Sunday, March 8, 2015

Count the Stars, They Stay Still

Lent 3B, 2015
St. Clement’s Episcopal Church
Readings can be found here

442; 147; 341.

These are the numbers--members, averages Sunday attendance, communicants in good standing.  Each year, every Episcopal Church is asked to fill out what we call the parochial report.  The national church states that “The Parochial Report established by our Constitution and Canons is a tool for the collection of data that is intended to assist the Church in planning for mission.”

More numbers...

24; 13.

How many baptized, how many buried, how many transferred?  How many left?  What’s the total?  

And, so we count.  


How many communicants in good standing.

Taking communion here three times a year makes one a communicant in good standing.  

Enter your user ID number here, and then your personalized pin.  

A parish I served as a youth worker in Ohio, St. Luke’s, has a vibrant ministry with its neighborhood and the children in it.  Dozens of children show up each week for a hot meal, worship, open gym.  They are invited to participate in diocesan youth events, they are welcomed with open arms on Sundays.

Sometimes they bring their grown-ups.  More often they don’t.  

The youth outreach worker described the hilarity of trying to fill out the parochial report.  Do hundreds of children hungry for a meal and kindness count?  How many were there?  It would be easier to count the stars--the stars at least stay still in the night.  Baptism?  Who knows, unlikely but possible.  All they know are that children are hungry for food, and love and prayer.  “Does swimming count?” we quip.

And, then a sigh.  Quantifying the work of God in our midst, measuring the Spirit and summing up the body of the Son in our midst.   It’s the new math.  

40. 3.

40 days in the desert, tempted by the forces of evil.  40 days of rain to destroy that which was broken. 3 hours on the cross.  3 days until he rose again.  

Are you with me?  Come with me to the temple market.  Count the change, weigh the incense, trade for the unblemished, exchange the profane for the holy.  Bypass the bleating sheep and enter the inner sanctum.  

Hear the roar of anger, the crash of cages and the fluttering of the doves.  Such foolishness.  Such wisdom.  Walls that will fall, bodies that will be destroyed--walls which will stay crumbled as we watch the body rise.  

The crack of the whip, the temple will fall.  But, he will not and his disciples will remember what he said.  We will remember--”Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

Destroy this temple?  

For the author of the Gospel of John, sin is the fundamental state of not being in relationship with God--and for the embodied God, the temple marketplace becomes a barrier to relationship.  

Jesus’ wasn’t just “cleansing” the temple—his actions attacked two essential services.  You NEEDED unblemished animals for sacrifice and the Roman coinage with images of Caesar couldn’t be offered in the temple because those coins represented worship of Caesar and not God.  So, if you were going to worship in the Temple and live out the precepts of your faith you NEEDED these services—adherents couldn’t participate in worship without these services.  

So to attack these essential components of worship, is to attack the political and religious structure as a whole.  This is not just some sort of embarrassing and forgettable temper tantrum in a public place--this is the upending of an entire system--the old sacrificial system.  The marketplace is no longer needed when the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is amongst us.  

In short, the presence of Christ is in the midst of the community of Christ.  The only offering to be made is of ourselves, the only one to follow is the one walking to Golgatha, the only way to worship is with our very being.  Seeking and serving Christ in all persons... 

Christ in all persons, the culmination of the journey out of Egypt.  Christ in all persons, the summation of incarnation.  Christ in all persons and the presence of God is broken loose and set free in our midst.  

Thus, Jesus was not just cleansing—he was attacking the entire Temple system of worship.  Now Jesus was not the only one opposed to centralized worship in the Temple in Jerusalem…the prophet Isaiah writes a great deal about turning away from ritualized Temple worship and towards a deeper personal piety.  Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless—these were the rituals that mattered…not worship in a temple whose construction had required the blood and sweat of the poorest.  This is about justice—God’s kind of justice.  A justice in which mercy and love are the measure.  Our own systems of justice—at their very best—are our best attempts as humans to enact God’s love in the world we live in.   

It’s been 50 years since the March in Selma.  51 years since the passing of the Civil Rights Act of  1964.  55 years since the Rondo neighborhood was shattered by the construction of interstate 94.  And in 2014, the difference between the median household income of white Americans and black Americans is 22801.  18.2 percent of children in Minnesota live in poverty.  2 dollars and 44 cents--the difference between the minimum wage and a living wage in Ramsey County.  

There are tables that need overturning.  Worlds and systems that need transformation.  

And, it is our task, our sacred duty to transform the world. Have we not covenanted to seek and serve Christ in all persons, love our neighbors as ourselves, honor the dignity of every human being, and resist the forces of evil.

Loving and resisting, transforming and serving.  

How do we measure love?  How do we weigh transformation?  How do we value service?

10. 1,826,449. 3,278. 6. 7.

10 commandments.  1,826,449 trees planted in Haiti since 1984.  3,278 meals served a day in Ramsey County through the food shelves.  6 days to labor and a seventh for all to rest.

Is this how steadfast love is to be shown to the thousandth generation? 

Will we love?  Will we honor the commandments?  Will we keep the apostles’ teachings?

What numbers will we keep?  What God will we worship?  

Shall we count the times we continued the apostles’ teaching and how often we gathered to pray together?  

How about every time we resisted evil?  

How often we have repented and forgiven each other?

How many times did each of us proclaim the Gospel?  

How often did we love our neighbor as ourselves?  

How many hours did we spend striving for justice and peace and dignity for every human being?  

By what numbers will we be known?  

(I invite you to check out   for an engaging essay on the idea of a "New Parochial Report")

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