July 28, 2019
The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
July 28, 2019
Br. Juan Charles Valles, CG
Lessons: Genesis 18:20-32 / Psalm 138 / Colossians 2:6-19 / Luke 11:1-3
In the name of God, protector, sustainer, and guide. Amen.
Good morning, everyone…It’s been quite some time since I’ve been up here. It seems like whenever I am, it’s always because of some transition or change or something otherwise unexpected. As you all probably know by now, we are currently between clergy. I know what clergy can represent to a congregation: stability and permanence. And, just when it seemed like we were finally getting comfortable and in a certain groove here, God up and pulls the rug out from under us. In full disclosure, I’ve been trying to make sense of the whole situation myself. It’s no cosmic accident that these readings popped up in our lectionary cycle.
Everything packed into todays’ readings is beautifully set up in sort of a call and response antiphony: even our Watchword and Collect of the Day do this! A disciple asks Jesus to teach him how to pray: Jesus’ response is elegantly summed up in today’s Collect;
O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal.
Clearly, Christs’ first followers knew to pray: like our own liturgical traditions, Jewish prayer life was and is full of highly structured, regimented prayer. But as we’ve seen from Jesus throughout his ministry, Jesus reminds us that prayer without heart, faith without actions, and ceremony without purpose can impede our knowing God on a deep, loving, personal level.
Jesus, teach us how to pray: let us pass through things temporal – things of this fleeting, transient world – and focus on the things eternal – the things that provide meaning to this life and our journey through it. Christ himself even gives us a roadmap in today’s Gospel.
I want to read two different translations of Jesus’ prayer that I think provide us a more helpful glimpse into what Jesus was saying: the Message and the Common English translations.
First, the Message: “Father, Reveal who you are. Set the world right. Keep us alive with three square meals. Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.”
And, the Common English translation: “Father, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom. Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us. And don’t lead us into temptation.”
First, all things must begin with glorifying and praising God for the abundance of his mercy and grace. Then, we pray for balance between God’s vision and reality: may the perfection that we see in God be brought into this world, and may God’s will and purpose for us and Creation be made manifest.
We ask God to give just what we need to be able to unleash God’s love and goodness upon this earth: there is no such thing in God’s word about excess or massive riches. We pray for food, shelter, meaning, family, connections…God is not some sort of heavenly slot machine. We also pray for the strength and love to forgive, and we pray for that same mercy to be shown back to us. Finally, we ask God to help us to remain mindful of the call to a simple, meaningful, grace-filled life: keep the temptation to be of this world in its rightful place.
I know that it seems like our little faith family is always in crisis. Money is tight. We’ve lost members. The buildings seem to be crumbling around us. And we can’t keep a clergy person in this pulpit. Images of bailing water or quicksand can way too easily come to mind. I sometimes suffer from this doubt myself. But, here’s where good old Paul really brings it all home for us: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.” He then goes on to write: “Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths.” What is he getting at? A whole lot, but I think in our context here at St. Mark’s, it means that we cannot allow ourselves to be enslaved by the world’s markers of success: we will never be a megachurch flush with cash, and that’s okay. But, what are we called to examine, and what are we called to do?
First, let me preface my next comments with a disclaimer: I am not trying to forewarn you of any impending doom. I don’t want to set off mass hysteria or sow damaging rumors. I’m just hoping to provide a little food for thought. What do we need to succeed as a community? Is it these buildings that make us a church? Conversely and in a similar vein, does not having the finest of altar linens, choirs, and high-tech audiovisual equipment keep us from coming together to worship God and to share our lives? Are we serving this stuff, this building, this furniture at the expense of simply being present before God? Again, what is it that makes us church?
I want each of us to close our eyes for a moment and imagine. Imagine what church would be like if we didn’t have to worry about filling seats or keeping lights on. How would your church life change? Would it? Being freed of having to worry about the future of these four walls, what could we do? Could we more directly serve those affected by the ever-growing housing crisis here in the Southland? Could we respond as stewards of Creation by confronting climate change? Could we make ourselves a sanctuary for those fleeing international and domestic violence and trafficking, especially at our southern border? Would we have the audacity to stand up and say enough?
I want each of you to take what you just saw in your mind’s eye home with you. Let the ideas marinate and creative juices flow. In about a month from today, we will gather for a congregational meeting and meal. At that time, we will talk more about living as a church without walls, whether physical, spiritual, or emotional. As you pray over the next few weeks, listen for God’s will for us and pray that we have the fortitude to live that purpose out with unabashed joy and love. When we finally have the courage to knock, knowing that God will open that door, what will we find?
As I close this morning, I’ve asked Jim to lead us in an old favorite, Seek Ye First. As we sing its verses, listen. Listen and be assured. You can find this hymn in the blue hymnal at 711 or the Book of Worship at 605. Amen.