First in series: 40 Days of Faith 2018
So there’s a somewhat famous book that came out in 2000 called Bowling Alone, by Harvard researcher Robert Putnam With data from 500,000 interviews over 25 years, it suggested that Americans had become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, and democratic structures We sign fewer petitions, We belong to fewer organizations/communities that meet regularly, We know our neighbors less, We meet with friends less frequently We socialize with our families less often. We’re even bowling alone (hence the title) Putnam called this all a loss in “Social Capital” — the fabric of our connections with other people The more social capital people have the more they feel trust and reciprocity with others But unfortunately, Americans have less than ever Interestingly, he observed this in 2000! Well before widely-accessible Internet and social media and smartphones
Along the same lines, maybe you caught our opening video today about “weak ties” That’s a social science term for: friends of friends The suggestion of a lot of recent research is that: People who have strong relationships in their lives are a leg-up on people who don’t in terms of accessing their next big opportunity or job or relationship — Because every individual “strong tie” means a whole network of “weak ties” And “weak ties” are (surprisingly-often) where new opportunities, jobs, relationships, etc come from
Having or not having a rich interpersonal network of people in your life has a massive impact on your experience of life
This has hit home with me so clearly in even just the last month In my circles of relationship, two different families I know have been experiencing significant crisis One of these families seems to me to have a rich interpersonal network of people in their life — lots of connection… the other does not And I’m struck by the differences in what I’ve been hearing from these two families as they process their crises With Interpersonal Network Report feeling supported despite difficulty Report feeling grateful for specific people and small joys Report feeling a mix of fear about hope Without Interpersonal Network Report feeling overwhelmed by difficulty Report feeling isolated and lonely Report feeling a lot of fear and very little hope Maybe the most consistent thing I’ve heard from the family that doesn’t seem to have an interpersonal network is: “If we just made a little more money, that could give us a little more margin to be able to manage all of this stress” That is absolutely true, of course… I know how much that feels like the case for the stress-management in my family! But what breaks my heart is that: Money is the only thing this family feels like can impact their situation When I asked about the possibilities of community around them, or close friends, or weak-ties that could help, they couldn't even come up with a list of people they could imagine starting a conversation with to ask for help And in a big way, that’s not their fault. They have been formed by our culture to believe their crisis all comes down to them to manage... If they need help, they’ve got to pay for it
This is all that is on my mind as I read the passage from the Bible we come to this morning -- from Acts, chapter 4 (I have it printed in your program) It’s a glimpse into what the experience of life was like for people in the earliest church communities shortly after the death & resurrection of Jesus 32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. Certainly so much that should be said from a social/political perspective here — But today I want to read this from the interpersonal perspective — thinking about things like our circles of friends, our social capital, our weak ties…
This is a picture of a high social capital, highly-connected community. The people in this early church community have rich interpersonal networks. They have people around them who feel in a knee-jerk way trustworthy and caring There’s a belief of reciprocity — they would do the same for me that I would do for them And, as a result, we read “there were no needy persons among them”
Part of the purpose of the earliest churches was to be the way people develop rich interpersonal networks in their lives.
And we want that to be part of the purpose of our church today
This comes to bear as support for people in times of crisis, (the family with an interpersonal network that I mentioned earlier has a lot of their network through their church), but it’s not just that It’s also a weak-tie connection to a new job or a new place to live It’s a meal-train for a family after a baby is born, It’s having people to share joys with — big accomplishments, obstacles overcome, new things learned
This is the motivation behind our church's small groups — people meeting up regularly to do life together in various ways Today we are ending our service with a Community Fair out in the lobby, to make connecting to one of our small groups easy At the end of service, we’ll tell you how to take advantage of that
But beyond just your experience, dream with me for a minute about the greater possibilities here for our church if this is part of our purpose... Essentially, the more this church expands, The more people in the Brown Line area have access to rich interpersonal networks... The less people in Lincoln Square there are going through crisis without support or believing the only thing that can help them is more money The more people in our area are learning how to forge strong-ties built on trust and reciprocity The more weak-ties we all have that can lead to that next opportunity we need The more connected and mentally and spiritually healthy our wider area and city is as a whole And dream with me a bit more about the unique way our church can do this I can’t tell you how many people I meet who long for the kind of social and communal undergirding to life that we’re talking about churches offering, BUT… Churches feel incomprehensible, talking to people who aren’t them Churches make them feel like they have to swallow a bitter pill or believe something they disagree with, or Or sometimes I hear that people just feel like they would betray their integrity or feel like a fraud going to church, because they’re not sure what they believe… I’ve heard non-churchgoing people express this with amazing compassion for their churchgoing friends: I don’t want to taint the experience for them by being there and being different The unique thing about our church, BLV, is that we have become a refuge for so many people who had come to assume that there was no community option for them… especially not in churches Many of you have just that type of story to tell Our church is unique in this way!
So what if more people knew a community like ours existed?
We’re actually in a really big time right now in the life of this church. With huge potential if we can seize the opportunity together This is the last thing I want to talk about this morning: how we’re inviting you to help us do that
Today is the first Sunday of Lent -- the 40-days in the Traditional Church Calendar that lead up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday, when we remember the death & resurrection of Jesus And, as a theme for Lent, each Sunday from now until Easter, we’re going to be taking a different cue from the Early Church, like we did today — Discovering how when people centuries ago invested in those churches, they were, more than that, investing in the wider communities and cities those churches were in And then we’ll be taking that to us today. Unpacking how when we invest in BLV, we are, more than that, investing in Lincoln Square, and in the wider Brown Line area, and in our city.
Historically, Lent is a season to intentionally lean into spiritual practices And the spiritual practice that has become a tradition for our church to lean into every Lent is what is sometimes called “Intercessory Prayer” -- bringing needs and desires before God, looking to God to meet those Jesus’ understanding of prayer was that it plays a real role in God’s plan for humanity and the world being accomplished Not that prayer is convincing a disinterested God, but just that the way life is set-up, people are participators, not bystanders. Our prayer or lack of prayer matters to how things go in life, just like our actions or inactions matter If you’ve been with us for Lent before, this means our usual 40 Days of Faith Prayer Experiment We’re asking you to commit to pray every day of Lent (for at least a few minutes) for 3 things: Your Big Ask What is a need or desire in you that feels outside of your control to make happen? My big ask last year was for the money my family didn’t have to make a trip to visit my wife’s parents in West Africa… and we made that trip! Prayer for the money to pull off something big is a common one. Other examples are: pray for a new job or a new relationship or improvement in a relationship. Or something else is great too! Your Six This is six people who you interact with on a weekly basis but who you aren’t close to, that best you can tell don’t seem to be experiencing much spiritually. And the idea is simple: just pray that they’d find God giving them great things -- meaning in their work, joy in their relationships, guidance in their challenges, etc. In years past, I had in my six: the barista I buy coffee from a lot, one of the managers here at the Davis who I see every Sunday, and my neighbor down the block This gets us praying not just for ourselves, but for people around us If you have kids, try having them come up with a My Three and pray with them Your Church (BLV) This is where I get really excited The last week of March is going to be maybe the biggest week in our church’s 5 year history, and that’s what we want you to pray for Saturday evening, March 24, we’ll be throwing the second annual Brown Line Ball Fundraiser It’s food, open bar, live gypsy jazz music, silent auction, and the Carbon Arc here is going to host it for us. Last year we had a great time being hosted by our friends at Begyle Brewery, But this year, the Ball is a home game -- right here, where we meet Sundays, on Lincoln Ave, where we already have a presence Even more than that, the Davis Theater and Carbon Arc are going to help us promote the Ball, so this has the chance to be a party not just for BLV and friends of BLV, but for the people of Lincoln Square. And our message to the neighborhood about why to support us by buying a ticket (besides enjoying a great party) is all that I mentioned we’ll be talking about each Sunday here: When you invest in BLV, you’re investing in Lincoln Square -- because we exist to make life deeper, fuller, and more connected for the people of our wider community. So pray for the Ball! Pray that the party is amazing. Pray that people in the neighborhood hear about it and decide to come. Pray for the money you need to buy your tickets. Pray about who in your life you can invite. We’d love for all of our Stakeholders to consider buying a set of 5 tickets, and then treating 3 or 4 of your friends to the party But, that’s not all! This might be crazy, but the following Saturday, March 31, we’re partnering with the Davis & Carbon Arc again to throw another party (but a very different kind) A community Easter Egg Hunt at the Davis for Lincoln Square families This is a huge opportunity to show a ton of families in our area that we exist and to give them a small taste of what type of community we are So pray for this too! And, then of course, the next day after that is Easter Sunday -- usually the highest attended service of our year So, you know, no big deal… Have we mentioned we need your investment and your prayer to pull this off? We do! But there’s a reason we’ve set our sights so high: the potential this next month and a half to grow our church and grow our impact is huge. If you care about BLV, now is the time to act on that!
To help us remember to pray everyday, we’ve made a Lock Screen Background for your phone. Follow the QR code in your program. We’ll also share it on Facebook, And in our email newsletter this week
So… praying for and believing God for big things risks disappointment, right? We may not get what we want. I want to pray for us about that to kick all of this off. Would you stand with me? (invite band) (invite to prayer)