why bother with church? – exhortation to worship leaders

“Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. For everything in heaven and on earth is yours. Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom, and you are exalted as head over all.” 1 Chron. 29:11

Why do we come to church on Sunday mornings?  Why do we bother with all this work?

We do this because the powers that threaten us out in the world are real, they are powerful, they are overwhelming. Job experiences them (Job 3:1-26). He all but despairs—that is the thing, ALL BUT despairs. Why does he not completely give up? Why does he not curse God and die, as his friends recommend? Because he knows that his God is more powerful than any of the powers that are tormenting him. The mighty God we serve is the most potent force in the universe, stilling storms, healing the crippled, drawing fickle, divisive humans together, passing out his own self, his flesh, his Holy Spirit, to enliven us.

And that is why we are here this morning. That is why we come to church on Sunday mornings.

And do you know what you do? Each of you make it possible for us all to experience God, to be nourished by God’s Word and by Holy Communion. Think of this: long before Sunday, the communion vessels are cleaned, and linens ironed—the Altar Guild begins to set the table; just as God sets a table before us. Over the weekend, the Flower Guild work their magic with God’s beautiful creation, bringing reminders of God’s beauty and goodness right into our midst, adorning our mighty God’s throne, the altar, with those most beautiful things that he has given us—flowers and natural elements. Finally, early the week before, lectors are sent their reading assignments, they practice reading, they consider the passage’s meaning, that they might deliver it to us with faithfulness.

Then Sunday comes—early on the first day of the week, just the time when Mary Magdelene came to the tomb that fateful Sunday morning, many of us gather to prepare. Some come to greet and welcome God’s people into God’s own house, opening their arms to strangers and friends alike, just as the father did in the parable of the prodigal son–just as God does for us.  Others of us take up stations inside the doors to help make everyone comfortable, to keep everyone safe, and to watch for how to keep the focus on God, directing the movements of hundreds of people with quiet confidence and cool heads.

Still more of us are preparing in places outside the nave; putting on special clothes to remind us that we are undertaking a special and specific piece of work when “we go unto the altar of God,” as the psalmist puts it.  Acolytes carry torches and crosses, showing us how we are to carry God’s light and the power of the cross out into our everyday lives.  Eucharistic Ministers and Eucharistic Visitors help everyone to get their nourishment through Jesus’ body and blood.

We are all parts of the body, doing different jobs, all toward one end–helping each other toward the foot of the cross, toward the Bread of Life, which Jesus explains in the reading from John’s Gospel (6:41-51).  This is our hope.  This is our salvation.

Thank you for your willingness to be vessels of God’s grace; to allow God’s love–the most powerful thing–to flow through you in service.  May we have the courage to continue to follow where God leads us, trusting that He is our salvation and nourishment, the most potent force in the universe.

What a mighty God we serve!

listening to the heart of God

“But I still my soul and make it quiet, like a child upon its mother’s breast; my soul is quieted within me.” (Psalm 131:2, BCP)

2013-09-03 11.13.17Babies know when Momma is holding them; Dad doesn’t sound or feel quite the same, and though Grandma and Auntie and Brother are lovely, no one is Momma except Momma.

From our very moment of creation–those little cells furiously dividing in a womb–there’s one voice, one heartbeat, one digestive system that calibrates reality for us.  When we are again near that same heartbeat, napping on top of Mom, or hear that same voice (even decades later!) the deepest, most primal part of us responds.  Some bit of ourselves, deeply coded with the nourishment (the life!) that this person provided for us, always knows Mom’s voice and body, the being that taught us by her simple presence and lifeblood what life and the world are.

God does exactly the same thing for us, but on an even deeper and more primal level.  The most profound calm, the Most-Anti-Anxious-State, the greatest security, and the truest reality arrives when we sit in the presence of God.  Yoga and meditation (and prayer) teach us to do this literally–to physically sit down, to face up to our racing minds (and hearts) and start digging in our heels, slowing down our minds, listening through distractions and listening into quietness.

One of my colleagues has a plaque on his office wall, “Bidden or unbidden, God is present.”  God is sitting next to you, where ever you are, whether you want him there or not–when we quiet down, we can start to notice his presence.

Part of the point of yoga and meditation and prayer is to help us recalibrate to that original orientation–sometimes it’s awkward and feels uncomfortable or even painful (physically, or socially, or psychologically) to slow down, to sit down, to quiet down.  Persistence in sitting quietly, in praying (or meditating or doing yoga), begins to loosen up our knotted up selves, and the searing shout of silence starts to feel more like a peaceful river of quiet.

God, his identifying heartbeat, his stirring voice, is not always the loudest or most insistent sound (often it is one of the quietest) in our lives, though it is the most profoundly sustaining.

 

For what God says to us in the quiet, a sermon preached by Sam Wells, “The Heart of God.

For what struck me about Psalm 131 last September, “Psalm 131 Mash Up” (isn’t it funny how certain poems speak to you at particular moments of the year?  And isn’t it funny how the same words evoke something so different in the same person a year hence?)

another unarmed black teen killed by police #mikebrown

No older than some of the dear students with whom I spent the last week at choir camp in the NC mountains, the unarmed Mike Brown was shot and killed yesterday in a St. Louis suburb.

I read the news when I checked twitter from my bed this morning.  I had to do some sleuthing to even find the story on the internets–this death hardly makes it to CNN.com (only under “Mike Brown,” not his Christian name, “Michael Brown”).

Feeling sick with yet another death on our hands, having chosen unadvisedly to look at twitter before praying Morning Prayer, the Holy Spirit butted into my heart anyway.

A scrap of music (performed in the link by Leichester Chorale) fell into my mind as I my stomach knotted up and I searched for more information on my tiny screen.  I’d first heard it exactly a year ago on my arrival at choir camp.  The sweet young voices of faithful young people gathered and blended, crying for peace–an end to violence and death–knowing that only God can bring such relief.

Even a year later, their voices still minister to me: pulling up the curtain on ugliness, glimpsing death and deep-seated hatred, what should pop into my mind as my heart breaks but the God’s word set to beautiful music, sung and prayed by dear devoted young people with courage and faith?

A voice cries out in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the LORD.

Selective Memory

More and more, I’m realizing that the things I remember and the things I forget aren’t just coincidences.

A few weeks ago, Psalm 23 was one of the readings assigned by the Revised Common Lectionary–the schedule of Old Testament, Psalm, New Testament, and Gospel readings that most all Lutheran, Anglican, and Roman Catholic churches use to plan their Sunday services.  The 23rd psalm was one of the first bits of Scripture I memorized; it’s long-since become so familiar to me as to sometimes feel calloused–overused.  I no longer turn to it for comfort or for inspiration, I’ve let it grow cold and unfamiliar in my mind and heart the last decade.

Saying it with a hospital patient this week, I stumbled in the middle, suddenly unable to recall the next verse; I skipped on to the next bit I could recall, and we finished strong, but I wondered what the little phrase was that I’d forgotten.  I looked it up.

It was verse 3: “He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” (KJV)

More than believing that I’m not alone in the valley of the shadow of death, or that goodness and mercy shall follow me, I wonder that God binds up and brings back our souls to health.  God promises to restore our souls, to upright the fallen, spilled, perhaps broken, vase of our lives, and to put it back where it belongs (we may not even know or remember where it belongs, exactly, but I suspect that if we ever get there–“restored”–we’ll know).