Saturday, August 20, 2011

Rock for stumbling or for building?

Imagine arriving here this morning only to discover that St. Christopher’s Church and parish hall are no more. Sometime during the night, an enemy has crept in and dashed the walls to the ground. Our church is destroyed.

I can see us standing around staring at the piles of rubble, turning in one direction and another trying to find something that is familiar, that will help us to make sense of what has happened. But the missing buildings make it all look alien, strange, scary. By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down; and there we wept when we remembered Zion.

Once we could look beyond the destruction, we might well discover that, like the Israelites in Babylon, we also live in an alien land. While Christianity might still be the dominant faith in this country, mainline Christianity – established churches with full-time ministers and staffs – is under attack both from within and from without. How are we to be Christians in this unfriendly place when we have no sacred space to retreat into?

That is the very situation the Israelites found themselves in. No Temple, no place for God to dwell and for the faithful to make their sacrifices. No city, no land that has been given them by that same God. Maybe even no God. And there they sat, on the metaphorical ash heap of life, in Babylon, for years. More than a generation sat and wept, unable to move beyond their grief, their sense that God had abandoned them forever. They mourned a life that they could remember dimly, in fragments because none of them had ever lived it.

The second prophet called Isaiah comes to these people with a message of life, a message that stirs them from the ashes and requires action on their part. In six verses, the prophet reminds them of the Exodus, Abraham and Sarah, Eden, the laws given to Moses and God’s incredible act of creation.

“Listen to me,” he says, “all of you who seek the Lord. Look to the rock from which you are hewn, to Abraham and Sarah, your first parents. Out of this one, I have made many, says the Lord. Hear the message that the Lord will bring comfort to Zion and make Eden out of the waste places in which she lives, a garden filled with joy and gladness, with thanksgiving and with song.

“Listen to me, I tell you, you people of God, and pay attention, you the nation of the Lord. A teaching will go out, the teaching given to Moses of justice and deliverance, a teaching of light and salvation. And it will go out to all of the peoples from the coast to the mountains, from the south to the north. My arm reaches out to all of them. Lift up your eyes and see the heavens above and the earth below, these that I created before I created you. All of this will vanish and wear out; every living creature will die. But my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended.”

We are not the ancient Israelites. For instance, we have not been forced to leave our homeland and live in the wilderness of an alien land. Even if our church were destroyed tonight, we have insurance with which to rebuild it. But we are *like* them in that we often identify ourselves by this place rather than by the One who has called us into this community. When you think of St. Christopher’s, what do you picture first: this wonderful space or the faces of the community? The answer says a lot about who we are. If we identify St. C’s as a particular space, then we are limiting the work that God can do here. If we see our community, then our understanding of St. C’s knows no bounds.

Like the Israelites, we need to listen. We need to look to the rock of our faith, the Christ, to learn how to be God’s people. Here at St. Christopher’s, we are young enough to still have in our midst some of the very building stones of our first community of believers. We can still know what it is like *not* to have this place but to travel with the altar or the nursery in the trunk of one’s car all week long.

Like the Israelites, we can look to our ancient roots as well and know that the Lord is made known to us in those stories of Eden, Abraham, Sarah, Moses and, yes, even the Israelites themselves. Our story begins with all them and continues through the Christ and Peter, another rock. We have been given the eloquent teachings of Paul and so many who have come after him.

But what we do with that foundation, how we choose to build, where we shine the light of the Lord is entirely up to us, this community of faithful people.

We do live in an alien land. How can we take what is best from our past and use it to help shape our future? How are we to present ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God? How can we transform ourselves in such a way that others will know God through us?

These are not questions for individuals. They are addressed to the one body in Christ here gathered. Talk to each other. Pray for guidance in building the future that God wants for us. Look, listen, seek and heed. Only then can we begin to understand that we have a part to play in the coming of the Kingdom. Then we can step out boldly and do what God is asking, not in fear but in confidence, knowing that we, too, are rocks, part of the very foundation of the Church.
(The image at the top is of the Cathedral in Port au Prince, Haiti)

1 comment:

Terri said...

Margaret, I really like how you develop this, especially the question of identity and the community sees itself: building or people?