On Sunday we experimented with a way to have a more interactive sermon. I asked folks to turn on their phones and to text me during and after services with their thoughts and questions about what I said. I responded to a couple of texts in the moment and promised to write this article summarizing and responding to the rest of the messages that you sent me.
For those who were not able to join us on Sunday, the topic was Resurrection and the readings were:
Gospel of Philip: “Those who say they will die first and then rise are in error; if they do not first receive the resurrection while they live, when they die they will receive nothing.”
Gospel of Thomas, Saying 50: “Jesus said…If they ask you, ‘What is the sign of God in you?’ answer, ‘It is a movement and rest.'”
The response was really great, especially since no one knew what I was going to do until I actually stood up to preach. Four people texted me in the morning service and twelve people in the evening service, my thanks to all of you for being so willing to participate in this experiment in “sermon as conversation”.
There were several people who reported experiences similar to the spiritual experience that I talked about in the sermon. These kinds of experiences are surprisingly common although many of us are hesitant to talk about them. However, most of us, including me, generally have much less startling and more subtle experiences of God than the one I talked about. These are what I called spiritual experiences of the slow, educational variety and I believe that all of us have these kinds of experiences of God. The God of my understanding leaves no one out.
There were also several questions about what causes spiritual experiences and if there were ways to make such an experience happen. The answer is that over the centuries many people have tried hard to make certain kinds of spiritual experiences happen and the results are rarely successful, probably because focusing on having a certain kind of experience takes our focus away from being open to whatever ways in which God is actually present for us.
That said, there are spiritual practices that seem to make us more generally available to the experience of Divinity in whatever way that may happen. They include: self-examination so that we can understand what behaviors keep us separated from God and then letting go of those behaviors, regular spiritual practices that allow us to better hear the voice of Divinity that is inside each of us such as prayer and meditation and lastly, a willingness to hear God’s call and to follow it, which is what service is about.
Someone asked “What is service?” that is a really important question that I hope we will be talking about a lot more in the coming months. For now I will just say this; every action that contributes to relieving suffering in the world is service.
There were also a number of generally supportive messages about trying new things like this experiment….thank you. These kinds of comments give me hope for our future since the research says congregations that are open to new experiences are more likely to grow than those that aren’t.
And I’ll close with this wonderful insight that one of you sent: “Isn’t resurrection just a recognition of something in a different way, of seeing something without judgment?”
— Irene Laudeman, clergy intern
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MCC San Francisco is located at Trinity-St. Peter's Episcopal Church in St. Mary's Chapel at 1620 Gough St. (at Bush) San Francisco, CA 94109