Sunday, January 24, 2010

M.O.A.B. And Differentiation

Today’s lessons tell us how the Christian life works.
In Nehemiah, the people of Israel gathered
– as we have gathered this morning.
The busy pace of life is a centrifugal force
that hurls us away into isolation.
We think inside our heads about our own projects and worries.
We become prisoners,
in the solitary confinement of our own lives.

The first thing the people did was gather.
Then they asked to hear the book of the law read out loud.
It wasn’t like reading the Nevada Revised Statutes.
For one thing, they had a better legislator.
Besides the law wasn't just statutes.
“The law” means the first 5 books of the Bible.
It’s a mix of story and rules for life.
The rules are the moral of the story.

When they heard the story, the people worshiped the Lord
with their faces to the ground.
They met God in the ancient story of his actions
and in the moral order that God established.
They met God and were overwhelmed by his majesty.
The greatness of God set their lives in context.
They felt small -- not in a bad way -- but like a child at rest.

Some say they can find God
better in nature than in Church.
It is absolutely true we can meet God in nature.
But nature won’t tell us the story of God’s redeeming love.
It won’t tell us how God confronted Pharaoh.
Nature doesn’t tell a story.
We can meet God in nature,
but we also need to hear the story;
and discern the moral,
the way of life God has teaches us,
if we are to be transformed in our souls.

That kind of story listening, moral discerning, and worship
are the core of Christian life.
They provide the spiritual renewal that makes life meaningful.

But the Christian life isn’t all in Church.
There’s more to it than prayer and worship.
The difference between the Church and a secular club
is that the Church is filled with the Holy Spirit.
The Church continues the Incarnation.
The Church is Christ for the world today
because the same Spirit that enlivened him
inspires what we do now.

In Luke, Jesus said,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

That’s our mission in the world.
If we are not doing that,
if the Spirit is not inspiring us to act
for the poor and hurting, the outcast and lost,
then we are not the Church.

St. Paul taught us to judge spirits by their fruits.
We know what spirit enlivens a group of people
by their action.
We know the Spirit of God is at work,
and we know a group of people truly is the Church,
when they engage the world with healing in their hands.

We call that part of the Christian life
“the apostolate.”
Apostles are sent out into the world with a mission.
Do you see the two movements of Christian life?
First we gather to hear the old, old story of Jesus and his love.
We discern the moral of it, we learn how to live.
We worship the God we meet in the story and its moral.
Then God sends us into the world to make something happen.

The apostolic mission has three parts:
mercy, justice, and evangelism.
In mercy, we tend the broken in a kindly way.
In justice, we stand for the weak against the strong.
In evangelism, we open the eyes of a blinded people
to see the good news of God.

The church does two basic things:
spiritual renewal and ministry to a broken world.
That is what Christ does,
and as St. Paul says in our Epistle lesson,
we are the body of Christ.
When it comes to mercy, justice, and telling the good news,
God entrusts that mission to us.
St. Augustine said,
"Christ died so that the Church might be born."
St. Theresa of Avila said,
“Christ has no body now but yours,
no hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now but yours.”

Together we are the Body, Paul says,
and individually, we are members of it.
Paul says each of us has a different kind of ministry.
The eye should function as an eye.
The ear should function as the ear.
His point is that each of us serves in our own way,
and all the ways are equal in God’s eyes.
The Pope and the person who cleans the toilets
are equal in Christ.

Paul says God has set it up so that
that each of has our own way to serve,
but none of us can do it on our own.
We need each other.
We can carry out Christ’s mission only
by working together.
We are a team of interdependent specialists.
We are each called to do our own work
and to let other people do their work.

The greatest teacher about congregational life
in our time was Rabbi Edwin Friedman.
He used to say that healthy cells in the human body
are specialized.
A skin cell is a skin cell.
A bone cell is a bone cell.
They work together in one body,
but they do their own job and not someone else’s.
Only cancer cells are not specialized.
That’s why they metastasize and take over organs
where they do not belong.

The church and the body are like a baseball team.
We need the second baseman covering second base,
the catcher catching, and left fielder in left field.
Teamwork is people doing their own jobs.

I am very impressed with your charts of the different ministries
at St. Paul’s.
I am impressed to see how many people are signed up
to do different jobs.
And I know that there are other people doing other jobs.
This is the model of a healthy lively church.

The challenge in any church
is to trust each other and work together.
That can be hard.
To use St. Paul’s metaphor,
sometimes the eye thinks it could do a better job
of hearing than the ear is doing.
At any given point, some parts of the church will be working
better than others.
But the long term health of the church
depends on each person doing their part,
not someone else’s.

Psychologists call that differentiation.
It is an exercise in personal growth.
If we practice it in church,
we’ll have healthier families,
we’ll do our jobs better at work,
and we’ll get along better with our friends.
Most importantly, we’ll do a better job of being
the Body of Christ.

Psychologists call it differentiation.
In Church, we call it the Ministry of All Baptized.
We don’t expect the priest to be the Church for us.
We are the Church together.
If we want to field a full team,
if we want to cover all the bases,
we need a lot of people taking on a lot of jobs.
But that’s ok. Many hands make light work.

We need a lay person to spearhead evangelism,
just as you already have someone for stewardship.
We need a lay person to coordinate adult education,
just as you now have someone to teach Sunday School.
The list goes on.

You are doing a splendid job of being the Body of Christ in Elko.
You have resumed budgeting money for community ministries.
You have formed a partnership with Communities in Schools
to support education of Elko’s children.
Your worship is intelligent and inspiring.

The direction in which you are growing
gives me hope for the gospel in Nevada.
“Glory to God whose power working in us
can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.”