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JMPC Sunshine 10.21.2020

When you hear the word “ritual” what comes to mind? Rarely is the connotation a positive
one. If something is “ritualistic”, we tend to think it is of little substance. Words or actions
that are superficial at best and meaningless at worst. That is what many folks say about
church. This from sermon by a Pastor Todd Weir in 2014 in which he “quotes” what some
folks think of church:
“I don’t go to church because it is just a bunch of rituals, you know, communion and baptisms
and giving up stuff for Lent, saying the Lord’s Prayer over and over again. What’s the point? It
does change anything or mean anything. It’s boring. … Weddings are just stupid rituals [, too].
If you love each other, why do you need a wedding?”
Another view of ritual is that it has power to change lives and the world. Tanya Marie
Luhrmann is a professor of anthropology at Stanford University who wrote an op/ed piece
in the New York Times a few years back called “Religion Without God”. Luhrmann’s piece
describes how the use of ritual in religious life has become a universal model even for
atheists. She describes “Sunday Assembly”, an atheistic organization that gathers on
Sundays for fellowship, music, readings, messages and encouragement to make the world a
better place. Sound familiar? Luhrmann says this.
… [R]ituals change the way we pay attention as much as — perhaps more than — they express
belief. [Even if] ritual isn’t about expressing religious commitment at all, [it is] about doing
something in a way that marks the moment as different from the everyday and forces you to
see it as important. Their point is that performing a ritual focuses your attention on some
moment and deems it worthy of respect.
Ritual is the way human beings live out their faith in whatever they have faith in. Ritual is a
kind of organized repeated statement of what you believe to be true. Is that what church
rituals are? Maybe. But maybe they are a lot more than that. Rather than boring repetition,
maybe they are a path to find truth. Come to hear about it at the John McMillan
Presbyterian Church parking lot or on Facebook Live at 10am when Pastor Jeff preaches
“Finding Truth”. See you actually or virtually then!

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