“Provoked into love” - November 18, 2012
Pentecost 25, Year B
Readings: (1 Samuel 1:4–20); 1 Samuel 2:1–10; Hebrews 10:19–25; Mark 13:1–8
Samuel is born to Hannah and Eli.
Time to pause for a while to contemplate where we are in year one hundred and six. Time to draw back and look at the big picture on the one hand, and look within on the other. The anniversary of this church. Our family tree has to be looked at under the ground, as well as above. Our roots are complicated, like the roots of any tree. If you take a picture of the place, they don’t show. You can’t see all the churches nestled within this one, all the generations sharing the pews with us.
Nor can an observer see all the ripples that have been fanning out into the neighbourhood and beyond for all these years, most of them good. Ripples of laughter, of caring, of prophetic anger. People passing the building project things onto it, and us. People who know or knew someone who comes here, either to worship, or for theatre, or a children’s program, or for food, and get a sense of what this place means to the world.
A church is not static, not simply a lump of brick and mortar. It like a magnifying glass, concentrating spiritual power into a focus. It is classroom, inviting people into deeper awareness of where we’ve come from and where we’re going. It is a laboratory, allowing people to explore new-old ways to be in the world. It is a dance studio, encouraging us all to learn how to move in relation to each other, and to the Spirit of the dance. It is factory for hard work and piercing visions. It is a sandbox, a climbing structure, a salon.
Or if you came from the Palestine of Jesus’ day, it is a nod to the Temple in Jerusalem, where God lived in the terrifying and exhilarating Holy of Holies, deep within. Where people came from all over the world to breathe in the sanctity, remind themselves of the wholly Other, the deity who could not be portrayed, and who was aligned with no king or empire. Where a steady plume of smoke rose up from the giant basin where parts of birds and animals were burned to send a fragrant offering to the heavens.
The temple was an interface between the sacred and the secular, what the Celts might call “a thin place.” This church is to resemble the Temple in that regard, if not the herds, the flocks, the cages, the smells, the flames, and the fear factor. The author of Hebrews is working hard to make links between temple worship and Christian faith, seeing in Jesus a replacement for the Temple, the high priest, the sacrifices in every way, only better than all of them. All the gore comes as a bit of shock to us. It’s so remote from our everyday experience.
Do we need a building to draw near to the sacred? Back at the beginning, Christians met in synagogues, sometimes at the riverside, then catacombs, and other hidey holes. Does all the business of church get in the way of the holy just the same as the business of the Temple did? How can we make a place like this transparent, less of a door, more of a window? How can we make our worship, our life together less of a hindrance and more of an avenue for a person hungry for transcendence? Is our mission consistent with Jesus’ mission, our fellowship an embodiment of the Christ?
What we’re after is the wildness, the satisfaction in Hannah’s song. We sang it this morning. Did you catch its radical nature? Everything is reversed. “The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.” And on it goes: the childless, the rich and poor, the honoured and the needy, the faithful and the wicked. A pure, thrilling cry of incandescent anger, and the certainty that wickedness, inequality and privilege are doomed.
Has there been a church built, a system for religion set up, ever, that could contain such a Spirit? That’s the whole thing with the Spirit, isn’t it? That it blows where it wills. In warm countries, windows, doors and insulated walls are not important for a church. The walls are just to hold up the roof, so the place can be built to be open, breezy. We’re here, though, inside, in our one hundred and seventh year, with the boiler running and things shut up in the hopes of keeping a chill breeze out. All we can hope is that opening the metaphorical windows, the doors, the skylights, the shutters as wide as they’ll go will let that untamed Spirit blow through here.
Today we celebrate all the times it has. All the daring ventures, all the caring words and shoulders, and the sharing the Spirit has stirred up here. We give thanks for heroes in the faith from all the congregations woven into the tapestry that is Glen Rhodes. We bless their spirits, and the Spirit. We set up our kites, unfurl our wings, hoist our sails and wait for that fresh breeze that will lift us up, carry us off toward...who knows where? We wait for the Spirit.
No. Scratch that. Go into the corners, and take those elbows and butt ends. Your sisters and brothers are just doing their job, provoking you. And if you are the polite, retiring sort of person who would rather die than jostle someone else, consider empowering your inner Gordie for a change, doing a little provoking of your own.
The needs in the world for Christ-like ministry are not going down. Far from it. Team Glen Rhodes is needed in the bigger game. On Sundays we have our team meeting, go over our plays, rehearse the importance of team work. On Monday we get in the game, as individuals, as groups, as a whole church. At home, on the street, at work or school, in the media, with our various groups.
The game analogy breaks down quickly when we think about the consequences for so many others in the world who don’t have homes, or safety, or freedom, or food, or a chance for an education, or a dependable climate anymore. It’s not a game for them. They can only sing Hannah’s song, and wait some fantastic reversal of fortune that will bring down their oppressors.
Love and good deeds. If we tried to list all your love and good deeds of the last week, we’d be here until next Sunday, and still not finish. None of us are perfect. I’m not trying to say that. We have our moments. But we meet together, and we encourage one another, as Hebrews instructs. It’s possible we can be an even better team, and we’re working on that, always.
Let me illustrate with a story. Bob goes with his friend, a comedian, to a comedian's meeting. When they get there, one of the men stands up and shouts out "34!” and all the other comedians laugh hysterically. Bob turns to his friend and says "I don't get what was so funny!” and his friend explains to him that the Comedians' Guild has assigned each joke a number to make them easier to tell.
All through dinner, the members of the Guild stand up and say numbers, and every time, everyone laughs, so Bob decides to give it a try. He stands up, and shouts out his favorite number: "54!" Dead silence.
Bob sits down, turns to his friend and asks "What did I do wrong? When ever you do it, they laugh!" And his friend answered, "You didn't tell it well." We have to tell our story well. It’s not just laughs we’re after, although we enjoy that too. We have such a great story to tell. We might as well tell it well. And at this early part of century number two, we have so much to celebrate. Enjoy the anniversary. Enjoy the thin places. Get those elbows up.