McKibben Monday Sermon Notes


The point of church is not just comfort or familiarity: it is, or should be, coming to grips with the gospel demand that we love our neighbors in effective ways.Photograph by Peter Schickert / Visum / Redux

Articles on religious topics are not the norm on our platform, but in this case we make an important exception:

Back to Church—But Not, Let’s Hope, Back to Normal

I went to church for the first time in many months on Sunday; in fact, it was the first even mildly routine public thing I’ve done since March. The service was outdoors, of course, in a small open-sided tabernacle built here in the Adirondacks, along the banks of the upper Hudson, in 1908, to serve a Methodist campground where congregations began meeting in 1871. Though families still come to the small collection of summer houses along the shore, the place—like Methodism—is a shadow of its former glory: there were but nineteen of us on the straight-backed wooden pews for the service, so social distancing was not a problem, and though I am no young man I considerably lowered the average age when I sauntered in. We all wore masks, and only the preacher, a safe twenty feet from the front pew, sang the hymns; still, it felt deeply familiar and deeply comforting. The first hymn, “We Gather Together,” which is often sung at Thanksgiving, had me very nearly in tears, if only for the sense of how much normal we have done without of late. And, of course, for the understanding that there are a hundred and thirty thousand fewer of us to gather than there should be.

But the point of church is not just comfort or familiarity. It is, or should be, coming to grips with the relentless radicalism of Jesus—with the gospel demand that we love our neighbors in effective ways. The preacher on Sunday was Janet Douglass, and she had journeyed up from Troy, near Albany, where she works on, among other things, helping the homeless. Her message was informed by COVID and by climate change, but mostly by the ongoing push for racial justice that has been the summer’s great hope. Douglass described the way that, in Biblical days, Roman power offered people the choice of acquiescence or—should they choose to fight—obliteration, and that Jesus had helped pioneer an alternative tactic, of nonviolent resistance to unjust power that he, of course, was willing to take to the grave. This sermon came just a few hours after a peaceful protester in Seattle had died, when a driver in a white Jaguar rammed into her, and it all felt very real, even amid the pines and cedars, with the river murmuring through the rocks fifty yards to the east. “Faith is a team sport,” she said. “What are we going to do? What are you going to do?”…

Read the whole essay here.

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