Posted by: dacalu | 28 January 2013

Personal and Common Faith

This morning I was delighted to worship with St. Michael and All Angels’ Episcopal Church in Tucson, AZ.  Here is my sermon.

 

 

Collect (III Epiphany)

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Readings

Nehemiah 8:1-10 (For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law.)

Psalm 19 (The heavens declare the glory of God)

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a (Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.)

Luke 4:14-21 (“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”)

 

Sermon

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my
heart be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my strength and my redeemer.”

 

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

 

I’ve been thinking this week about questions of Christianity,

of membership, and baptism, and belonging.

What does it mean to be a member of the body of Christ?

One of the books I’ve been reading suggested

that it was one thing to believe in God,

but once you say you believe in Jesus,

you’re starting to push the envelope.

I wasn’t sure what that meant.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about it.

I’m still not sure, but I know it got me thinking.

It got me thinking about the difference between an abstract faith,

a generic commitment to the way the world works,

and a concrete commitment to Jesus Christ and the church.

 

And now I’m starting to sound evangelical.

That happens on occasion.

It makes me uneasy, though.

It makes me uneasy because there is a danger within evangelicalism,

a danger of making Jesus Christ your personal Lord and Savior.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m entirely committed to the Lord and Savior part.

It’s the personal part that gives me pause,

because when God is mine personally, I can use God

as a measuring stick by which to judge others.

And that doesn’t sit right with me.

God is not an abstract ideal.

God is a real person, in Christ Jesus.

So, if I were to say, Jesus Christ the person is my Lord and Savior,

that would work for me.

Perhaps that’s what the phrase is supposed to mean.

Nonetheless, I tend to refer to him as our common Lord and Savior.

 

 

And now I’m starting to sound catholic.

That happens too,

because I really do think that God comes to us

(and through us, and with us)

in the church.

That too makes me a little uneasy.

It makes me uneasy because there is a danger in catholicism,

a danger of losing that personal relationship,

within the big, complicated mess of our common life together;

a trap of thinking that whatever it is needs to be done,

needs to be done by someone else.

And that doesn’t sit right with me.

My relationship with God does not depend on anyone else’s approval.

And God’s call to me goes beyond the church’s role in my life.

So, where does that leave us?s

As members of a church that is both evangelical and catholic,

a church that, on good days, shares in the joys of both perspectives,

and on bad days is prone to the errors of both.

Who are we?

 

We are the body of Christ and we are individually members of it.

 

I have been talking with my friend Greg about baptism,

debating really, because we have very different theologies.

He said something that deeply moved me.

He spoke of “sacrificial commitment to the mundane”,

a calling to be accountable,

not only to the broad principles of theology and scripture,

but to the concrete realities of common life;

a calling to live as one body of Christ,

not sacrificing individuality,

but recognizing interdependence.

As a church we are asked to live together,

even when we might make different decisions were we apart.

Jesus walked among us – in the flesh,

and because of that he was subject to our world.

We say he lived and died as one of us.

We remember that he ate and drank with his disciples,

traveled with them, worked with them, taught with them.

Our model is not,

and has never been,

a God utterly separate from Creation,

who imposes laws on a foreign people.

Even in the Old Testament, we see a God of covenant,

who travels with the people,

and works through the human processes of tribe and kingdom,

ritual and priesthood.

 

 

We are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

As Christians, but particularly as Anglican Christians,

we are aware that we are both God’s own as a community,

and God’s own as individuals.

And that takes work.

It means figuring out who we are and what we are called to do

as separate and distinct people,

and then fitting into the common purpose and mission of the church.

 

And not just any church,

not the church universal or the church triumphant,

not the great cloud of witnesses, nor the mystical body of Christ,

as wonderful and amazing as those are.

We are called to the here and now,

for us today, that means

the people of St. Michael and All Angel’s, Tucson.

for us today, that means the Diocese of Arizona, and the Episcopal Church.

We are called to be the Word made flesh.

 

And the wonderful/awful thing about this

is that you can do it anywhere, with anyone.

And the wonderful/awful thing

is that wherever you find yourself,

you are called to create a community of love with those people.

 

The Old Covenant was meant for one people, one tribe and nation.

The New Covenant is meant for the whole world.

 

We have obligations,

but no, I won’t call them obligations – they are not commanded of us

We have opportunities

to build up the body of Christ.

And, just as a physical body is built from simple foods, bread and wine,

so a spiritual body is built from simple actions,

and the two are never separate.

We always need food and drink,

but we also need relationships.

Those relationships are built on love, abstractly,

but concretely they are based on sharing and support.

We share food.

We share our feelings and our thoughts.

We share our money and our possessions.

We share our work in the world.

We even,

and here’s the scary bit,

share our relationship with Jesus.

We say, “it is not just my conscience that guides me,

but our conscience, our faith, our custom.”

 

 

We who are many are one body,

for we all share in the one bread.

We who are many are one body,

For we all share in the one Lord.

 

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

 

This is what it means to follow Christ,

who managed to be one with God and one with humanity

at the same time.

He was baptized into us, as we are baptized into him.

 

And this is hard work,

because sharing does not mean sacrificing.

We sacrifice our independence, by bringing all our individuality to the table.

And we walk a fine line, between idolizing self and idolizing community,

because that’s the way the world works.

The healthy community needs you to be utterly you,

in communion with others who are utterly and openly themselves.

 

 

Do you know the person next to you?

Why do they come to church?

What is their theology?

What image of God do they see when they close their eyes?

And what image when they open them?

What part of the service moves them?

What hymns speak to their hidden heart?

If you don’t know, wait until after the service and ask.

For God’s sake, ask.  And share your own heart and your own faith.

 

Secular culture has taught us to fear this kind of conversation.

We are conditioned to think that one person’s faith must be wrong,

for another person’s faith to be right,

but that is not the case.

And I’ll be bold enough to say,

we don’t even really know our own faith,

until we’ve shared it with someone who disagrees.

That’s when you find out where the edges are.

That’s when you find out what’s really important to you,

what matters.

I guarantee, if you listen patiently,

every single person you have a real conversation with,

will make a gift of one true thing –

one thing you will discover that you believe,

in your heart of hearts believe,

that you never knew before.

 

 

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

 

I hate to say it, but that was the easy part.

As hard as it is to figure out your own heart,

the next step is even harder.

 

Look at the people around you.

Ask yourself what we believe.

Ask yourself what we commit to together.

The weekly confession has a wonderful line,

one I never fail to delight in.

We say, “we have not loved you with our whole heart.”

It’s not plural “hearts” but singular “heart.”

Next time you say that confession,

ask yourself about our heart.

 

Ask yourself what you are willing to offer up

in order to be one with your neighbor.

 

Not sacrifice.

I’m not asking you to give up pieces of yourself,

I’m asking you to offer up pieces of yourself,

to risk discovering that you disagree.

 

Are you willing to commit time every week

to be in the presence of God – together?

Are you willing to commit money from every pay check

to discover what our common priorities are?

Are you willing to commit to honest conversation about God

so that you can discover the content of our heart?

 

 

Does that scare you?

It scares me.

This is the fear of God, the recognition that something greater exists than myself,

and a willingness to enter into it.

It takes courage and patience,

but we can, with God’s help and with a little bit of help from our friends.

 

 

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

 

What we do here, in this building, in this church.

That is only the smallest seed.

This community and this worship is practice.

Beyond those doors lies a world full of people,

who do not know how to talk to one another,

who do not know how to be of one mind, one heart, one joy,

who do not know how to be children of God.

And, just a few who know far better than we.

 

That is the kingdom.

And that is the good news.

That is the yeast that leavens, the seed that grows, the vine and the branches.

 

And that is our call as Christians and as a church.

So that the world may be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.

 

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