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What Will It Take to Imagine? - January 23, 2022

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During pastoral transitions, the pastor who is leaving often tries to wrap up everything that they're feeling in things like newsletter columns and one on one, that's a very difficult thing to do. And I know for Pastor Debbie going to Wenatchee was not on her radar. Her radar for Rick was to at least stay one more year to finish his degree to do the teaching to go forward. But God and the cabinet had something else in mind, and she left some good words of wisdom for this congregation to move forward into.

One of them I found most intriguing was her conversation with you in an E-spire article. And I know we get terms confused, E-spire is kind of a

devotion that shows up on the website, it's not the monthly newsletter, and it's frequently where the pastor expresses what's going on.

Debbie was talking about, the role that the church plays and the role that the community plays when people are moving. Or they haven't been to church in a long time, and they want to say, Where do I go that they're going to accept me for who I am? They're going to realize I don't have a lot of money for clothes or they're goanna realize I have a different gender expression than someone else and not just your gender expression, that I am different from other people’ or that I may be a Democrat in a Republican world, or I may be Republican in a Democrat world, or I may not vote, or whatever.

Debbie shared that sometimes trying to be in a church where people are comfortable coming to regardless of where they started, is a bit like looking for a purple Unicorn. The funny thing is, when being the incoming pastor it tends to be a bit of a voyeur because we don't necessarily call you and say what do you want, but we have to find out what's going on.

So I'm reading these E-spires and I looked at that one and my first thought is, well what’s wrong with being a purple unicorn? And I thought, well, that's probably not your best first sermon, so let's not go there. But there's been a few sermons under the water. And so I brought a purple Unicorn today. This purple Unicorn It's going to be with us in worship for three or four weeks probably until lent starts. To remind us that there's something that we're striving for which we have no clue what it is or what it may look like.

This is the Beanie Baby version of what a purple Unicorn would look like. Her name, as it says on the little tag is Rosette. And what was fascinating to me is that the Ty company always gives you the baby's name and their birthday. Her birthday is January 23rd, and I said, well if it's January 23rd, this is our Beanie baby. This is our purple Unicorn to introduce as an honorary member of the First United Methodist Church of Moscow, ID. Rosette, born in our midst today, Is going to teach us a few lessons for a couple of weeks here. And she's really soft too, so you'll forgive me every once in a while if I pick her up.

I don't know much about being a Unicorn. I know the old folk song and I know we don't see unicorns anymore because they were out playing when Noah was gathering everybody. They got the hump-backed camels and they got everything else, but they couldn't get the unicorn to come in. So we don't see unicorns and we don't know, much about them, except what mythology tells us. What I do know, Is that a purple Unicorn is possible. I just believe that. If I believe in anything, and I’ve already said I believe in Santa Claus, I believe in Christmas, I believe in the Easter Bunny. Don't even come near me on Saint Patrick's Day, cause I'll pinch you. I Believe deeper than almost any person I've ever known, and that's what my parents even told me. There's just nothing you didn't believe in, so we had to be careful what we told you. You cannot fly off roofs, let me assure you. But if the purple Unicorn is possible, as Debbie said she was hoping, we'd be able to find it. Then we need to take a look at what is the church and what might it become?

The purple Unicorn in the community of Moscow that people who cannot find a church want to walk into.

The words that I read from the book of Acts, It's a description of what the church was like in the early days in Jerusalem. Describing what people were doing in small groups and large groups that lived together as the people who had been born anew through Jesus Christ and his teaching, and his living among them and his witness to them of what the love of god looks like. We see a church that, to be honest with you, doesn't really look like our church, does it?

We don't sell all of our possessions and pool the money and live together. That would be kind of odd for many of us. We do like to come together. We like to praise. We like to sing. We love to eat. Those parts are being a community in the Acts church we can relate to. And they celebrated together. Yes, even in those days. The unknown certainty of what church is. They didn't have a clue because there really wasn't a church. There was still a synagogue. There was a Jewish community, but there was no church until much later in history.

So if we're not that church, who are we in 2022? And I'm gonna do what every Methodist has done for years. I'm gonna go back and look at our book of Discipline and tell you what our denomination has said is the church.

Now you know that our denomination or you should be aware that our denomination is in the process of probably figuring out how to split. I'm gonna be honest with you from where I stand. I've been thinking we needed to do that for 30 or 40 years because we just keep coming in against this thing that we cannot agree on and sometimes What makes us best is when we can live together with people admitting we don't agree and It's ok, and we're not figuring out how to do that. But I meant I'm going to trust what it says here until that day.

The definition of a local church says ‘The local church provides the most significant arena through which disciple-making accurse. It's a community of true believers under the Lordship of Christ. It is the redemptive fellowship in which the word of God is preached by persons divinely called, and the sacraments are dually administered according to Christ's own appointment. Under the discipline of the Holy Spirit, the church exists for the maintenance of worship the edification of believers, and the redemption of the world.

Now there are words in there that we don't even know how to define and some of those words are troublesome for some of us. Particularly the word lordship seems to trip people up. If it trips you up, just strikethrough it for right now we will get back there at some point. Don't strikethrough where it says ‘Christ’ cause it says ‘Lordship of Christ’. If lordship bothers you, just say ‘of Christ’.

The maintenance of worship. It just means that we will worship. What the pandemic has certainly taught us from my perspective is that the church has failed us in teaching worship, because we think worship has to be here in this room (sanctuary) with a group of people.

If you were baptized as I was many, many years, the vows that were taken on my baptism said to my parents, ‘will you bring this child up to understand and know public and private worship’. I think we have failed in teaching private worship because we didn’t know what to do when God gave us all this privacy. We know how to do it in public. We don't know how to do it when it's just our family in a house, sitting around a TV or a computer screen. My philosophy is to turn the TV and computer screen off and worship together and then use that as your way of seeing people again that you need. That's not to say it wasn’t some good stuff there in virtual worship, but maintenance of worship says we need to teach and equip everyone who comes in our doors to learn how to be able to worship. That is how to praise God, how to give God reverence, and how to gain from the solitude of the prayer. That quiet time between our prayer concerns and our pastoral prayer. We have to teach how to gain and experience from that.

So we have to teach people how to worship. The ‘edification of believers’. That's just a big word that says we're gonna teach people what we know how to do so that they're able to replicate it and edify others. In other words, teach others with blessing. Edification implies a blessing in many ways.

The redemption of the world. Well, have at it folks. Get out there and redeem the world. I'm gonna be honest with you, redemption is an interesting word. What brings to my mind is SnH green stamps. Because we collected those, I can't tell you how many I licked and put in the books that my grandmother kept, and she always got toaster ovens. We used to just wonder why this woman was the Queen of toaster ovens? Until we all went to our first apartment, and the gift we got was a toaster oven and I know where it came from, from me, licking that SNH green stamp book.

But redemption was where you take something of minimal value and you turn it into something of value. So when we say the redemption of the world, we're talking about taking something that at times doesn't have great value and giving it value to the world. Which means taking something that may be a little bit ugly and making It look beautiful. Including the people around us who say I'm just not very good at anything. Let's help them find something that they can be good at because everyone can be good at something. God made us that way. God gave each of us some way to bless other people.

So that's what the church says we should do, and I'm going to provide my own guiding question for today as we kind of move towards the end.

What can we do?

What can we offer that will begin the process of redemption for the world?

I do believe in 2022 going forward that our gift is to take the time to discover where our gift as a congregation is. Including the peculiar gifts that each one of us brings into this congregation. And find where we have the potential to interact with the world and change the world one person at a time. One person who pulled food from the food pantry at a time. One family that spends the night here for family promise at a time. One volunteer who spends the night in our church as a volunteer for family promise at a time. One by one we can redeem the world if we look at it that way.

Now I want us to take a look at where this purple Unicorn, where the rubber meets the road. Let's watch this video for just a second. You may have seen it on YouTube. (Link to the video). You can tell from the mask that this was something that happened at the beginning of the pandemic. There is something that we can learn from Sisu if we will. The story says he went into that dollar store not once but five times. Each time he went in. He went to that same spot, that Unicorn. Now the first time he went in, maybe he was looking for something to eat, but on his way trying to find snacks. There's his best buddy, forever in his mind. He may have gone in hoping someone would be kind and pet him and maybe give him some water. Somehow, probably at eye level though, for that dog there was that Unicorn.

Notice what they said, that he kept coming back to that Unicorn. Not a teddy bear, not Popcorn on the floor. He kept going back and finding that source of comfort, a companion, a pillow for his head. Once he saw it, felt it, and related to that stuffed unicorn, he knew what he needed. That Unicorn.

People come into the church because they have a need to be met. And we have shelves, Oh, do we have shelves in this church. I'm not gonna say there's much redemptive material on some of the shelves, so if you value it, put your name on it. But people come into the church because, and they will stay if they find something that meets their needs.

Like the dollar store, the shelves need to be full, to meet the needs of those who enter. And it's not always just-food. The dollar store has many things that almost anybody could get/want/need. Do we really need it? No. Many of us who go to the dollar stores should not because we find things we don't need. Until you get home and then maybe you find out it was the best thing you ever bought and so you go back to get the second one because the spiralizer really did work, and you wanted it for your massive growth of zucchinis in the summer. Sometimes you find something. It wasn't attractive to you until it became attractive, because you stopped long enough to find it. That's kind of what the church is for some people we have to get them to find something that will bid their time.

When we can get back together again and I look forward to that day I really am looking forward to the time after Easter when I'm in full belief that the weather will be warm enough outside that our windows are open, our doors are open, and we can have fans that circulate the air so we can have more people and we can have more musicians and we can do all of the stuff. I long for that time, but also what can happen in that time is coffee, tea, and juice. Something to hold in your hand while you share the gift of conversation, sharing two souls, hearing what their need is.

The church of 2022 needs to become a bit more of a generalist like a dollar store and a bit less of a specialist. We can't be all things to all people. Number one, we don't have the financial resources number two it's not who we're called to be.

The reason there are so many denominations, the reason there are so many different places to go to church, there are really two reasons. Frequently because you couldn't get along with someone and so you said, well, you go over there and we'll go over here. But the second thing is that each church interprets the gospel message and interprets it so that everybody should be able to find a church that they can call home.

It may not be our church. But let's bring people in and get a taste and if they say, you know I really am looking for someone that's got, you know, 15 drum kits cause I'm a drummer. Then we say, well, that's probably not our sanctuary, maybe one, but not 15. What place could they go to where there are 15 drum kits, and help people find a way. You know, we're not territorial. We cannot afford to give up teaching prayer and praying for others but we cannot afford to think we have the only place for the only means of praying. We can't give up studying God's word, or preaching, because the gospel is something we need to learn that there are many ways of learning, teaching, and telling the story of God. We can't afford to consider ourselves to be only here for people who are like us.

I'm gonna give you two prime examples where that happens, you may not know it even happens. When you see someone or you see three or four people that you haven't talked to in three hours or more, and you gather, I call it circling the wagons. You gather and everybody is facing each other which means your back is to everybody else in the room. A visitor can't break into the circled wagons. Anytime we talk, we should never have more than a semicircle, so Someone can walk in and when someone walks up you make this semicircle a little bit bigger. So that someone else can come up. This same thing is true for our Sunday classes and our small groups.

If you spent a day in the parking lot of many dollar stores, you're going to find the breadth and depth of society that goes in. People who go there because they only have a dollar to buy something to eat versus people who go in to buy 30 items and they have $60 to pay for it. The church doors need to be open to all kinds of folks.

That's a lot of what Debbie was referring to when she said this purple Unicorn because it's hard to find. As she said, it's hard to find a church that will be theologically sound and care for one another theologically and spiritually, and let people come in who are different than they are. It's hard to be all those things. We could be two of the three or one of the three, but it's really hard to be three of the three.

And that's the Purple Unicorn church.

Now Sisu persevered. Once he found it, it became the desire of his heart and he kept returning to the same store, to the same shelf, the same Unicorn. It's as if he knew that only he had the Unicorn, and if he could get it somehow, his life would be better. Well, that's what life with God is like. If we only can grasp it. If we can only live in that place of God's love. That we can truly depend on, we've come home. And so, as sisu leaves, as you hear in the story, and he goes to his forever home. He’s taking his purple Unicorn with him to help him find a home in a new place.

Many people come to church looking for a community that will not let them down. Don't let that translate into people are looking for the perfect church because they don't exist, ever, never, not one. There is no such thing as the Church of no mistakes. As a matter of fact, it's ok to be known as the Church of mistakes. Because through mistakes we redeem ourselves and it may be that it's time for the redemption of the church before we can redeem the world.

So let us pray.

God, could it be that through? Perhaps a silly simple little purple Unicorn. We could have our eyes, our ears, our hearts. Our minds are open to your possibility. To the people who. Need. That silly purple Unicorn church. If that's what you're calling us to be, may we be faithful? And may we go on the journey. As so many before us have done in so many after us will do. To find that place called home. Where we too may lay our head to rest. On a soft pillow, or a purple Unicorn. Where it's in your love and your Kingdom, we reside forever. Amen.

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The First United Methodist Church of Moscow, Idaho takes as our mission to be the body of Jesus Christ, ministering to a community which draws strength from its diversity. Our mission centers on the worship of God, expressed through varied forms of prayer, preaching, music, and ritual.  See more...

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