Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Challenge Of Being Clergy & Being Christian At The Same Time: 3 Temptations

After Jesus received the Spirit, he went to the wilderness
to figure out what to do with it.
There he faced three temptations.
Abigail, the Holy Spirit will descend on you today.
And you are about to come up against three temptations.

The first temptation is to become a priest of the Temple.
Like a priest of the Jerusalem Temple, you will work
for the religious establishment.
You will keep the institution viable.
Make people happy. Meet their expectations.
Never say anything controversial.
It might cause a conversation.
Do not remind them of anything unpleasant.
They did not come for that.
My first year as a priest, a church member told me
what she wanted from each of my sermons
     “a nice little thought for the week.”

Keep your thoughts nice and little
Do this and you will prosper.

But you will not be a follower of Jesus.
His thoughts were neither nice nor little;
         he said things people did not want to hear.
Jesus was not a priest of the Temple.
He called the temple a den of thieves.

Temptation number two is more popular today.
You can do this one and be cool, hip, and au courant.
You turn your post-modern, anti-institutional nose up at the hypocritical
and all too human Church
         with its silly budgets, buildings, pot lucks,
                  and casseroles.
You can be way too spiritual to dirty your hands
         with unspiritual dolts who just want a Sunday School
for their kids.

The Essenes did that in Jesus’ day.
They were too pure to get involved
         with the Temple because it was mired in the real world.
Half in league with Herod and half in league with revolutionaries,
it was messy, as life is messy.
The Essenes wanted nothing to do with messy.
They were better than that.
And you can be better than that too.

But again, you won’t be a follower of Jesus.
He was not an Essene.
Jesus worshiped in the Temple, taught in the Temple,
         healed in the Temple, worked to reform the Temple,
         and wept over its doom.
Jesus connected to the religious institution of his day,
         as one who loved it and served it,
         not by docile compliance but by recalling it
                  to its true mission and identity.

The third temptation is: You can go self-righteous.
You have been to Berkeley. Your eyes have been opened,
         so that you know good from evil.

You are qualified to judge the Church.
You can see how much we are doing wrong.
You can pronounce judgment just as
the 8th Century prophets pronounced judgment
                  on Israel and Judah.

Clergy love the 8th Century prophets.
When our latent hostility boils over, we model our ministry
         on Amos, First Isaiah, and Jeremiah.
There are, however, two points of Biblical scholarship
         that we clergy overlook.
The first is that in the 8th Century no one repented.
It didn’t work.

Second, Jesus’ prophecy was not
 in the finger-wagging style of the 8th Century moralists.
HIs prophecy was in the later voice of Second Isaiah.
“Comfort, comfort ye my people.”
And more explicitly,
         “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me
         to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captive,
         recovery of sight to the blind.”

Jesus called the religious, academic, political, and economic institutions
         of his day to repent, but he called them to repent to good news.
He called them to cheer up and embrace the world.
If, instead, you condemn the Church from a lofty moral perch,
         you will be a fine 8th Century prophet,
         but you wont’ be a follower of Jesus.

So what are you to do?
To be a clergy person and a Christian at the same time is tricky.
Your relationship with the Church will be tricky.
First you are to love it.
It is the Body of Christ on earth.
St. Theresa of Avila said to the Church,
         “Christ has no body on earth but yours,
         no hands but yours, no feet but yours,
         Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion
                  onto the earth.”
You are to love Jesus here where he is present
         when the Church gathers – present not just in the sacraments,
but in the whole life of the church
from fellowship dinners to social justice advocacy.

You are to love the Church because God loves it
         and I can prove it.
We have been doing everything in our power to kill the church
         for 2,000 years – we try again every General Convention --
but it is still here.
It is here because God loves it, even when we don’t.
So you are to love the church.

Love it as it is.
But because you love it, you must not leave it this way.
You are to love the church as Jesus loved the Temple,
         by recalling it to its true identity,
         by reminding the Church of its mission,
which you can find in the Prayer of St. Francis.

You are to converse with people.
You are to form relationships.

Remember the adage,
         “They won’t care how much you know
         until they know how much you care.”
So connect, connect, connect.

And once you are connected, invite the Church to repent.
Do not demand that the Church repent or be damned.
Invite the Church to repent and discover joy.
Because a repentant Church will have a lot more fun
         than the Church is having today.

Invite the Church to repent from triviality, from pettiness,
         from squabbling over power, and above all from being boring.
The Body of Christ has no right to be boring.
The bearer of the soul shaking good news
of transcendent joy in Jesus
         has no right to be boring.
Our triviality and our boredom are blasphemies.

Invite the Church to repent from fixed concepts and mental model.
Invite the Church outside its box.

Introduce the people to each other at a deeper level.
Introduce them at the level where they actually get interesting 
-- not the church chit chat level where the best of us are boring.

Introduce them to their neighbors outside these walls.
Teach them how to imagine what life is like for someone else,
         and thereby make their world larger.
Introduce them to the rest of the planet
         with its wisdom and its folly, its suffering and delight.

And tell them the stories – the story of Ruth and Naomi,
the story of Esther,
         and the all the stories of Jesus.
 Tell them the stories of Aiden, Bridget, William Wilberforce,
Jonathan Myrick Daniels, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day,
Elizabeth Fry, Christina Rossetti, Evelyn Underhill,
         and Oscar Romero.
They cannot be the Church if they don’t know the Church’s stories.
And Abigail, they don’t.
You must tell them the stories.
Do not heal my people’s wounds too lightly
         by meeting their expectations.
Heal their wounds deeply with nothing less than the gospel
         of Christ Crucified, Christ Risen,
                  and Christ Ever-Present in this pain-wracked lovely world.