Last week’s episode ended with me telling God I wanted to start a church where I could tell the whole truth and declare that I believe absolutely everyone is included in the wide embrace of God’s love, no ifs, ands, or buts. I knew I couldn’t do that in my denomination or in any Evangelical or non-denominational churches at the time. Apart from a few so-called “liberal” denominations, like the United Church of Christ and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Church still had its heels dug in with an interpretation of a handful of passages in the Bible that they believed prohibited affirming LGBTQ persons. Many churches were not as harsh as they were twenty years ago, but any kind of sexual identity apart from heterosexuality was considered something that either needed to be healed, repented from, or just shut down. It was definitely not seen as something beautiful to embrace and celebrate about a person.
Prompted by the newfound belief that it might just be possible that God wants some of the same things I want I decided to write down what I thought it could look like. This was the time when I sat down with a napkin (I WISH I could find it!) and wrote the words of the Ethos we use as part of our worship every Sunday. It flowed so easily it practically wrote itself.
I knew that some of the phrases were a little cheesy and there was some forced rhyming and cadence, but I wasn’t writing it that first time for anyone else’s sake except for me being clear with God. I held onto what I’d scribbled for a couple years because it occurred to me as an afterthought that it might be a nice “Call to Worship” for a service if I ever found myself in a church where I could say it and mean it.
A couple years later on September 13, 2009 I pulled that paper out for our first worship service as Highlands Church meeting in the old Redeemer Temple at Lowell and 32nd. I read it for our “Call to Worship” and then went on to preach an utterly forgettable sermon to about 60 people in an auditorium that held 800. 25 of the 60 people were well-wishers from House for All Sinners and Saints (ELCA) who came with their pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber.
After that service God spoke to me through one of the poor souls who’d just endured a lousy sermon who said, “You know that thing you read at the beginning? You should read that every Sunday. It gave me such a clear vision of what you hope this church can be.”
I listened to God, mediated through the voice of the sermon-sufferer, and we say the Ethos every week. So do hundreds of churches around the world (I don’t know the full count since most people who use it don’t ask or inform me but may have read it in books that quote it from Philipp Yancey to Brian McLaren and at least a half dozen authors who’ve asked my permission).
I love that I heard from God that day from someone who probably couldn’t remember anything from my message even two minutes after I was done, but something stuck in their craw about the “Call to Worship” and they told me so.
To be continued…
Nothing but love,