Reflections to start the week
Monday, February 3, 2014
When liturgies collide
It happened yesterday. Did you notice? There was the observance of the Super Bowl, that annual liturgy gathering millions in hope and fear, indicating much about what we worship as a culture. This morning: prayers of celebration for Seattle fans. Prayers of sympathy and consolation for Denver fans.
On the same day, there was the observance of Groundhog Day, that mysterious tradition by which a rodent ventures into meteorological prediction. I’ll leave it there.
And in continuing coincidence, there was the observance of the Feast of the Presentation. On February 2, the church recalls the story of Jesus presented at the temple, as Mary and Joseph, bringing the Christ child to that holy place, where by divine direction they meet Simeon and Anna. (Read the story in Luke 2:22-40). Both Simeon and Anna are getting on in years. Both had heard a promise that God’s hope would be realized in their lifetimes, that they would see what God would do to save and heal his people. Accordingly, both had spent their lives in the temple, worshipping and waiting and watching and expecting to see what God would do. On in years, they never gave up hope. For that reason, they model discipleship and teach us about faith. What struck me about their witnesses was that their hope was lived out in the institution, the organized religion of their day, in and through their tradition, in community. I’m sure that was easy some days. On others, I’m certain it was hard.
They made me think about how we hold onto the hope that God will act in our lives , our world. One way is by gathering in community, organized religion in its various manifestations, ever mindful of how it works well and how it doesn’t. Often when folks tell me they don’t believe in organized religion, I welcome them to the Episcopal Church, because we’re not that organized at all.
The challenges are real. Our culture shifts these days in regards to affiliation with church. Recent surveys polling young adults outside the church on their views of the church offer this challenge: 87% said it was too judgmental. 85% said it was too hypocritical. 72% said it was out of touch with reality. 68% said it was boring. The nicest spin I can put on it: There is a growth opportunity.
I believe we are called to stay with the church (in its many expressions) as we pray for the church, and ask God to work in it (and perhaps in spite of it) to make things new. One of my favorite prayers for the church appears in both the liturgy for ordinations and the liturgy for Good Friday. (Draw any conclusion you’d like from that coincidence.). It goes like this:
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were being cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
As we reflect on the “wonderful and sacred mystery” that is the Church, can we see it as a place where God makes things new, makes us new? That’s not always easy. I suspect we’ve all been wounded by the church in some way. I suspect we’ve all had our part, witting or unwitting, in inflicting injuries that have come to others in the church. Take this Monday to think about your own part in the life of the church, in the great varieties of ways people experience Christian community. Can you see God’s hope realized in and through the community? Can you do your part to help the church to grow, not so much in numbers as in depth? Do you stand in the way in any way? Do you stand on the sidelines? Knowing that we cannot be Christians in isolation (an option not given us), pray that the God of unchangeable power and eternal light will be at work in us, through us, in spite of us, making things new. Making us new. In whatever community you worship, do your part to participate in that process of renewal. Pray for the church, indeed a wonderful and sacred mystery.
And I hope you’re all recovering well from the Super Bowl. And that that rodent doesn’t bring us too much more snow.
– Jay Sidebotham
|A prayer for the church:
Gracious God, we pray for the church.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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