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I can imagine the 18th Ecumenical Council convened at St. Matthias on the Mountain Church, Any City, USA. Representatives from both congregations are present. 8 o’clockers, who prefer the dignity of Rite I and an uninterrupted day afterwards, and 10:30 people who like to sleep a little later on Sunday morning and take it more slowly through the day. The stakes are incredibly high. 8 o’clockers have developed a statement about their position.
Time is of the essence. God is awake and active at any time, even early in the morning, though some might be tempted to deny it. The day is a precious gift from God that must not be wasted. One must start the day with worship to ground oneself in one’s faith before launching out into the myriad tasks that every day brings. It is good stewardship and sound theology to worship at 8.
Liturgy is of the essence. The Rite I service is the closest we can get in the new-fangled 1979 book to the hallowed phrases of the Good Old Days, when we ALL used the same form in the 1928 book, the book that nourished a whole generation of Episcopalians through some of the greatest years in the life of this church. One cannot help but notice the coincidence between the approval of the 1979 book and the general decline of our noble and historic tradition in society today.
Theology is of the essence. It is nonsense to imply that God doesn’t wake up before 10 o’clock in the morning. Without God’s ongoing sustaining creation there would be no sunrise. The sunrise, to be sure, is a time-honored symbol of the resurrection, the one thing we celebrate EVERY Sunday of the church year.
It is sloppy theology and bad stewardship and unwarranted liturgical experimentation to waddle into the Lord’s Day when the day is half-spent.
In answer, the 10:30 people have also issued a rebuttal.
Time is indeed of the essence. Taking one’s time to prepare for worship is an act of worship itself. Waking up slowly on the one day when one has a chance to sleep in a bit garners the few more moments of rest to assure a mind that is not fogged with sleep in Church. One might note how frequent slumber is during sermons at the earlier hour, Certainly more than at a more decent time like 10:30. Worshipping when the day is half-over assures that the whole day will be spent in holy things rather than running off helter skelter to do worldly things on the Lord’s Day.
Liturgy is of the essence. Liturgy should speak to the day lest church become a museum to Elizabethan English. Liturgical innovation has taken place since the beginning days of the Church. Even Jesus said, “The Sabbath is for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Let us not let “time honored” be a euphemism for wooden and dead.
Theology is of the essence. God is awake at 8:00 o’clock, we take your word for it (lacking any personal experience in the matter.) God is also the God of 10:30 and of all times. Worship of God need not be restricted to early hours lest we imply a polytheism that holds to gods of many times. That is a slippery slope to the all-out paganism of spirits in trees and stones and different places.
It is not sloppy, but renewed and reborn theology, stewardship and liturgics to worship God in the middle of the day.
The argument grows more heated with every exchange. Egos get picked, tempers flare. Righteous indignation thickens the air on both sides, and no one notices a slight figure in the corner who stands with his arms folded, grinning. Someone finally takes a moment to ask him who he is and which side he represents. He sidles up to the microphone and catches everyone’s eye. With a cunning smile he replies,
I represent neither side–or either side, take your pick. I am the spirit of contention, and our great commander below has sent me to score yet another victory among thousands in the very midst of the enemy camp.
But then, all of a sudden a heretofore unseen trap door opens up in the floor beneath the devil and he slips through to the smell of sulfurous smoke. The light drifts to a small figure in the opposite corner. A glow of light surrounds him, and he holds in his hand the handle of a big lever! HE takes the microphone and says,
Jesus was crucified for all of you. Jesus rose again for all of you. The Sacrament works at 8 and at 10:30. The positions you have taken are not mutually exclusive, but complementary. Each side says something important that the other needs to hear.
Take those two disciples on the road to Emmaus, for instance. They could have gone to Jerusalem that night and gotten all bent out of shape. ‘WE are the believers in the Breaking of the Bread, was not Jesus revealed to us there? We are the true sacramental body of Christ.’ The others say, ‘We experienced Jesus in person. We saw him, touched him, fed him broiled fish. We are the church of those who experience the living Christ.’ Are not both necessary? The personal, unique and unqualified experience of the risen Christ, AND the predictable, reliable grace of the Sacrament? Are not the saints of the Spirit and the Saints of the Church ultimately about the same thing? Of course they are, because there is one body, one Spirit and one God and Father of All.
In this fractious and divisive age imagine the witness of a church that doesn’t stoop to such devilish lows! Is not the greatest witness to the resurrection the people of God transformed by the love of God shown on the cross and in the empty grave?
Today we celebrate that reality at Good Shepherd Church. We gather at 9:30 as ONE body by ONE Spirit confessing ONE Lord and God and Father of All. We may prefer different worship services or different schedules, but we are one body. We may prefer high church or low church, “thee’s and thou’s” or “us-n’s and “them-n’s: but we are one body. We may prefer a more literal approach to the Bible or a more figurative or symbolic one. We may hold the clergy in high esteem for their office or consider them just one of the crowd—but we are one body in Christ.
As the little angel implied in the parable preceding, the reason for the variety is important. When spoken in humility and love each of us says something that is ours to say, and each one says something the others need to hear. Together, in all our diversity—and not without it, the unity of the Spirit is known.
Humility and love are the necessary virtues that took Jesus to the Cross. Without them this doesn’t work. I could even say humility is the special gift of the saints of the Church, and love is the special gift of the saints of the Spirit, but I won’t because it’s not that simple. Saints of the Church love the Saints of the Spirit, and Saints of the Spirit are humble with the Saints of the Church. When we lose that we lose the point of this whole sermon.
Now I must say that at Good Shepherd we do a rather good job of this. Not to lose the virtue of humility, but it behooves me to state the obvious. We have people from across the spectrum of politics, age, country of origin, race and language, sexual orientation, time in this parish and social inclinations. The Saints of the Church regularly gather, shoulder to shoulder with the Saints of the Spirit at the altar rail and all those differences are secondary. The Saints of the Spirit often take the Saints of the Church marching into the world to share the love of Christ, because at that moment all those differences are secondary. In fact, when we get out there to witness to the world, or when we gather at the holy table those differences, because we have the underlying unity, allow for honest, open, loving godly relationships.
Take the After School Program, Honduras, the Garage Sale and Bazaar, Palomas, Student Interfaith Alliance, Blessing of Bikes and Animals, Food for the Hungry and Coats for the Cold, Blessings to Go—you name it—and you will see a spectrum of people living in the love of God and sharing the love of God, thanks be to God!
Your rector, as president of the Standing Committee and Chair of Borderland Ministries, and your deacon, Tom, who is diocesan chair of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew, and Jeanie, dean of one of our camps this year, connect you to what is happening in the larger community of love that is the Diocese of the Rio Grande.
The bishop we have and the one we will elect next year extends that community of self-giving love to other dioceses around the nation and the world.
But there is one more thing that grounds all of the above. The community of self-giving love is the community of God because our relational God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, live the ultimate community of self-giving love. Into that dance the resurrection has called us. Out into the dance of the world it swings us that the whole world might come to know the saving love of Christ.
Oh, that today 3000 would be added to our number!