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Sunday, June 06, 2010

A Walking Sacrament

It's not going to surprise too many of you to know that I probably have more earned time - educational, spiritual retreat, hours worked over my contracted 50 per week - than I should.

It's not healthy. Really. No one knows this better than I, moi, myself.

So, I'm taking advantage of having another ordained person on staff and taking some time off in June. I'll be spending some time with my family, which I'm really anticipating with great joy. And, a little time to heal.

Oh, I still have things to do - a wedding at the end of the month, people to see for counseling sessions - grief, marriage/divorce - and spiritual direction and a few building projects in the hopper - but I'm intentionally taking all four Sundays off in June.

Jon+ preached a perfectly wonderful 'ordinary' sermon this morning. You can read it here on his blog.

I went to a Presbyterian church this morning to hear Dr. Paul Smith - a dear friend, colleague and, my spiritual director - preach and experience worship in the church he formerly pastored. Paul's been retired about five years now and this was one of his visits 'home'.

While the church is founded on - and lives out - good, solid, Reformation Theology, I'm quite sure the liturgy was nothing at all what John Calvin had in mind.

The first thing you need to know is the mission statement of the church:
"First Church is home to a growing congregation energetically committed to serving Christ in the church family, the community and the world. We are intentionally a racially and culturally mixed congregation on an enlightened journey of faith."
Here's the thing: They mean it.

No, I mean, they really mean it.

The congregation was filled with Asians, Hispanics, African Americans, Islanders, Caucasians, and everyone in between and beyond.

It was like Pentecost.

They are also actively involved in God's mission - among themselves, in their community and in the world. Just like their mission statement says.

And the music. Oh, Lord have mercy, the MUSIC!!

Weren't nobody nohow gonna sit down while that choir was singing - especially when the prelude was "Woke up this morning with my mind on Jesus." That was followed by a call to worship and then the congregational hymn "Love Divine".

Here's the Confession:
Gracious God
whom we have seen in Christ
in whom all things hold together -
we have not turned to you as One.
We have eaten the children's inheritance,
we have fed the Leviathan of war;
we have watched the wretched from a distance
but their prison, their nakedness, their disease, their hunger
has touched us not.

Attune us to the song that never ends -
the song of being
ready to die to live
in Christ our Lord. Amen.
Then came not Absolution but an Assurance of Pardon, of course, followed by a sung Gloria Patri.

The Anthem was "For Every Mountain" - words and music by Kurt Carr - which the soloist and the choir knocked right out of the church.

No joke. Right out of the church and onto the street and into the neighborhood.
"I've got so much to thank God for
So many wonderful blessings
And so many open doors
A brand new mercy
along with each new day
that's why I praise You
and for this I give You praise.

For every mountain You brought me over
For every trial You've seen me through
For every blessing
Hallelujah, for this I give You praise."
The joint was positively jumpin'.

We were ready to hear the Word of God. My friend Paul did not disappoint.

He took Mark 10:46-52 - the story of Blind Bartemaeus - as his text.

The title of his sermon was "Praise and Protest". He began with this quote from Rolf Jacobson, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, from Working Preacher.
"What if what a sermon is supposed to do is invite people into the biblical text (into its narratives, its poems, its parables, its letters and proverbs and prophecies) so that people can both see themselves and their own lives in the Bible and also see God in their lives? What if what a sermon is supposed to do is give people eyes to see God at work in the world, to give them ears to hear God's word when it is spoken in the workplace, to give them minds that can make sense of their daily lives in light of Jesus Christ?"
Using that as his standard, he first broke open the Word by retelling it in a contemporary setting: Jesus had just come out of Madison Square Garden and the crowds outside were pressing around him when an old man, a blind man, named Bartemaeus, started calling to him.

The ones who were not blind, the ones who had sight, tried to quiet him, but that old blind Bartemaeus, he just kept callin' out to Jesus, "Yo! Jesus! Could you help a brother out?"

Jesus stopped and said to them, "Let me talk to the man." And, when they told him that Jesus would see him, the man jumped to his feet, threw his cloak aside, and came to Jesus.

When Jesus saw the man he said, "What do you want me to do for you?"

This question, said the preacher, is the one Jesus asks of us this morning.

And then, the preacher got personal. And, as we all know, the personal is always political.

He started with the "Tea Party folks" - all of whom have health care benefits, along with power and privilege - who say to those who don't - "Be quiet. We will speak for you / do something for you."

He moved onto the Bush Administration, and then quoted Tony Hayward, the President and CEO of BP who is widely reported as having recently said, "I'd like my life back."

He said this, mind you, even as he was apologizing to the people of the Gulf Coast for the worst oil spill in the history of this country.

Some apology. Why are we still trying to believe ANYTHING that comes out of this man's mouth? Even his apology sounds like a lie.

The preacher then asked, "Why do we praise Jesus but not protest those who want us to remain silent? Why aren't we in the streets protesting those people who want us to be quiet?"

He left the pulpit then, walked into the congregation, looking them each in the eye, and asked, "Do you have faith in God? Go," he said, "your faith has made you well. Your faith in God is sufficient for whatever your needs may be. Your faith in God is enough for you to praise God and protest against those who would quiet those who are in need."

As if that wasn't enough, he started to sing that James Cleveland favorite, "I don't feel no ways tired." And the choir started to sing right along with him.

And, we did, too.
I don't feel no ways tired.
I've come too far from where I started
Nobody told me the road would be easy.
I don't believe He brought me this far to leave me."
As my heart soared, the eyes of my soul were suddenly opened.

It was then I had a realization about "Walking Sacraments".

Reformed Theology has a very high doctrine of The Word, with a much lower sacramental theology.

Episcopalians are people of Word and Sacrament. We're very keen on that balance.

Interestingly enough, it was Anglican theologian Austin Farrer who wrote an excellent sermon on the priesthood entitled "Walking Sacraments."

In the midst of that very Protestant service, as I watched my friend walking up and down the aisle of that church, opening up the Word of God so that God's people could be fed, I experienced my friend's ministry, his priesthood, as a Walking Sacrament.

Now, John Calvin, I'm quite sure, would have had great difficulty with that idea.

Some of you might, too - for a wide variety of reasons.

I submit that the discomfort some might experience with that notion comes from a mistaken understanding that the relationship between the ministry of the laity and the ministry of the ordained is a zero-sum game - that the edification of Christ's Body can only come from de-emphasizing the ministry of the ordained and clericalizing the laity.

On the other hand, some want to elevate the ministry of the ordained to a status of Supreme Parent or near deification, with the attendant, concurrent infantilizing and anesthetizing of the laity.

I think those impulses are not only mistaken, I think they're part of what's wrong with the church.

The Sacraments of the church are not a zero-sum game. We need to let clergy be clergy and laity be laity and ALL of us be part of the Priesthood of All Believers.

We should stop trying to domesticate or institutionalize the grace that comes from the sacramental nature of the priesthood given to us all at baptism.

Do you have a gift for preaching? You don't need to be ordained to be a Walking Sacrament.

Do you have a gift for teaching? You don't have to be a member of the laity to be a Walking Sacrament.

Do you have a gift for pastoral care? You don't need to be ordained to be a Walking Sacrament.

Do you have a gift for inspirational music? You don't need to be a member of the laity to be a Walking Sacrament.

You don't even need to have a perfect balance of Word and Sacrament to be a Walking Sacrament.

However, if you are a baptized member of the Priesthood of Believers - lay or ordained - and you are not a Walking Sacrament, you may want to consider if something might not be out of balance in your soul.

Is it well with your soul?

Jesus asked Old Blind Bartemaeus, "What do you want me to do for you?" He asks us the same question today.

Jesus said to Old Blind Bartemaeus, "Go, your faith has made you well." He says the same to us today.

So, what are you waiting for? Go. Be a Walking Sacrament. God knows, the world needs us all to be vehicles of sacramental grace.

God needs our praise, but the world also needs our protest.

Go, be a Walking Sacrament.

I didn't have Holy Eucharist in "God's one, holy, catholic and apostolic church" today. But, I was richly, deeply, profoundly fed on the Word.

Can you tell?

I do believe the healing I need has now begun. I think it has a little something to do with having experienced the sacramental grace needed to restore the sight to the eyes of your soul.


the cajun said...

I love it when we get to be in the exact place we need to be at the time we most need to be there.

Talk about Threshold of Revelation!

Yes, the healing has begun and you remain in my thoughts and prayers.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, see you this w/e?

the Reverend boy said...

That sounds like an absolutely LOVELY experience. Once again, reports of the death of mainline protestantism is highly exaggerated. And you, my dear are quite the example of a walking sacrament.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You know, I don't know if I could sustain that kind of energy every week, but it sure was wonderful yesterday.

And, thank you, Sir. You ain't exactly chopped liver yourself ;~)