Saturday, August 23, 2008

Drifting Too Far From The Shore

24 August 2008/Proper 16 – Romans 12:1-8/Matthew 16:13-20

The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

God’s Mission Has a Church

It is not that God’s Church has a Mission, but that God’s Mission has a Church.

It is good to be back. Not that being on vacation was not wonderful, but it is good to be back in the fellowship of God’s People called St. Peter’s. And it is Peter’s day – the day he is renamed by Jesus. No longer Simon, but Peter. Which in the New Testament Greek makes for a kind of pun – for the word for “rock” is petra, while Peter is Petros. Petros is petra – the rock, the foundation upon which Jesus builds his church.

We say “builds” because we know His church is still under construction in so many ways. The church is always growing, changing, under construction, searching for new, more nimble, more creative, more flexible ways of being God’s people. Each time a new member is added to our rolls, each time a person is Baptized, we must be prepared to be called to new and different ways to “do all in our power to support one another in our life in Christ.”

A life which Saint Paul asserts is quite different than that of the world around us. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Paul does not envision a people focused on our lives in and of themselves. We are those people who trust that being in the right places at the right times – the places where God promises to be – God will transform. Our hope is not that our resolve will hold, but that God’s resolve will hold.

During an all too short week in New Hampshire, surrounded by family and friends, I found myself being visited by God in some unexpected places. In the Morgan Hill bookstore, a favorite haunt for the Kubiceks on vacation, I sat down in a wing chair, glanced at the books on the shelf next to me, to find The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages by Joan Chittester, O.S.B. – that would be Order of Saint Benedict.

Now Benedict lived a long time ago – just some 400 years or so after God in Christ walked this earth as Jesus. He tried to get away from the world – a world of Empire marked by power, wealth, violence, aggression. He tried to live in a cave, but others heard of his special gifts in finding a way to live with God so that he was coerced to join and lead a community of like-minded followers of Jesus. Benedict encouraged a disciplined approach to community life, work, study, and prayer. Some thought his methods too difficult and tried to poison his wine. Benedict was onto it, made the sign of the cross over the jug of wine, smashed it on the ground, forgave them for what they had done, and moved on to found a number of monasteries.

Benedict eventually put his ideas on how to know God all down on paper, The Rule of Saint Benedict. It begins with the words, “Listen carefully, my child, to my instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart….” I sat there in the book store reading Benedict’s Rule and Sister Joan’s reflections upon The Rule. In what was surely only a few moments out of an otherwise glorious day I felt I had time-traveled back to that cave on the cliffs overlooking Anio to listen to the voice of a fellow traveler whose wisdom draws one closer to a place where God can have at us and transform us.

The next morning I went bird watching. Some in my immediate family cannot understand why one would wake up before daylight and set off into the woods looking for birds. After all, Dad, we are on vacation! Sleep late! But off I go, my Peterson’s Field Guide in my back pocket, binoculars around my neck and a generous spray of insect repellent around my neck and ankles and hands.

About half way through the two hours in the field is when it came to me – bird “watching” is somewhat of a misnomer. Because watching and looking is not the primary skill necessary for seeing birds, but rather listening is what leads the eyes to see that solitary, magnolia warbler or indigo bunting. Bird watching is an apt metaphor for the spiritual life as Benedict imagines it – listen carefully with the ear of your heart and God stands ready to show you the way.

Down on the dock in Herricks’ Cove it would be another book that brought me a little further along the way – Margaret Visser’s The Geometry of Love. Richard O’Dell lent it to me, and it too has its origins in Italy. It is a look at how the architecture of a church, Saint Agnes’ Outside the Wall, expresses the very essence of what it means to join with Peter and say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

It is a book alive with examining every detail of what makes a church a church, a living expression of God’s will – what is good, what is acceptable, what is perfect. Visser explores how the center aisle invites one to understand the Christian faith as a journey – a pilgrim journey from the world outside in to the sanctuary of the living God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus. We move closer and closer to the Tabernacle where reside the Body and Blood of our Saviour Jesus, God incarnate.

And she writes of how it is a church is not just a pile of rocks by the side of the road, but a living reminder returning us to those times and places where we met God along the way – those mystical, privileged experiences of the Holy. She is careful to distinguish that a church is not so much meant to induce such moments of epiphany as to acknowledge the experiences its visitors have had. It is a collective memory of such spiritual insights and mystical moments.

And with the obvious sign of the cross, crucifix and Stations of the Cross we are reminded that in order to live we must die to self – choose the transcendent over and beyond the immediate present. The call to follow the Christ, the Son of the living God, is a call to look outward towards others and toward God. Only then can we know what it means to be fully alive. It is not that God’s Church has a mission, but God’s mission has a Church. And we are that Church, the Body of Christ.

The church in bricks and stone and wood and glass tells this story and invites all who would be Christians to continue this story, so at the end of the day we are sent away: “Ite missa est,” – Go, you are sent! From which we get the word mass: to turn our lives toward others and toward God. To complete the work we begin in here in actual fact we must return to the world beyond our doors. We are to live with other people and love them, just as we are to live with God and be loved by God. God’s mission has a Church. I find myself wondering, Are we willing to continue God’s story, be transformed by that story, and so become active participants in God’s transformation of the world in Christ Jesus? Or, have we drifted too far from the shore?

Listen to the Emmy Lou Harris version of the Charles E Moody song (1923):

No comments:

Post a Comment