If anyone could be considered raised in the church, I would say that I could. I was baptized when I was a baby just on the other end of the aisle, I was confirmed maybe four feet from where I’m standing, and I’ve been an acolyte since elementary school. And recently I’ve started to think that those of us raised in the church, familiar with the liturgy and with early memories of Sunday Mass and prayers, are in serious danger of letting something beautiful slip by us, unnoticed and unappreciated. For example, I knew the words of the Creed by heart long before I knew what the word “begotten” meant. For years of my life, some of the things that now most profoundly shape my life were just a matter of routine and choreography. We’re born with this path available, the path of security where we pay lip service to God, not exactly out of insincerity but more as a matter of course. And it’s not that we then feel free to live lives of violence and debauchery, but we just never consider that there’s a higher gear available, that we can and should strive, contest, and contend with ourselves and the world, so as to further and deepen our relationship with God.
I have been blessedly, incomprehensively lucky and fortunate in my life to have been saved from this path by meeting the people I’ve met, when I met them, and experiencing the things I have, starting with being baptized and confirmed and raised here. And, to my shame, it took me much too long to realize any of it. I, if I want to flatter myself, could fairly say that I possess a bit of an independence streak, but perhaps a less softened and more accurate term would be obstinance. Because of this, it’s required some outside help to get me to the point where I could realize what has been directly in front of me my whole life. My freshman year of high school was, I think, the year when I really began to wake up. We had had a copy of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis for a long time on a shelf in our house, and one day I decided to pick it up and started reading. And, I remember, there was an early line that struck me. It was a proclamation, which now seems to be an obvious one for an advocate of Christianity to make, that Christianity was the right religion. Strangely enough, this idea had never really occurred to me. It seemed odd to see it phrased that way. But this simple and explicit phrasing opened me up in a way that’s hard to describe. It put the possibility of Truth on the table. If you haven’t read it, Mere Christianity is an excellent beginner for theology. His arguments, for me, made it clear or at least very possible that Christian faith has a legitimate value beyond some vague cultural heritage.
“Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love,
that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness,
and minister your justice with compassion.”
A few people have asked me how it feels to have our Centennial Celebration over with. I thought it was a terrific year, with all kinds of great ways of giving thanks and treasuring memories. It’s important for parishes to make time now and again to step back and celebrate ourselves. At the same time though, any church community only has a finite amount of attention and energy, and the vast majority of ours this past year has gone into the Centennial and its events. So I’m also really looking forward to this next year, when we can simply be a church, simply put energy and attention into the central things our life is about, like discipleship and worship and servanthood. Those are the things that, in the long run, move the ball down the field.
And as part of easing back into moving the ball down the field, I want to look at the collect this morning, and in particular the interesting request it makes of God, and how it sheds light on our style of being church here at Emmanuel. “Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion.” What’s this about?
Imagine with me if you will Millennium Park in Chicago – or really, let’s picture the huge expanse of open space that runs all the way down Lake Shore Drive. Grant Park is the name of that whole area, and it extends south as far as the Museum campus and Soldier Field. If you’ve ever seen that entire zone full of people, it holds maybe 500,000. So let’s imagine that crowd in Grant Park.
While you’re imagining, let’s put a big hi-def screen in there, like there would be at Lollapalooza, say. So we’ve got a huge public space, with several hundred thousand people in it, watching a big screen. Hard to get more public than that. Now I ask you each to imagine one more thing: Let’s imagine that the screen is broadcasting, for all to see, a completely uncensored feed of everything you have ever done.
Some joyous events in there, of course. Celebrations, accomplishments. But also that epic screaming fit, the time you tortured a frog when you were 7, the night you skipped out on the bill, those episodes of binge-eating, the comments you dropped knowing that they would ruin someone’s chances of getting hired. Put everything any human being has ever done on a screen in Grant Park, and there is not a single one of us that could show our face again. Nobody, other than Jesus, has lived every minute of their life in a way that an experience like that would not be humiliating.
Enjoy your summer! Welcome to summer! The school signs all over town proclaim the season we are just beginning. And in church we recognize it too. It is green time, ordinary time as it is known in some denominations, and officially the season after Pentecost. Generally this time of the year for many, brings less responsibility, and more relaxation. Life, like the seasons, is rhythmic, often described with the metaphor of the ocean. The water comes in and goes out, ebbs and flows, over and over. With each ending there is a new beginning, and with each beginning is an ending. It continues on and on. Summer is a time to experience God’s creation in different ways and to explore parts of the world, God’s world, we don’t ordinarily see. Over the past few weeks I have listened to various people’s plans for these months with the accompanying expectations of delight. Each person or family has different ideas for what they will do, but the anticipation of a happy, less stressful time is the same.