Monday, May 30

Sermon Second Sunday after Pentecost

Deuteronomy 11:18-21, 26-28
Psalm 31
Romans 1:16-17, 3:22b-31
Matthew 7:21-29
Now having Ordinary time in the church calendar, I'd like to pause and review where we have come from, that is to remember what God has done over the last few months. In a sense that is one way I think we can understand the Deuteronomy passage: a call toremember and be formed by that remembering. When Church of Jesus Christ Reconciler had its officially began at the beginning on Advent it was also the beginning of the church year. We as a church from our beginning have waited the coming and celebrated the coming of Christ. We have walked with Christ from baptism into the desert and then to the Cross. We have rejoiced in the Resurrection and sat at the feat of the resurrected Christ teaching that everything from his birth to his death and resurrection had been anticipated. We have seen Jesus Christ ascend into heaven, and we have sat in the upper room with the disciples at the birth of the Church. Finally, we have proclaimed the name of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, three in one, one but three.
Our little church has been through much already as we have walked through these festivals and fast. We have gone through, changes and transformations, darkness and hope. We are seeking and have been seeking to follow in the way of Christ, and we have seen that way, we have seen the works of God in Jesus. Both in this church and in the liturgy, I hope we have all seen and experienced these things in our day to day lives as well.
Now after Pentecost, we find ourselves faced with the continual question put to us by our Scripture texts for today: is church and the story of Jesus just nice ritual and a pleasant fable, or does the mythology the liturgy truly mean something, do we really believe that all this actually happened. Is it real, is it actual, in history, in this church, in our lives?.
The temptation of all the trappings of the historical faith that we as members of this ecumenical church have chosen to make use of is to find comfort in the ritual and liturgy, alone. It is why historically people in all three of our traditions (in various ways and to varying degrees, but especially among the Baptist and Pietists) have argued for simplicity in worship, for the dominance of word and speech.
The temptation for us or any church that chooses the height of ritual (which we do not really approach, though it might seem so to Baptists and low church Covenanters) is that Christianity is understood as a mystery religion.
At the time of the birth of the Church there were religious pagan cults whose ritual themes were very similar to Christian themes and worship: These cults are known as mystery religions. The members of these cults like in Christianity had an initiation ritual that reenacted the death and resurrection of a god or demigod. There was also a ritual meal in which one was united with the god or demigod. These rituals were in and of themselves salvific, and ultimately it did not matter if there ever was an actual event behind these rituals, the ritual itself was all that was required, to took you to a certain spiritual place, lifted one out of the common world into a spiritual plane of existence. For the mystery religions the rituals were the means and the end, they both brought the participant out of the world and there was nothing beyond the ritual, the ritual was the spiritual reality.
Alexander Schmemann, in his Liturgical Theology reminds us that Christian worship however ornate or however simple is not about the ritual and liturgy, its not even about the sermon or the experience of worship. Meaning not that vestments, icons, festivals and fasts, seasons and church calendar, sermons and emotions are meaningless and unnecessary, but that all these things are grounded in the actuality of the mythology we commemorate and participate in through the church calendar, the festivals icons and vestments, hymns and sermons. When we are baptized Jesus does not enter the tomb again, rather we ourselves die in Christ, we are joined to the actuality of JesusDeath and resurrection. When we walk through holy week we are doing so because it actually happened, and not because our liturgies make the fable real. Our liturgies and worship are connected to what God has actually done in history, even as this actuality transcends are ability to measure and comprehend and make real.
Christian worship depends on faith, on trust. It is founded in faith for faith (To paraphrase Paul in our Romans text). Our worship does not effect our salvation, it calls us to salvation, that is it calls us to faith. We worship we vest we come and eat bread and drink wine not because these things save us but because God entered our physical world and saves the whole world in the flesh and blood of a human person, Jesus Christ. Our salvation has already been accomplished. Through faith, and its manifestations in liturgy in fasts and feasts, song art, and in our daily life, we enter into that which has been accomplished by God already and actually, and is being accomplished in us and in the world today already and actually.
Thus, Christianity is an ethical religion: in ways that the mystery religions werent. Christian worship, correctly interpreted, leads to a particular life style, a radical ethical actuality in the world. Here again not because ethics saves us, or living a moral upstanding life saves us, but because worship and ethics for the Christian is from faith for faith. It is about faithfulness and trust; that is, it is all about relationship with God with a person who is, was, and will continue to be. We worship with our whole selves and bodies, ritual and liturgy, because there is nothing not affected and effected by the life death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, the Logos, second person of the Trinity.
Jesus leaves us with a challenge in some very evocative images. Look Jesus says there are these people who bow and prostrate themselves before me, they go to church without fail week to week sit in the pew sing the hymns say the amen to the preacher, or there is preacher who knows the Bible and has charisma and people throng to the preachers pulpit. Yet in all this activity and insistence something is missing. Jesus says to this throng of activists, liturgists, preachers and good church goers, coming and saying Lord Lord, I never knew you, who are you, why do you come to me, you have done nothing I have said. You came to church and you went home and lived your week as if I had nothing to do with your life. Had you known me had Lordmeant something in your mouth the world would have been different your office would be a different place, your music and art would be different, I would have lived in you. As it is you thought church and sermons and rituals and the right words were your salvation. You may have spirituality and religion but where is your faith. You cant say you know me if you never realized that I am concerned with your whole self. There is nothing that was not mine if you were truly known by me.
This seems harsh and so Jesus gives us a picture of two types architects/house builders. One is concerned with something that will last, he is concerned with the materials and ultimately this architect is concerned with the foundation the ground on which the house is to be built. If the building is to last, the architect understands that the ground on which the house is built must be solid unwavering, faithful and able to withstand the elements.
Another architect is concerned only with shelter and technique, this builder is in a hurry to get the building built, and does not look to see if the ground on which the house is to be built is solid, if there is any consistency to the soil, that there is something solid in which to ground the house. This architect whether realizing it or not is unconcerned with the future of the building unconcerned with whether or not it will last.
Jesus says that those who think that Christianity, that is following Christ, is about technique, looking to Jesus teaching or life for a mythology for living or rational for a certain activism, one may have a very fine house a very fine life, but that does not make one a follower of Jesus, a disciple. One can sit at Jesusfeet, I can preach the most astounding sermons, we can be enriched by liturgy and fasts and festivals, but if they are not grounded in the actuality of Jesus and thus find their expression in the actuality of our life, as life shifts and in that ultimate shifting of life our death, we will find that what we built out of the stuff of Christianity ( the life and teachings of Jesus) will crumble upon us. Our very religion and spirituality without accepting the actuality of faith, trusting in Gods actual acts in Jesus and living that salvation out in our actual lives as artists as office workers as friends as family, as neighbors, will be our death.
If what we do here if our vestments the icons the Eucharist the fasts and feast of the church year have no foundation on what God actually has done and is doing in the world and in our lives than we are living in a death trap of a house, and it is condemned already by the divine building inspector.
But Jesus says do what I have taught, dont just listen to sermons do what is preached. Dont be transfixed by the icon but encounter the actuality that is the meaning of the icon, dont merely eat and drink but thirst after God hunger for the way of Christ. We walk the path from Advent to Pentecost not to be comforted with a nice story or to attain some spiritual plain of existence but to be transformed into Christ, that the world might be transformed because we know trust and love Christ because Christ holds us firm in his grasp. From faith to faith, from Christs faithfulness to our trust, from our trust to Gods faithfulness born in us, that we may do the works of faith, and truly live life.