October 30, 2011 Twentieth after Pentecost, Proper 26A2
Micah 3: 5-12; First Thessalonians 2: 9-13; Matthew 23: 1-12
Good morning and grace and peace, as we move on into this fall weekend. Or is it winter already?
In any event, today just wanting to pause in our life together to think about who we are and where we are. Last Sunday morning our guests and friends Mary Beth Campbell and Colleen Dybble from our Mission Partners at Five Talents were visiting with us, and with thanks to Marty Federowicz and all the members of the Five Talents Prayer Circle for hosting the wonderful Harvest Brunch, as we were able to enjoy great food and conversation together and at the same time to raise over $1200 for the work of the Five Talents ministry in Lima, Peru, and of our missionary friends John and Susan Park, who serve at the Cathedral in Lima. A wonderful outpouring of generosity, as I know we’ll see again as we respond this morning to Bishop Price’s request, that we would share in a meaningful way in the work of rebuilding the Cathedral in Port au Prince, Haiti. So the baskets in the transept and on the Welcome Table in Brooks Hall, with copies of Bishop Price’s letter.
As you might imagine, one thing that Mary Beth and Colleen commented on with great enthusiasm last Sunday was the ministry of music here at St. Andrew’s, as they had the opportunity to be a part of a service led by our exceptional Choristers—who sang so beautifully. And they talked about the friendly and fun spirit of the time at lunch with all of us afterwards. And that of course reminds me of this week ahead, on our way toward All Saints Sunday a week from today. Beginning this coming Tuesday evening with a choral service of Lessons and Carols for All Saints, then Evensong on Thursday evening at 8 p.m. led by our Choristers, a Candlelight recital on Friday evening again at 8 p.m., and then next Sunday for All Saints, the Holy Communion, with orchestra, and the Schubert Mass in G Major. There’s a wonderful text by the 19th century Baptist hymn composer Robert Lowery– The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart, a fountain ever springing; all things are mine since I am his--how can I keep from singing? “How can I keep from singing.” Indeed, very much our motto around here. A lot to sing about.
It takes my breath away—so many gifts, in abundance, in this place, shared with one another in the name of and for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. As we come together to worship and to share our lives and our service. In the next few days we’ll all of us be receiving a letter from Heather Eng, our Senior Warden, to kick off the Annual Campaign for support of St. Andrew’s in 2012, and it seems to me to be so appropriate to have as the theme of the campaign this year “Deo Gratias, In All Things Giving Thanks to the Lord.” Certainly so much always to be thankful for in our life together, in all the complexities of our lives individually and as families--and as that campaign moves on now over the next few weeks I would as I did in a pastoral letter last week say again, how thankful truly I am for you—and the good gift that you have been in my life and for this community and for the life and work of the wider church. It is indeed a great place—St. Andrew’s. And I thank you for being a part in the great things God is doing here through you, and through all of us together.
So having said all that, I would just say a word to notice that there is a lot in the readings appointed for this morning that will be a little unsettling for the rectors of cardinal parishes. The priests and prophets on the other end of Micah’s oracular diatribe this morning are all pretty comfortably situated in the secure embrace of the establishment. Of high office in the court of the king, with prestige and power and wealth in all kinds of ways flowing from that. And they know who signs their paychecks – and Micah of course really calls them on the carpet for that here. As they cut and tweak and massage the message, to make it all more palatable. Someone once said that it is the role of the Church, or should be, to comfort the afflicted, and to afflict the comfortable. But of course so very often we’re the comfortable ones ourselves, and it is just easy to say the popular thing, the expected thing. To make it all just one big, friendly, mutual admiration society. To skip over the harder truths, the more convicting demands. To make sure the spotlight only catches us on our good days. Comforting the comfortable. Always making sure that if there’s any “afflicting” to be done, it’s being done to someone else. Over there. One of them.
But Micah says, no matter how much you massage the message, the chickens are coming home to roost. God is going to make his truth known and felt with power and authority, and no amount of pleasant verbiage or psychological anaesthetic will protect us from the consequences. A message for every establishment. Ancient and modern. Conservative and liberal. Protestant and Catholic, progressive and evangelical. If the message lets us stay comfortably where we are, if it confirms our presuppositions and tells us what we already knew to be the case, if it leaves us comfortably right where we are. Well, be careful.
There’s a funny old story in ecumenical circles about clergy vesting rooms. They say, you know, that in all clergy vesting areas in Roman Catholic Churches there will be prominently displayed a devotional painting of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. On the other hand, in many Protestant clergy vesting areas there will be a print of the wonderful 19th century Holman Hunt painting called “The Light of the World,” of Jesus standing by the home of the Christian, with the line from the Third Chapter of the Revelation to St. John, “Behold I stand at the door and knock.” Of course, in our Episcopalian vesting rooms, as the saying goes, there will always be a full-length mirror.
In the reading from Matthew Jesus certainly goes at the Pharisees and Temple leaders with some of the same energy that we heard in Micah. They may read the right prayers and sing the right songs. But pay attention to what happens when the liturgy is over and the scripts and costumes are put aside—and do all those fine and holy words make a difference? A question of authenticity, and integrity. What do you see in their lives when the play comes to an end? When Sunday is over, and Monday has come? And Paul brings the same scrutiny to the situation among these new Christians in Thessalonika. To notice when there are folks out there who seem to be using the church to advance their own personal situation, with ulterior motives and agendas. “You know that I wasn’t like that when I was first with you,” Paul says. It wasn’t about me. Remember that, as it was on my heart for you. It was always and only to be about Jesus. It was my job not to take the front and center stage. My job was to preach the word, and then to get out of the way. So that it would be always and only about Jesus. When it’s time to talk about leaders and leadership, let that be front and center for you.
Well. Good stuff for rectors to read and think about, take seriously. Good stuff for a diocese to think about when it’s time to nominate and elect a new bishop. Good stuff for members of a congregation to think about as the inevitable annual campaign letters begin to arrive In the mailbox. For all of us. It is all about our integrity. Our authenticity and integrity in Christ. About more than talking a good game. Walking the walk. About being open to one another, and about being vulnerable. Taking risks. Moving out of our comfort zone. Wherever that comfort zone may be--and we do all have them. But about following him, as faithfully as we are able to do that, day by day.
It is for us all a work in progress, (we are all works in progress)--sometimes three steps forward, two back—sometimes two steps forward and three back. But making our way the best we can. Pehaps even at these moments being willing to take a deep breath and to hear a hard word and a challenging word. Thinking about what Jesus told Peter during their Easter season breakfast together by the Sea of Galillee. “Peter, do you love me?” He asked. “Then know this. Because of me, you are one day going to be picked up and carried to a place that you didn’t choose.” There are lots of people out there who will be glad to tell you only what you want to hear.
But here the Bread of Life, the Cup of our Salvation, the promise of Christ and his real presence—in our Holy Communion and in all our lives. It is a stretch. It is a blessing. And as the Stewardship Campaign says for us, as we make our way along this road together, following Jesus, even so: Deo Gratias. Thanks be to God.