In our reading from the Old Testament today, we have an account of something like a church service. The people gather in the square, and the prophet Ezra reads from the book of Deuteronomy “from early morning to midday.” Ezra must really have been some reader, because the people of God are riveted. They literally jump to their feet and cheer when he holds open the book in front of them. They are so swept up in this moment that they fall on their faces in awe of it all. The book of Deuteronomy is such a thrilling read for them that they literally weep with joy when they hear it. We aren’t talking one of the weak sauce paragraph or two we Christians read in our churches today, they seem to have read the whole book, those lucky ducks! Forget the Patriots/Broncos game tonight, let’s have a marathon reading of the Old Testament. Who is with me?!
Well, I have a confession to make. Just between me and all of you. I am going to be a priest, but sometimes….every once in a great while… I have just a little trouble…maintaining my focus in church… Shocking as that might sound… there are even Sundays, once in a blue moon… not all the time, just every once in a while… when I really wish we could wrap things up so that I can have my coffee. If I am really honest with myself, and this is just between me and all of you, even though I am a seminarian… I actually think that I might…be… a little… bored… at a marathon reading of Deuteronomy. And while we’re in that vein… sometimes… I don’t entirely look forward to sitting through committee meetings. One vestry meeting at another church I was a member of spent a full 45 minutes on a forty dollar expenditure. That’s not exactly what people have in mind when they talk about the life of the Kingdom of God. The church windows promised me I’d be lounging around in a toga!
What I think this might say for us today, is that being the Church of God might always been quite the drama that Nehemiah makes it sound. Sometimes, but not all of the time. I think all of us have had those high moments, when the priest is lifting up the Host and the Eucharistic minister is ringing the sacring bell, and we know in our heart of hearts that our Lord Jesus Christ is present to us, offering his love and grace to us, and that this is the very moment when our new lives begin. I suppose we all also know of Sundays when we’ve spent most of the service thinking about hassles at work, or of course, the Patriots game.
And the deep dark secret is, this IS the Christian life. This is the community of Christ’s Body, which despite the elaborate name starts to look a lot like ordinary life, with our ordinary jobs, ordinary families, and ordinary weekends. What we have is Jesus’ promise that he is present to us in all of it, offering us new life and new opportunities of faith and love. Even in the ordinary and I dare say boring times. Heck, even in the full on bad times, in times of despair and tragedy, Jesus promises he is with us.
I know this church understands this. This is why Pastor Amy had me preach today, the week before our annual meeting. I’ve been your intern for 4 months now, and I think she wanted me to bring something of an outsider’s perspective. I can see how the members of this parish know that being a member of the Body of Christ just means rolling up your sleeves to make ordinary life happen. I see people waiting until the end of coffee hour so they can help clean up. I see a dedicated people baking loaves of bread for communion. I see people bringing in socks for the homeless, and canned vegetables for the food pantry. I see dedicated people sitting through committee meetings and drawing up budgets. You wouldn’t believe how much time goes into making the Sunday bulletin every week.
These things are what it means to be the Church of God. It’s both. It’s these moments of freedom and elation AND these moments of boredom. Sometimes being the Body of Christ is even moments of rage and despair. Our Lord never promises that being the Church is going to always be exciting and easy. I mean, look at where it got him with the Roman authorities. But he does promise, PROMISE, in this life of happiness and sadness, excitement and boredom, comfort and pain, rest and fatigue, that he is always present to us, offering us eternal life and new opportunities of love and faith.
Being a Christian. means seeing all of this through. Just like being married means committing through richer AND poorer, in sickness and in health. Being the Church means being here, not only for those moments of awe, reverence, and joy, but also for the more, let’s say, prosaic moments. And this church is here for the more workaday moments. I see people sticking around after coffee hour to make sure everything is cleaned up. I see members of the church sitting through committee meetings. I see members of this church bringing socks for the homeless.
Being the Church means being here to clean up after coffee hour, or to dust the window sills for cleanup day. I see this happen in this church. This is why Pastor Amy wanted me to preach on the Sunday before the annual meeting.
Our annual meeting will have, from the sound of it, a bit of everything. Next week we have our own, unique way of being the Church in the form of our annual meeting.
Pastor Amy asked me to preach on the Sunday before our annual meeting because she wanted an outsider’s perspective on the Church of the Good Shepherd. I have been your intern for 4 months now, which gives me something of a unique perspective on the life of this parish. I can see all of this in the life of this parish.
We open our annual meeting to all members of the parish because all of us have our own part to play in the Body of Christ.
This is a growing parish, and as surprising as it might sound, growing is very difficult on a church. It demands change in how things are run when increased membership strains a system built for fewer people. This change means anxiety and tension, which very few churches can cope with. So they can’t grow. But this parish was one of the few communities willing to see this conversation through. It took a lot of conversation, and it demanded taking a lot of risks.
Breaking this cycle means being willing to see the pain of change through, and this parish has every reason to praise God for its ability to do that.
This is also a parish that knows being the Church of God means rolling up your sleeves.
As most of us know, next week is our annual meeting. This is our way of being the Church. We don’t have Amy make all the decisions on behalf of all of us, or a group of elders. Next week, instead of the usual Eucharistic liturgy, we will gather to hear a report on our parish from last year and discuss the church’s course this year.
We all have our part in the Body of Christ. We all have our role to play.