Give us grace to readily answer the call of our Savior Jesus Christ… (from the collect for the Third Sunday after Epiphany)
It wasn’t only the observations and insistence of people who knew me or experienced my ministry as a lay person which kept me going even when it seemedthat I might never be ordained. There was a dream, a vision that drew me to desire ordination in the first place. It began small and grew and in the end, I called it “Giving away the priesthood”.
Over these few ten years as I have served in parish ministry as a priest, sometimes I have lost sight of the dream because of the nature of parish priestly ministry. But the dream never dies. It is persistent, and insistent. It drives me and leads me, both at the same time.
When I ignore the dream, like Jonah, I suffer. I come close to perishing. When I serve the dream, I feel alive; I thrive. When I forget the dream, I feel like I’m serving death. When I recall the dream, I see life, abundant life for all people.
Part of the dream that applies to the institution which is the Church. It says that the church has everything backwards, inside out, upside down. We are like an orange, with all the good stuff inside and to get to it a person has to tear it open.
But what if the orange were turned inside out? What if we weren’t inside our churches on Sunday morning, catering to those who have come in our doors? What if, instead, we were outside? What if we took our worship to wherever there are people who need to hear and see the love of God, instead of waiting for people to come in here to us?
What if instead of mourning the steady decline of the way church used to be, we opened our eyes to see the community God has given us, right before our very eyes, in our lives and the life of our churches every day of the week? What if, instead of closing ourselves inside our Sunday hour, we walked among the people who use our buildings all the time we are not in them or we looked differently at the people we live and work with every day? What if we found out how we might serve them? What if we joined them, instead of waiting for some of them to join us?
What if we break that orange peel open so no one has to fight their way into the fruit at the center ever again?
Jesus did not call people together 2000 years ago so that they could pray to him and take care of one another. Jesus called people together 2000 years ago so they could learn from his example how to show God’s mercy and compassion, God’s love and identification with them. Jesus called people together to lead them to be healers and teachers and storytellers, like him.
Jesus called together a school for disciples. We have made of his vision an institution.
That’s not going to change any time soon. The institution does good things. It sends money and missionaries and doctors to war torn and disease ridden and poverty ridden places in the world. It helps to rebuild after natural disasters. It opens soup kitchens. It has food pantries for the poor. Maybe without an institution we wouldn’t be able to reach so much of the pain and hurt of the world.
People worship God in church buildings. As a result church people do good things, individually and independent of one another, in their lives. Maybe this would not be the case if we weren’t in this room every Sunday.
At the same time, the change is happening, parallel to the continuance of the institutional church. A new wind is blowing. A new church is emerging. It will renew the old rather than cast it aside. If the old is wise, it will embrace the new and help it flourish.