EPIPHANY
January 6, 2013

“Threat and Promise”
Isaiah 60:1-6
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

It is good to be here with everyone this morning. I know you see me here each Sunday, but last Sunday I was away, using that final, coveted, vacation Sunday. Someone, a week or so ago, when I said, “I’ll see you later” replied to me, “is that a threat or a promise?”

Well, I am back. And I want to tell you that I learned something while I was away. See, being a participant, rather than a worship leader, reminded me of just how majestic this movement is. When we gather to sing praise, hear the Gospel read and proclaimed, and bring our offerings in worship, we are reenacting the drama that Isaiah describes.

You may not realize it, but if you somehow get pushed to the front of the procession of this thing called church, worship may seem far removed from the grandeur that Isaiah describes. If you have ever sat in a worship committee meeting, you know that no small amount of time is spent on determining the light settings, how to the ushers will distribute the plates of bread and the cups of wine. When you are in the midst of trying to untangle the ushering procedure for lighting the candles on Christmas Eve, or figuring out who is responsible for getting the Eucharist down to the Nursery; the connection to the awe Isaiah experiences may not be obvious.

In some ways, preparing for worship is like making sausage. If you are involved in the creation of what is a beautiful thing to share in, your taste for it may wane because you have been wrestling with the ingredients. I have a friend who recently prepared some sausages. He offered to give me some. I asked him, “does it have caraway seeds?” “Sure,” he replied, “that’s what makes it good!” “Not to me,” I said. And so I am left to either pick out those bothersome seeds or to learn to enjoy it as it is. Our style of receiving the Eucharist varies, and so I get one response, “when are we having ‘real’ communion (as in at the rail). Another tells me that I am insensitive to people with mobility problems when we do not have pew communion. And so it goes.

For the most part what we end up with in worship is something that we find tasteful. Some people will look at the newsletter or the bulletin to determine which communion service is which and will attend the one that suits their desire. And so the congregation itself becomes pretty homogeneous, similar faces, similar preferences. One commentator described the worship hour as “the most segregated hour in North America.”

That is not the vision Isaiah offers here. God is gathering the multitudes. To hear this here, in our church, should come as something as a threat. It may bring to our awareness those who are not present, but should be. I am not speaking about those members who teter on the edge of being removed from the membership list. I am speaking about those people within the range of our geographical ‘pull’ that need to hear the gospel but because they do not feel welcome, they stay away.
When the Magi came to bring gifts to the infant Jesus, they weren’t the completeness of which Isaiah speaks either. The best they could do was to represent the ‘nations’ bringing treasures to their Lord. The best that Luke’s shepherds could do is reinforce the idea that those on the margins of society often recognize what God is up to much more clearly than those folks sitting in church who believe they have the answers.

When traveling one summer, Becky and I went to church. Yes I know it is kind of like a bus driver going on a bus trip, but it is what we do. Outside there was a sign, “Norfolk United Church of Christ.” Below it was the phrase, ‘the friendly church.’ We parked the car and went in. Greeter at the door said, ‘mornin.’ Gave us a bulletin. We found our way into the nave, got a seat. People were yuckin it up out in the narthex. I could hear them from where we were sitting, in the back. We went through the service ran the gauntlet of people greeting each other, hugs, asking about the ‘big baseball game.’ How’s it going down at the shop, good? Good. We made our way unscathed, back out into the parking lot, and not one person said a word to us. Oh, the pastor did shake our hand, she asked us if we were from Norfolk, we said no. That was it. That was our experience at the friendly church.

In Flannery O’Conner’s short story “Revelation,” Mrs. Turpin, a woman who prides herself on her proper and upright life, is constantly annoyed by those around her who she perceives to have fewer social graces, less integrity, whose lives are just not up to her standards. One evening at sunset, as she is watering down the hog pen on her farm, a light falls on her eye and she sees a ‘bridge extending upward from the earth.’

EPIPHANY
January 6, 2013

“Threat and Promise”
Isaiah 60:1-6
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

It is good to be here with everyone this morning. I know you see me here each Sunday, but last Sunday I was away, using that final, coveted, vacation Sunday. Someone, a week or so ago, when I said, “I’ll see you later” replied to me, “is that a threat or a promise?”

Well, I am back. And I want to tell you that I learned something while I was away. See, being a participant, rather than a worship leader, reminded me of just how majestic this movement is. When we gather to sing praise, hear the Gospel read and proclaimed, and bring our offerings in worship, we are reenacting the drama that Isaiah describes.

You may not realize it, but if you somehow get pushed to the front of the procession of this thing called church, worship may seem far removed from the grandeur that Isaiah describes. If you have ever sat in a worship committee meeting, you know that no small amount of time is spent on determining the light settings, how to the ushers will distribute the plates of bread and the cups of wine. When you are in the midst of trying to untangle the ushering procedure for lighting the candles on Christmas Eve, or figuring out who is responsible for getting the Eucharist down to the Nursery; the connection to the awe Isaiah experiences may not be obvious.

In some ways, preparing for worship is like making sausage. If you are involved in the creation of what is a beautiful thing to share in, your taste for it may wane because you have been wrestling with the ingredients. I have a friend who recently prepared some sausages. He offered to give me some. I asked him, “does it have caraway seeds?” “Sure,” he replied, “that’s what makes it good!” “Not to me,” I said. And so I am left to either pick out those bothersome seeds or to learn to enjoy it as it is. Our style of receiving the Eucharist varies, and so I get one response, “when are we having ‘real’ communion (as in at the rail). Another tells me that I am insensitive to people with mobility problems when we do not have pew communion. And so it goes.

For the most part what we end up with in worship is something that we find tasteful. Some people will look at the newsletter or the bulletin to determine which communion service is which and will attend the one that suits their desire. And so the congregation itself becomes pretty homogeneous, similar faces, similar preferences. One commentator described the worship hour as “the most segregated hour in North America.”

That is not the vision Isaiah offers here. God is gathering the multitudes. To hear this here, in our church, should come as something as a threat. It may bring to our awareness those who are not present, but should be. I am not speaking about those members who teter on the edge of being removed from the membership list. I am speaking about those people within the range of our geographical ‘pull’ that need to hear the gospel but because they do not feel welcome, they stay away.
When the Magi came to bring gifts to the infant Jesus, they weren’t the completeness of which Isaiah speaks either. The best they could do was to represent the ‘nations’ bringing treasures to their Lord. The best that Luke’s shepherds could do is reinforce the idea that those on the margins of society often recognize what God is up to much more clearly than those folks sitting in church who believe they have the answers.

When traveling one summer, Becky and I went to church. Yes I know it is kind of like a bus driver going on a bus trip, but it is what we do. Outside there was a sign, “Norfolk United Church of Christ.” Below it was the phrase, ‘the friendly church.’ We parked the car and went in. Greeter at the door said, ‘mornin.’ Gave us a bulletin. We found our way into the nave, got a seat. People were yuckin it up out in the narthex. I could hear them from where we were sitting, in the back. We went through the service ran the gauntlet of people greeting each other, hugs, asking about the ‘big baseball game.’ How’s it going down at the shop, good? Good. We made our way unscathed, back out into the parking lot, and not one person said a word to us. Oh, the pastor did shake our hand, she asked us if we were from Norfolk, we said no. That was it. That was our experience at the friendly church.

In Flannery O’Conner’s short story “Revelation,” Mrs. Turpin, a woman who prides herself on her proper and upright life, is constantly annoyed by those around her who she perceives to have fewer social graces, less integrity, whose lives are just not up to her standards. One evening at sunset, as she is watering down the hog pen on her farm, a light falls on her eye and she sees a ‘bridge extending upward from the earth.’

Upon it were the whole companies of white-trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of blacks in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself (and her husband) had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right…she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.

I suppose that such a procession is a threat to some, but to most, if you can get over yourself long enough, is it a promise that gives us hope.

20130106-133918.jpg

Advertisements