Sunday, June 01, 2008

A New Foundation

A reflection on Matthew 7:21-29, Proper 4A Pentecost 3

Jan Richardson from the The Painted Prayerbook offers this reflection:
“ When a friend of mine was ready to build a house on the land he had purchased in eastern Kentucky, he sent out a request to some friends. Scott invited us to offer an object, a tangible blessing that he would bury in the ground upon which he would build the house. He recalls that “Folks were amazingly thoughtful— some of the items included tea, Legos and puzzle pieces from my childhood sent by my mother, guitar strings, a bit of climbing rope, a bit of granite from my home town (Lithonia meaning roughly “rock place”), a wine chalice from my potter friends, shells from our childhood vacation spot,herbs, bits of plants and dirt from various parts of the country, and chocolate.” After all the gifts arrived, Scott gathered with some friends for a ceremony on his property. Placing the gifts in the ground, they offered a blessing for what would take root in that place. Married now and with young children, Scott and his family flourish in the house built atop the buried blessings.”

Think about it.

Building the foundation of a house on the gifts of others including prayers and blessings. When I read this I thought immediately of this parish. We are a church built on the generosity of others – the people who have gone before us and the gifts they have given this church in leadership and financial support. Their gifts, and your gifts, have built a fine church. Financially stable and secure for the future
with a beautiful worship space and attractive comfortable meeting rooms, offices, and parish hall. Sometimes I wonder if we understand how truly blessed we are to have such a solid foundation.

We have much to be thankful for. Having a solid foundation for our finances and buildings is only one part of the issue that Jesus is speaking of in our Gospel this morning. He’s pointing us to that and something more.

You see, he says, it isn’t enough to shore ourselves up, there is more to be done.
There is more to be done than just hearing the word of God, which is like shoring ourselves up… we also have to do something beyond ourselves.

Some years ago I knew a woman who had discerned from God that she had a special calling – she could hear Jesus speaking to her. I mean Jesus said sentences, even entire paragraphs to her. She began to write down these sayings of Jesus and eventually created books, little reflection books on the words of Jesus. The books were published and sent to people. Some people got them who had never heard of this woman and the gift she had discerned in herself. Some were particularly appalled
at receiving the book because it addressed a concern or issue they faced and offered a solution, from Jesus himself, no less! A few began to find the books very comforting. Some began to ask the woman questions for Jesus. “Please ask Jesus what I should do about thus and such.” And in time the woman would come back with an answer from Jesus. Once in a while it took a long time to get an answer back and the person would put their life on hold, waiting.

My impression of this ministry, this gift, was that it was relatively harmless
with a few exceptions. It conveyed the idea that Jesus would speak to her but not to others. It had a way of infantilizing people because they would not make a move in their lives until they got the words back from Jesus through her. It was sad to experience people who were in awe of her gift and yet failed to recognize that Jesus
does the same for them, for all of us.

Jesus speaks to all of us. Often we don’t hear, or at least we don’t recognize
that what we are hearing in our lives is God speaking to us. And very often we don’t take any action, we do nothing about the very thing God is saying to us.

This is the heart of our Gospel reading this morning – we are to take the word of God into our lives and then DO something. Building this church is like taking the word of God into us. It’s good. But it is also internally focused and therefore Jesus says, not enough.

Ok. So now what? We all can agree that we have built a solid foundation for one level of our structure, our corporate being. The vestry and I are coming to realize
that we need to build the foundation for the next level of our being – we can call it the spiritual level.

This is the work we will be about for some time. This is the work the vestry will be doing on a very intentional level. This is work I have asked you to pray about, especially to hold the vestry in prayer while they discerning.

Some time ago, there was an article in the Los Angeles Times about Howard Maxwell and his four year old daughter, Melinda. As children often do, Melinda developed a fixation on the story of “The Three Little Pigs.” Every time her father came around, Melinda wanted him to read it to her. The father, being both modern and inventive, got a tape recorder, recorded the story, and taught Melinda how to turn it on. He thought that had solved his problem. But it lasted less than a day. Soon Melinda came to her father,holding out “The Three Little Pigs” and asking him to read.
Somewhat impatiently, the father said, “Melinda, you have the tape recorder, and you know how to turn it on!” The little girl looked up at her father with her big eyes
and said, “Yes, daddy, but I can’t sit on its lap!”

The father was so focused on his work that he didn’t really think he had to spend as much time with his daughter as she needed. He failed to see the real significance of reading her that story over and over - it wasn’t the story - it was his attention she wanted.

This illustration speaks to the level of work we need to do – figure out how to move from being focused on ourselves to being focused on others. Yes, we are doing a lot to help people in the world around us. But do you all know what we are doing?

I think if you knew everything you’d be surprised. So, one piece is communication.
We were working on that. But there is more to it. We need to figure out, of all things we are doing, what our real focus is. Instead of just doing, we need to have a sense of purpose to it, a mission. We need a mission that describes who we are
and what we are about now and a vision of who we want to be in the future.

An elderly woman was making her way through the countryside. Each time she came to a crossroads she would toss a stick into the air. Whichever way the stick came down was the direction she went. At one intersection, however, an old man saw her toss her stick into the air not once, not twice, but three times before resuming her journey.The old man was curious. “Why are you throwing your stick like that?” he asked.She squinted and replied, “I’m letting God direct my journey by using this stick.” “Then why did you throw it three times?” asked the curious old man. “Because,” she said, “the first two times He was pointing me in the wrong direction.”

Discerning where God is calling us will require us to work on a different level
so that we can let go of being inward focused and our need to control life
and instead open ourselves up to God.

We will work on building the spiritual foundation in order that we can discern where God is calling us and therefore focus what we are doing and why. Building the spiritual foundation requires the same level of care and concern and dedication
as was given by those who built the foundation for our stable finances and fine Church buildings. That work can be an inspiration for us now.

In essence we are going to discern how we are being called by God to be the face of Christ in the world around us. How are we going to offer reconciliation, healing, and love, to this broken world of ours?

One simple way is: Each time you look in the mirror you are to remind yourselves that YOU, each one of you, is the face of Christ in the world. Each one of us carries within us the love of God given in Christ. As we go about our day talking to people, sharing meals, what ever we do, we are to remember that because of the Incarnation, because of Christ, God has chosen to live in and through us to reconcile the world to God’s desires.

And, what does God desire? Jesus tells us that too: we are to love God, love self, and love neighbor. Today’s reading reminds us that it is not enough to know this,
we need to act on it.

In addition to looking in the mirror and remembering that we are the face of Christ, there will be other things we do. As I have said, over the next year the vestry will be actively discerning our vision, where we think God is calling us. The vestry will be assisted by your prayers for us. We will also be assisted by some small group work we are going to do, fun visioning work, so look for an opportunity to participate in a small group.

The point is we are going to do this work together through prayer, through worship, and through intentional reflection. Why do we do this? Because we are living dynamic creative beings which means we live in a world that changes all around us all the time. As a result we need to take time to reflect on how we are changing just by being alive and here. We want to do all that we can to make sure that we are not limiting God’s ability to live in us, not controlling God through the direction we want to go in, but rather that we are opening ourselves to the word of God and then being willing to take action upon that word.

To do this we will ask ourselves two questions:
How is God asking us to be the face of Christ now at this point in time?
how are we to go about reconciling the world, or at least this part of the world in SE Arizona, to God’s love?

The answers I suspect will lead us to a new place of being blessed and to being a blessing for others as well.


Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

There is a lot in this sermon. I loved the stories you used as examples. (The home building story was especially cool.) And I adored the first of the two questions you asked at the end. It reminds me of a story Fr. Clyde told us once about being Jesus with skin on. (It was very similar to the storybook tale.)

We've been going through a similar process at Annunciation (so cool that I can use the name and have it mean something). Last year we did a lengthy discernment process we called the Growing Together Initiative, and now we are trying to implement the goals we set. One of them mirrors a piece in your sermon. We formed a Communications Committee. (Yours truly is on that one. That's what I get for complaining about communication for three years.)

Sending you blessings for the process. I'm sure you know there is bound to be resistance and questions. But it sounds like a solid plan, and I applaud you for spelling it out for folks.

mompriest said...

Ruth, I like the title your church used for the discerning work... I may steal it....although maybe we need something else...have to noodle on really is good work..and yes, there will be resistance. I just hope folks can hang in there a year or two 'cuz it gets a whole lot better!

I've heard the term, "being Jesus with skin on" before...have to remember it...

Yes, it is fun to know where you are!

Crimson Rambler said...

I was so struck by your illustration of "things in the foundation," I wanted to share this one with you -- a friend was given a full-sized Communion set by his parents, who had had their own wedding rings sealed inside the base of his chalice, because they were so grateful that the community of life, love, and faith that they had shared had produced a life devoted to celebrating the Eucharist.

mompriest said...

wow, CR, that is a wonderful story! thanks for sharing it.

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