Year C, Proper 9
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
July 7, 2013
“Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it?”
Last week we dove headfirst into the deep waters of mindfulness. I am really looking forward to continuing the conversation about, and eventually, even, developing practices of meditation or contemplative prayer here at Resurrection. Practices that frame silence are cultivators of mindfulness, and with mindfulness, with being where we are when we are there, with actually doing what you are doing when you are doing it, God finds you and you find God, that is just how it works. It is good stuff. We are going to be continuing on that tack, pushing the edges of our comfort zones around a life of the spirit, of prayer and practice. We are going to dig in more deeply into the technical-practical side of loving God with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our strength and with all our minds.
We already are off a really good start together on the loving-our-neighbor side of the Great Commandment. Patterns of radical hospitality are being ingrained, sharing our space is becoming more normative, our active service at the 2nd Sunday Breakfasts is joining the Home Starter Kits as the regular business of this parish, and no one falls out of the pew if I offer a critique of the moral swamp of late-stage free market capitalism. This is all very encouraging. Even our structures are beginning to reflect the institutionalization of our collective hospitality and service in the coalescing of the Social Gospel Council, the sharing of potluck responsibilities and the new coffee hour format which launches today. Very encouraging indeed.
Our ministry together has begun with an emphasis on loving our neighbor. The risks we have taken, the heavy lifting we have done since our ministry began together 18 months ago have been primarily outward looking, outward facing, engaging the world beyond these walls. I did not consciously plan it this way, but I think we had to find out if we could handle each other. I don’t approach this vocation like a lot of other priests do and it has been important for us to push some boundaries as we figure out if a life in ministry together feels like the will of God. And truly, church-world interface, how we address, participate in and serve the world outside of church walls is a real winnowing fork, separating churches from clergy. (Trust me, in too many cases it is the clergy that fills the role of the chaff, being too in love with the Church its ways and not enough in love with the broken world the Church inhabits as Jesus teaches us to do). I know that I have learned immeasurably over these past months and I get a sense that you all have, too.
The Great Commandment is such potent religious doctrine because it fits the lives of so many communities in so many places across so many centuries and centuries. Where one gathering of Christians finds their starting place most fittingly in the realm of loving God, that is where they start. Where others see their starting point as loving neighbor, that is where they start, for one, if taken in fully, will always lead to the other, that is a gift of our God, the deep truth of this Great Commandment. Of course, being church, both are essential and here we have always led with solid, graceful worship, which is of course the center of any Anglican community that is true to our heritage. But we have begun our life together facing more outwardly oriented, or certainly my attention has been somewhat focused on learning the mission field of Eugene, learning the blessings and curses of life in the lower Willamette Valley.
Of course we will continue to spread the Gospel of justice and love of Jesus Christ, of course we will continue to radically welcome, radically invite even, keeping the beautiful red doors wide, wide open for the Word to spread out and for people to be welcomed in. But what we will now begin to do in a more mindful way, in a more institutional and structural way is to work, learn and practice loving God with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our strength and with all our minds. We are going to try to live into the other half of the Great Commandment as fully as possible as well. Think of it not as a pendulum, a swinging back and forth of our collective attention in the same static arc, but think of it as a rock climber. We have solid hand and foot holds on this side, now let us make forward progress towards the Kingdom of God, building on what we have, striving, advancing upward unto God. And as I get better at being a priest, as we get better at working together, as you take on the mantel of your Baptisms as an ordination into the priesthood of all believers, we’ll integrate all of this into the life of this little embassy of the kingdom of God that the light of Christ might shine in this time, in this place.
So what do you all think of that? Does that sound reasonable? Does that seem to make sense?
One of my goals is to continue to make our processes more and more transparent, that is why the vestry does announcements and why vestry meetings are reported on and why the Tune In! has been a priority and the website, Facebook page and phone tree are so important. I don’t want conscious decisions to come off as flaky, bouncing from one priority to another.
The thing is, living as God wants us to live, being the followers of Christ that we strive to be, experiencing the grace that flows through the creation in the Holy Spirit, it is really not all that difficult. Well, at least it is simple, it is not complicated, it doesn’t take a lot of accessories. We’ve known this since at least the late 9th century BCE when Elisha was working wonders around the Levant. “Go wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored…” Naaman had traveled all the way from Damascus to Israel and doesn’t even get to see Elisha, but the prophet’s messenger tells him to just wash as directed and his leprosy would be cured. But Naaman wanted something bigger, something more complex, something he couldn’t do in the privacy of his own home. He wanted something more spectacular, but what he got was a megadose of the authentic life of the spirit. Do what you need to do, it is not that complicated, and certainly don’t go seeking more complicated solutions than you require.
Think of wellness, physical wellness. With all of the trillions of dollars we spend on our bodies, that we spend on highly researched, beautifully marketed and profitably delivered health care products and protocols, true health, actual wellness comes for most of us in the very simple things; eat whole and wholesome food, don’t smoke and drink moderately if at all, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, avoid stress and sunburns, wear a seatbelt in your car, and a helmet on your bike. Practice safe sex. It is not complicated, nor is it, of course, a guarantee, I’m just saying…
A life of the spirit, the religious life, spiritual wellness is similar. You don’t need to go to a monastery in Burma, or a pilgrimage on El Camino de Santiago, you don’t even need to buy yoga pants or an incense burner to find your way to God. Come to church. And when you come to church, be open. This is a safe place spiritually. You can ask the questions you need to ask, we don’t offend easily at Resurrection. You can try something on, and if it doesn’t work for you, try something different. Give your full effort to what you try, do due diligence, but if it doesn’t work, if that prayer practice, or getting up for the quite Mass at 8:00 for a change is too much, try something different. In any case, come to church, engage in the formation on Sunday mornings or Wednesday evenings, join in teaching our children. (If you want to begin to understand what you understand about God, try to explain your beliefs to a six year-old). Volunteer to be a lector, an EM, or serve at the High Mass. Or serve breakfast next week at First Christian and practice seeing the face of Christ in the faces thankful for the pancakes. Or follow Br. Lawrence, the 17th century Discalced Carmelite who achieved union with God in the monastery cellars cutting vegetables and washing dishes help with coffee hour as a spiritual practice.
Or simply walk quietly in one of the countless beautiful places within minutes of here. Eat one bite at a time and know that you are eating. If you read, read a religious, a spiritual book every third book you pick up. Ask me, I have recommendations. The point is, find what fits and start there. The first step towards a life of the spirit does not need to be a doozie. It needs to be simple, familiar, and challenging enough to keep our attention. So try things on, fearlessly even, because in a place such as this, a loving church community such as this, leaning into God, trying to lean, trying to find at least what direction to lean towards, all we have to lose is loneliness, all we have to gain is God in Christ. AMEN