Saturday, May 10, 2014

Because We Gather, A Sermon for Easter 4A

One of the gifts this congregation brings to the table is a passion and concern for liturgy.    People have spoken to me about their interest in creating and participating in liturgy which reflects our Anglican heritage, liturgy which emerges from our traditions as Episcopalians, liturgy with beauty equal to the beauty of this building, liturgy which emerges out of the specific context of this place and these people, liturgy which reflects our communities creativity and diversity.  

Exhaustive and thorough conversations mark every liturgical decision.  There have been at least three rounds of what were essentially Holy Week play by plays as various members of our community have discussed what they have felt worked and did not within those liturgies.  Yesterday, the liturgy and music committee met to engage in discussion about both our Holy Week and Easter liturgies thus far.  

We spoke about our mutual desire to craft worship that meets the needs of the gathered community.  We spoke of liturgy as the “work of the people” and discussed how the congregation’s participation is part of our liturgical expression.  We also continued conversation about adding to our liturgical offerings with worship services intended to meet, as yet, unmet needs in our community.  

Now, I tell all of you this because I want you each to know, that what we do here together emerges out of conversation, out of conviction, out of care, out of love.  I also tell you this because when I speak of liturgy as the work of the people I am attempting to make it clear that it is a work every single person in this room shares.  This is why I choose to begin my sermons with the prayer “May the words of my mouth and the mediations of our hearts be ever acceptable in your sight, oh Christ my strength and my redeemer”.  Yes, I am speaking but just as important as my words--and arguably more so--are the meditations of your hearts.  

How you hear and understand, how you encounter what we do here--is as important for creating meaning in our worship as any book, any prayer, any sermon, any litany.  In many ways, our individual encounter with the liturgy is the place in which we worship God.  

So, when I hear the words of the passage from Acts today, I am struck that what we do here emerges so clearly out of the traditions of the ancient church.

They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers.

And so we do.  We gather to learn and we gather for community, we gather to break bread together and pray together.  

And, I truly believe that gathering together and participating in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship and the breaking of the bread and the prayers (what we refer to as going to church at St. Clement’s) transforms who we are, both singularly and in community.  

For the early church, participating in liturgy and the community that gathered around that liturgy led to a shared concern for those in need.  The ministry of worship created an environment in which the ministry for mission happened.  

To get less obtuse, or perhaps more (depending on how you hear metaphor!)--our worship is like a rock dropped into a pond--everything we do ripples outward from that central act.  

Without the rock, there would be no ripples...

Faith in Action, our involvement in Haiti and with Plant for a Purpose, Food Shelf, Men’s Group, Adult Education, Christian Formation, Pilgrimage, rummage sale, the choir’s trip to Durham Cathedral, coffee hour...and dare I say it, this building--would not exist without worship of God, in the context of community, at the center.  

What we do here is just the beginning...when I close the service using the words “our service here has ended, now our service to the world begins”, I do so with intention--wishing to remind us all that our worship matters to the world. 

What we do here matters “out there”.  

And, today I want to draw our attention to one of the ripples that emerged from this place this week.  This past week one of your fellow congregants, Elizabeth McGeveran, issued an invitation to gather in our chapel to pray aloud the names of the kidnapped Nigerian Schoolgirls--and with less than 24 hour’s notice, people came.  With a nearly full chapel, with prayer and candlelight, with love and care, these girls--beloved children of God, girls whose parents are frantic with worry, girls who are truly and most horrifyingly in the valley of the shadow of death--were remembered by name.

Because we gather for the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers--we are able to gather to lift up in prayer girls and women exploited and victimized half a world away.  Because we gather...

Because we gather we are reminded that our worship is one in which we proclaim resurrection and seek reconciliation for broken relationships.  And, our baptismal liturgy is clear--we must honor the dignity of EVERY human being.

Is it any wonder that we pray today for reconciliation and restoration, for the return of Nigeria’s abducted daughters?  They are girls who we will never meet but who we remember are children of God, just as we are children of God.  When we break and share the bread, we are reminded that we are intimately joined to all of God’s children--and therefore accountable to the wholeness of God’s creation, a creation that includes “all manner of men and women”.  

In an essay entitled “The Christ for African Women”, Elizabeth Amoah and Mercy Amba Oduyoye of Ghana write “The Christ whom African women worship, honor, and depend on is the victorious Christ, knowing that evil is a reality.  Death and life-denying forces are the experience of women, and so Christ, who countered these forces and who gave back her child to the widow of Nain, is the African Woman’s Christ.”

Imagine a context in which one can so easily write that death and life-denying forces are  the experience of women.  A context in which the thief comes to steal and kill and destroy.  This is a world deeply in need of healing.  And, we are a resurrection people called to the work of reconciliation.  The story of salvation has not ended...

We hear it within these walls and we carry it into the world.  

Because we gather.  

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