Sunday, November 08, 2009

Sermon for Evensong @ All Saints Church

Acts 24:10-21 & Luke 14:12-24

The pressure is mounting. Can you feel it? Once the pumpkin carving is behind us and the trickers have finished their treating, the countdown to the “THE HOLIDAYS” starts in earnest … and soon the season proclaiming “peace on earth, good will to all” will be bringing “anxiety on earth, much stress to many.”

But tonight we gather in this oasis of light and music and beauty and remember what it is that really matters. Not whether we’ll find enough matching napkins between now and Thanksgiving Day to set a “perfect” table or how we’re going to get all the extra errands, engagements and energy the holiday season brings into the already overstuffed agenda we’re already struggling to stay on top of. Tonight we put all that aside … and we listen for hope and inspiration from the music sung and the words spoken in this beautiful service of Evensong.

Great if you’re in the pew. A little bit more of a challenge if you’re in the pulpit.

Now don’t get me wrong: I loved the texts appointed for this evening. What’s not to like? In Acts, we have Paul making his case for the Good News of God in Christ Jesus to the religious gate-keepers of his day who were trying to bring him up on charges for not following the letter of the law as they wanted it followed. And in Luke, we have Jesus illustrating his call for us to reach out to the last, the least and the lost in his name with a parable that might be subtitled, “What if they gave a banquet and nobody came??”

But finding the “window” – the “hook” – the “therefore” for this particular congregation in this particular season on this particular night in these particular lessons eluded me. And so I did what I usually do when stuck in homiletic limbo: Anything Else. Folded laundry. Grocery shopped. Archived photos. Pruned roses. Went to Big Lots for new candles for the candelabra on the hearth. (One can't possibly write a sermon without proper candles on the hearth, now can one?) Cooked. Dinner. From scratch. Fiddled around on Facebook. And checked email.

Thank goodness I checked my email. Because in my inbox was a link to a feature in this week’s Greensboro, North Carolina newspaper, written by a young woman who found her way back to an Episcopal Church after what I’ve come to think of as a pretty typical “young adult lapsed phase.” Her name was Addison Ore, and the piece was entitled, “Going to church like going home.”
She writes that after growing up in an Episcopal Church in Virginia, she drifted away and “Years turned into decades, and like Hugh Grant, I still seemed to wind up in church only for weddings and funerals.” And then she found a church that welcomed her home. It opened its arms to her when she arrived on an Easter Sunday and she’s still there – extending the welcome offered to her to others who come on Sundays through the passing of the peace … and now to a whole slew of others who will read her witness to her church’s welcome in the Greensboro paper and may just find for themselves the spiritual home they won’t even know they’re missing until they find it.

So here’s where Addison’s story connects for me with Paul’s story and with Jesus’ story – and with the All Saints Church story:

What the scripture stories tell me is that there are always going to be those who will accuse us of not getting the theology "right" because we don't "get it" like they do. What was true for Paul is true for us.

And there are always going to be those who are too busy, too pre-occupied or to insistent on their-own-way-or-the-highway to come to the banquet. What was true for the banquet host in Jesus’ parable is true for us.

So here are the therefores:
• Our job isn't to be “right” about our theology – it is to be faithful to our call to follow Jesus as we reach out in his name to the last, the least and the lost.
• Our job isn't to worry about who won't come to the banquet – it is to offer radical welcome to those who DO come – seeking sustenance in the bread and wine made holy when we gather at the Eucharistic table – seeking purpose in the call to put our faith into action we live out at All Saints Church – seeking an oasis of light and beauty and music to remember what really matters in this service of Evensong.

As we gather here this evening, we are surrounded by Addison Ores – by those who yearn for community – for purpose – for beauty, strength, comfort and inspiration – and who think they already know enough about being a Christian not want to be one. Who have no idea about this banquet we offer here every time we gather – much less that they would so very welcome AT that banquet.

“Whoever you and wherever you find yourself on the journey of faith there is a place for you here” is the “therefore” we take out of this service of light and music and beauty – of remembering what really matters.

What really matters, my brothers and sisters, is that we claim for ourselves God’s high calling to be partners in that work we call turning the human race into the human family – of taking the Good News of the God who loved us enough to become one of us in order to show us how to love one another back out into a world in such desperate need of it. And our challenge can be to keep focused on that which matters most in a world constantly distracting us by those things that matter less. Or – as one of my seminary mentors put it – “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

A case in point.

In preparation for this evening’s service I dug out these vestments from the back of my closet in the vesting room … the Anglican cassock and surplice – hood and tippet that I wear every-once-in-awhile … like when I preach or preside at Evensong. The tippet is this black thing … which you may or may not be able to see has pleats around the back. So after hanging them up where I couldn’t possible miss bringing them today in preparation for this evening, I found myself wondering if there was a rule about whether the pleats went up or down. And because Louise is probably right and I actually do NOT have any unexpressed thoughts, I posted the question to my Facebook page.

And when I went back, I had 33 responses. Thirty three people had opinions on whether the pleats on my tippet should go up or down. And when I noted – in another post of Facebook – that it was ironic 33 people had this much energy about my tippet while the House was debating and then voting on comprehensive health care reform – I got 12 more comments, including this from a clergy colleague: While you were discussing tippets I was on the phone with a fellow chaplain talking about absurd church can be sometimes . . .

Now, I’m a big fan of proper vestments – or I wouldn’t have cared which direction the pleats went in the fist place. (For the record, they go “down.”) But if I’m more worried about pleats on my tippet than I am about health care in my community, then I’ve missed the main thing. I’m also a big fan of setting a lovely table for Thanksgiving – preferably with matching napkins. But if I’m more worried about getting the table set that I about welcoming the guests then I’ve missed the main thing.

ANYthing – whether its the details of life or of liturgy – can get in the way if they become ends in themselves instead of resources to empower us to make God’s love tangible – to reach out to the last, the least and the lost.

So tonight, we give thanks. For the coming holidays and the opportunities we will have to gather in love and fellowship with friends and family – whether or not the napkins all match.

For the God who calls us together in love – not to be “right” about theology but to be faithful in discipleship.

For this liturgy of light and music and beauty that is not an end in itself but an invitation for ALL to come to the center of this community seeking to make God’s love tangible in all we say, sing and do!

So let the pressure mount. Bring on THE HOLIDAYS! But first, let us pray – pray for the grace to keep the main thing the main thing: God’s love, justice and compassion made tangible in our words, in our work and in our witness.



Sarah Beth ♥ said...

Hi Susan....

What a lovely homily.

I'm new to the Epsicopal Church & Iindeed, I have come " home".

Sharalyn Hamilton said...

Susan, I really appreciated your homily tonight as I started to panic how little time until Thanksgiving and my next trip to Ohio and how I over did it today trying to be ready. Thanks! Sharalyn

Ron Miller said...

Then, of course, some would say the tippet, which is after all a scarf to keep warm in cold northern cathedrals, should not have pleats at all. But then the "liturgical police" are always there when you don't need them. Much love, r