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The First Congregational Church, Columbus Ohio
Sunday, April 17, 2005
A sermon delivered by The Rev. Timothy Ahrens

Dedicated to the 19 adults and three children in this new members class, to my mentor and teacher, Sr. Margaret Farley, and always to the glory of God!
Holy Togetherness
Acts 2:42-47, Luke 24: 37-49

I cry at most movies. My kids still tease me about the tears I shed watching "The Pokemon Movie" several years ago. I was overwhelmed when those little animated creatures saved the universe. So far, I have found no one else who cried at the "Pokemon" movie. Beyond that particular phenomenon, my tear ducts open for most significant moments, too. When I witness injustice in church or society, I cry. I also cry when I see people come together over injustice.

I cry when going through my children's life transitions. Friday, I cried this walked onto the campus of Yale Divinity School and reentered a place that I had exited 20 years ago. As I worshiped in Marquand Chapel, my home church for three years, and as I listened to my beloved teacher, and mentor in ethics and spirituality, Sr. Margaret Farley, I wept. Her voice speaking, briefly, yet passionately on issues of personal commitments, compassionate respect, just love, and the meaning of living ethically moved me deeply.

However, the flow of tears I shed listening to G. Dene Barnard and Timothy E. Smith play the two-organ piece commissioned by the Kutschbach family and composed by Gerre Hancock was unexpected. Once the tears started, the tap would not turn off. Why? I believe I wept for togetherness. That piece, these two men, these two amazing instruments of power and grace, our singing happy birthday to Jim Pohlman as his wife and sons were together with him (By the way, Happy Birthday for April 10 to Jane Werum, too), Bob Kutschbach's story of four generations of family here at First Church all of that and more incarnated a moment of holy togetherness for my ministry and for this church. Holy togetherness brings vulnerability. Holy togetherness brings tears.

Watching and listening to Tim and Dene work together in a fast and furious moment in time, gave me hope. Hearing over 8100 organ pipes singing together, struggling together, seeking to make beautiful and often dissonant music flourish together made filled me with a peace that passes understanding. As I listened, my mind drifted back across the years to my relationship with Dene and Tim, the arrival of the gift from Jean MacNevin, the long process through which the organ task force resolved to move forward, the long search process that brought Tim to us, and the 18 months of work to bring the Kimball organ back to life. I wept for the church working together for good as those who love God.

Last Sunday afternoon was a high moment of Holy togetherness. Our hearts yearn to experience love and togetherness. In our families, in our church, in our communities we yearn for togetherness. We yearn to be together in peace. We yearn to be together in equality and justice for all. Through our yearnings, we are constantly aware -- because of the wounds and the rejections many of us have experienced in past relationships -- many of us are frightened to take risks. We are scared to step into relationships and share the sacred holiness of life together. We are frightened to allow our yearnings to express themselves.

And, perhaps we are afraid, as I was last Sunday, that if the tears start, they will never end. In essence, we are afraid to be vulnerable and thus possibly to be hurt again, to suffer again? So in our fears, we discount the dream of authentic community. We hide from holy togetherness. We see such vision as unreachable and unreal. And we keep a comfortable distance from possible hurt and suffering. And when something happens, all the pent up suffering and pain comes flowing out uncontrollably.

The truth is, as my teacher Margaret Farley reminded me again yesterday, "Suffering is common to each one of us. We need to know the forms of human suffering. We need to listen to stories of others. Everybody suffers. The depth of the concrete person emerges from suffering." When we distance ourselves from suffering, such a distance means that our bodies, minds, and souls forget what it means to be truly human - and ultimately, we forget what is means to be together.

Margaret went one step further. She also pointed out that Joy is common to each one of us. Often we must dig deeper to find the joy that is within us, but it is there. I believe, my highest expressions and experiences of joy have come in holy togetherness. In Acts 2:42-47, the togetherness of the early church is mind blowing and awe inspiring. In his commentary on this passage, William Barclay gives a lightening summary of the early church. It was learning church (2:42), a church of fellowship (vs.42), a praying church (vs.42), a reverent church (vs.43), a church where good things happened (vs.43), a sharing church (vs.44-45), a worshiping church (vs.46), a happy church (vs.46), and a church whose people others could not help liking (vs.47). Yearnings end and Joyful Holy togetherness is fulfilled in this church! This is an attractive fellowship of believers!

But, just as we feel like our forebears in faith are the perfect mix of people together in Christ, Luke Timothy Johnson reminds us in his commentary that Luke's portrait of this first community is obviously idealized. By Acts 5:1-11 and 6:1-6, Luke is pointing out aspects of controversy and failure within the first church. In spite of this idealized community, Dr. Johnson points out, in Acts 2, Luke is trying to communicate to all of us in vivid fashion that the gifts of the Holy Spirit created a community which realized the highest aspirations of human longing: unity, peace, joy and praise of God! They incarnated for us and for all time, holy togetherness.

Togetherness is incarnated at First Church in many ways. While we are spread out across central Ohio, our togetherness is most often experienced in this Cathedral of Grace, this house that Justice built. Here in classical and deeply grounded music, in education which nurtures the young and stretches the rest of us, in worship which lifts and carries us beyond the imminent into the transcendent, we come to know joy in holy togetherness.

But, I believe, we also experience holy togetherness when we depart to serve. When we reach out in prayer and action to those in need in our church family, we find expressions of love and compassion. When we join together in BREAD action for housing justice, justice in jobs, or health care justice we extend our holy togetherness and join with the greater body of believers, and the human family, in amplifying our reach and the grasp of God's righteousness. When we serve at Faith Mission or through CATALYST or Deep Griha, we extend clear expressions of holy togetherness in mission in our neighborhood and across the globe.

Together, with God, all things are possible. Is there a child who needs an education? Together, we can make it happen. Is there a child who needs a tutor, a friend on the journey - such as is the case through the Amachi program? Together, we can make it happen. Is there a family who is on the streets, homeless, hopeless? Together, we can help that family get on their feet. Together, with God, all things are possible. In the coming weeks, working as community in holy togetherness, we will be looking forward in faith to dream and to envision our long range plan. We will look at education, at mission, at music, at worship and ask how, together these vital ministries may be strengthened and grow. We need to be holy. We need to be bold. Together, we need to know that our growing, vibrant downtown church is more poised to make a greater difference in the 21st Century than we ever dreamed possible by ourselves. Together, with God, all things are possible.

In the last five years we have grown with close to 500 new people entering our life together through birth, baptism, or new membership through reaffirmation of baptism. Each person, whether they remain among us, or go apart, are now woven into the fabric of Christ's tapestry of live. All of us together, can do great things for God. But only if we do it together. We may not fight each other. We may not turn on each other. We may make a great symphony of sound and orchestral celebration of mission and ministry. But, we cannot fall apart at the seams. We have come this far by faith, leaning on the Lord, trusting in his holy word, and God has never failed us yet. Together, focused on the future, our tears will water the path of righteousness and pave the way for our God to do great things in this city, God's city. I believe it.

I believe every word I say. I believe in you. I believe in God. I believe that, together, all things are possible for those who love the Lord. God is still speaking at First Church. In holy togetherness, let us be the 21st Century church, reflecting the learning, the fellowship, the prayer, the reverence and the relevance, the tithing stewardship, the happy worshipfulness, and the like-ability of our sisters and brothers who started this church, this journey of suffering and joy 2000 ago in Christ's name and in his image. Amen.

Copyright 2005, The First Congregational Church