Here's something you might not expect. I'm giving you seven reasons not to join this church. Kind of weird for a priest to say, right? Well, maybe I'm kind of a weird priest.
Reason Number One: If you think "Father Knows Best," don't join this church.
When I was a kid, ministers and priests were put on pedestals. We were taught to stand up when a priest walked into the room. And we were taught that Father always knows. That's baloney. Father does not always know best. I cannot say this often enough: you do not have to agree with what I say in order to belong to this church. Sure, I'm a preacher and a liturgical leader, but I am also a servant. And, as my wife reminds me all the time, I'm just a guy...a regular, fallible guy.
Father does not always know best. For that matter, Mother doesn't, either. We do have women as clergy. So, if you believe Father and Mother always know best, this church might not be the best fit for you.
Reason Number Two: If you think there is only one way to be a Christian, don't join this church.
Some people think there is only one way. It's always their way, of course. But if you study the history of Christianity, you'll find an incredible variety of practices, styles, and beliefs. In a way, Christianity is like a big ice cream stand. We have flavors from French Vanilla to German Chocolate. There is Butter Pecan and Black Raspberry. There is Mango Madness and Mint Tingaling. There is even....vanilla.
So if you think there is only one way to be a Christian, this church might not be a good fit for you.
Reason Number Three: If you are not interested in helping the needy, don't join this church.
A long time ago, one of our wise members said, "St. Mark's likes to feed people." Long before I met you, you were feeding and giving and helping those less fortunate. It's the St. Mark's thing to do. And that's because it's the Jesus thing to do. In the Gospels, Jesus always has a special place in his heart for the underdogs, the poor, the sick, the outcasts.
So if you have no interest in helping the needy, this church might not be a good fit for you.
Reason Number Four: If you think believing is more important than belonging, don't join this church.
We do not have a list of beliefs you have to sign on to. You will never be quizzed about your doctrine. Around here, it's all about belonging more than believing.
Reason Number Five: If you are not interested in community, don't join this church.
This reason is kind of like the last one. At its best, a church is not an institution -- it's a family. It's not a sacramental filling station -- it's a community. We are about being there for each other, in good times and bad. That's why the New Testament calls us "brothers and sisters." We are a family.
So if you are put off by all that, this church might not be a good fit for you.
Reason Number Six: If you think children should never make a sound on Sunday morning, don't join this church.
We love kids, even though they are sometimes noisy and disruptive. They are only human. They need adults in their lives -- not just relatives, but friends, too -- who care about them. We hope to maintain a community where they can grow up to be compassionate and thoughtful adults. That's my dream for the children of St. Mark's.
So if the presence of children bothers you, this church might not be a good fit for you.
And finally, Reason Number Seven: If you don't think it's okay to laugh in church, don't join this one!
The most famous verse in the New Testament is John 3:16. Here it is in the famous Giroux Standard Version: "God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that all who believe in him should not perish, but have ever-laughing life."
Look, you people hired me...TWICE...to be your priest. That took a big sense of humor, since I am a true clerical klutz. If God lacks a sense of humor, I'm doomed. And so are you, probably. But I think divine laughter is the soundtrack of the universe.
We've been hearing from Paul's letter to the Philippians in church lately. I sure like that letter. Paul obviously loved the people of that church in Philippi. He cared about them, worried about them, and thought the world of them. I can relate. That's how I feel about you, St. Mark's. I constantly give thanks to God for the life of this church.
So...don't join this church if you think Father knows best, or that there is only one way to be a Christian. Don't join St. Mark's if you don't care about the needy, or if you think believing is more important than belonging, or you are not interested in community. Don't join St. Mark's if you think children should be silent in church, or that it's wrong to laugh in church.
But if you want to be part of something wonderful, join this church. It's not a perfect church, not even close. But it's wonderful. There are lots of churches all over the place that are wonderful. Not perfect, but wonderful.
We belong in community.
So I can only conclude with words Paul wrote to those Philippians: "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice. Keep on doing the things that you have learned...and the God of peace will be with you." Amen.