened up to Something Bigger than Themselves, and have come together to talk about and celebrate it. 

Edah means "to witness.”

It means to point to the things we’ve experienced, to talk about them, to share them, to speak about how its rearranged the air, changed our lives, and drawn us into something new. 

But here’s the cool thing … it also means to repeat. 

The writers of our Bibles knew what happens when we gather to share and celebrate what God is doing in our lives and world.
They knew that when we share our stories and tell our truths something big happens in the room.
Things dont just get remembered, they get recreated. 
They get repeated.
Not just for ourselves, but for everyone else too. 

Maybe you’ve experienced this. 

It makes me think of this story that a friend was telling me about a small group she runs for her church.
In the group people were sharing their own stories of where God has shown up in their lives and everyone around the table shared except for this one older woman who by the end of the time was weeping in her chair. 
My friend asked what was wrong and the woman replied:
“Absolutely nothing! For years I was convinced God wasn’t present in my life but after listening to all these stories I finally realized that God has been moving in my life and I just didn’t see it. Now I have my own story to share."

To be the Edah is to be the repeating witness,
the people who,
again and again,
gather together to say: 
‘Yes! We have seen, felt, and experienced Something Bigger Than Ourselves. We know we’re not alone!'
and do what they can to help others experience the same thing and keep the story of what God is doing in this world going. 

Kind of sounds like church doesn’t it? 
Jesus would think so.
Edah is the word he used to talk about the church. 

When we think about who we are and what we are meant to do,
when we boil it down to its core,
when we think about the church's basic vision and purpose,
this is the word we need to think of: 
the edah, 
the repeating witness, 
the people who have each experienced something reverent and true in Jesus, 
who have felt God move in our lives and world, 
and who gather to create a place where that love, that peace, justice, reverence, and transcendence can be felt and experienced by everyone.

So if this is what we’re called to be and do,
if that’s the kind of place God wants us to be, 
and if people aren’t getting that and aren't picking up what we're putting down, 
if a growing number of people aren’t finding something in churches worth repeating, 
the question we have to ask is:

“how can we as a church reclaim ourselves as a place where all people can come and experience God?” 

//

Its certainly a question that rents out a lot of space in my head, but its something for us all to think about as we continue to find our groove and understand how to be the church in this time and this place. 

It's a tough question because just like those other questions I mentioned they pull us out of the idea that church is for us, its something we do for those who are already in the know, and challenge us to realize what we do here, what we're all about, is also for them too, the people on the outside looking in, for those who are longing to know that there is a place where they can experience reverent and divine things like resurrection, love, community, belonging, and affirming love. 

So I want to invite you into this tension with me and offer you two questions to help us figure out how to live there: 

what have you witnessed?

and

how can we be a place that better helps people experience things like resurrection?


What have you experienced and what do you hold to be true, and how can we, as a community of faith, help others feel the same reverence and presence we have? 

May we wrestle with those questions and may we struggle well as we continue to be the church.

Amen.