Year A, Easter 3
May 4, 2014
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked to us on the road and opened the Scripture to us?”
Sometimes Holy Scripture just blows me away. It can be so right on; we find it (or it reveals itself to us, that’s a matter of debate), we encounter it sometimes exactly when we need it. This story about the road to Emmaus is one of those stories.
Our primary sin as a species is idolatry: treating as God that which is not God. Ourselves and our needs and desires, power, freedom, material things of all sorts. The disorderedness of our relationship with the world is astounding, because we are constantly seeking something to be definitive, the final word. “if I just had enough x (love, respect, wealth, cars, sex), my life would be complete.” Paul Tillich, the great systematic theologian from Boston described God as our ultimate concern. The cautionary tale in that theological approach: beware what you are ultimately concerned with for it will become your God.
If treating as God that which is not God is our primary sin, the very close second has got to be not treating as God that which actually is. Arrgh! We are a tone deaf species sometimes. Cleopas and his friend walk seven miles with this man and it is not until the bread is broken that they realize that he is Him, the risen Lord, then poof! He is gone. Across the gospels that is how so many of these Eastertide appearances turn out. No one recognized God when He was right in front of their faces, occupying that liminal space for those fifty days between Easter and the Ascension. And here we are, 2000 years later and far too often the blinders that the Confuser, the Tempter fits us with are far, far too effective at concealing a full, multi-spectrum view of the world and each other and God’s activity in time and space. Hrrmpf. What are a God-fearing (or hoping to be God-fearing) people to do?
That is a serious question. What are we to do? How do we respond to, how do we live and participate in a world so pregnant with idolatry on one hand and tone-deaf blindness to God on the other? How do we go about making real the Kingdom of God right here and right now as Jesus tells us if it is so hard read the instructions? Another serious and actual question for you all.
I have been thinking a lot about what we are doing here together. Not just here, here, but in the church writ large. I have been invited to participate in a task force on congregational vitality, Amelia Ballard and I both, so I take that as a vote of confidence from the Diocese that Resurrection has 20% of the seats on this task force. And we are going to be looking at what makes a parish vital and viable; what makes a church worth investing time and love and energy and money in. We are going to be exploring, at it root, what is the purpose of church?
Part of what we do here is simply keeping the prayer wheel turning. It is a great mystery to me as to why, but God requires worship. (or we require that God be worshiped, same-same but different). We need, existentially need to approach the foundation of existence in a worshipful posture of receptivity.
Beyond that, though, what are we doing. Are we primarily a support activity, providing a base, a training and formation center for folks to find a center, to find God in Christ and be formed for ministry in the world? Your primary ministry is not altar guild or lector or vestry person, it is being a Christian citizen and banker, teacher, parent, friend, customer, boss… your primary work is in the world. Maybe church is the place to learn how to be that better and better.
That is good. Preparing the saints to make real the kingdom of God in their own, your own worlds. There is a risk, as Father Simon Justice says, degrade into “therapeutic deism” if you know what he means, self-helpy Christianity, narcissistic spirituality, but providing solace and strength for the journey AND for the work of God to be done is a very possible raison d’etre of the church.
Or, are we primarily an operational base in God’s campaign to make real the Kingdom? Are we a place where we consolidate and refine resources to collectively do the work we have been given to do. House churches are great, but they don’t make for very good Eagan warming center sites. Collectively we have a critical mass of willing and able servants, doing the work we have been given to do, housing the unhoused, feeding the hungry, and collectively supporting the ministries of those who do. Are we a collective or a collection of saints? Do we focus on preparing ourselves individually for the work and lives we have before us or do we drill down into how we do what we do here, together? Or both? Serious questions.
We have a lot going on here at the Church of the Resurrection. From a bustling children’s program, to a vibrant choir, engaged adult formation and education programs. We share meaningful worship, deep corporate prayer practices, and far reaching social gospel ministries with actual impact on the world… Our building is becoming more and more useful to the larger community. We have a lot going on and sometimes it seems that we are going in all sorts of different directions.
We are growing, rapidly. We are the fastest growing parish in the diocese. This is very exciting, very encouraging that our ministries are being well received here in the Lower Willamette Valley. But there are also challenges. Change is always complicated. The way things have always been done is not a sufficient model of how we need to do our work now. The matriarchal/patriarchal system that got us through the past 50 years is not able to keep up with 140 or more of us gathering here every weekend. The way we organize ourselves (or not), as far as I can tell, is making it even harder to recognize when it is in fact Jesus walking along side of us, sitting down with us for supper.
The vestry has already started some of this work, thinking and dreaming about how we do what we do, and starting in June, we will invite the whole parish to enter into a time of dreaming and discernment, and we are really going to begin to discern God’s will for us as a parish and as individual Christians. We’ll be having some day-long sessions facilitated by a priest from Portland where we’ll be dreaming and praying and thinking and talking first about how God is calling us individually. Then come the Fall we’ll gather again as a collective and dream and discern what God is calling this parish to be and do. And finally, right before we celebrate our 50th Anniversary with the Bishop in October, we’ll gather again to discern what we need to do the work we are discerned has been given to us: what models of governance, what resources, what staff, what space, what care we need to give to this building. It is process; not usually my go-to place… but it is where we need to go to become the embassy of the Kingdom of God that I am confident we are being called to be.
So let us start this work today; let us start it in your hearts and minds, priming the pump of the process we are beginning. Jesus revealed Himself to Cleopas and his friend in the breaking of the bread on the road to Emmaus. As you come forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ today and in the coming weeks, ponder the question: What is revealed to me in the breaking of the bread? It is a very simple question; may it have very full answers. AMEN.