Proper 9A

Readings appointed for today can be found here 
(note, we're using Track 1 for this three year cycle)

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Then, Now, When

I couldn’t have imagined the now. 

I couldn't have imagined it during my senior year in high school when my dad died. 
I couldn't have imagined it in the years I used my credit card to buy groceries. 
I couldn't have imagined it when phone calls from my mother were best avoided because she was drunk when she made them. 

I couldn’t have imagined the now. 

After years of one foot in front of another, footsteps guided by some far off goal or another, I couldn’t have imagined the now.

The stability, the happiness, the joy—and the time and energy to look up from the path in front of me and take the kind of long view that considers the question posed in the Mary Oliver poem, the Summer Day, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

What shall I do? Having reached the end point of one journey, which direction should I go? Now that this crisis is over, what comes next?

These are the kinds of question that the authors of the book of the Prophet Zechariah wrestled with during their people’s own time of relative stability. What shall we do? What comes next? And, in the first 8 chapters of the book, the answer to that question is found in the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. These chapters, written after the Babylonian exile ended, in 539BCE, seeks restoration of the “good old days”—the days in which social life was religious life and the stability of the community was reinforced by the stability of the temple in Jerusalem.

The conclusion of chapter 8 is emphatic about the glory that shall be restored to the people and to God upon the restoration of the temple. “Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to entreat the favor of the Lord…In those days ten men from nations of every language shall take hold of a Jew, grasping his garment and saying “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” (8:22-23)

They will see how fabulous we are and how amazing our God is—and they will come, they will come and want to be part of this good thing we have! They will see our amazing building, and our beautiful worship, and they will come! 

The inspiration of many a church architect?

Temple of dreams perhaps?

Yet, chapter 8 of Zechariah does not end the book and the story’s conclusion does not star Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams. Because, in chapter 9 the narrative shifts, because the restoration of the temple is not the panacea the people had imagined.

It is not the restoration of the temple that shall restore the people, rather it is the restoration of the people which shall restore the world. And, so the priestly voice gives way to that of the marginalized who long for a king, a Lord who will arrive with peaceful intentions whose every word is liberation and every promise restoration.

Having been freed from exile, they rebuilt their temple. Having rebuilt their temple, they longed to rebuild justice.

I’m wondering if this resonates with all of you the way it resonates with me. The way it resonates with me when I name what feels a frightening truth—that my own stability is not the end goal. That the stability of the church is not the end goal. Rather, the end goal is the fulfillment of the promised in-breaking of the God who loves all of creation.

It's not a beautiful building, elegant speech, or theologically sound hymn…the end goal is the in-breaking of the fullness of God’s love. All else falls short. 

All else falls short.

And, now I wonder anew. Have I preached myself into a corner? Have I preached myself out of a job? Is the failure of the temple to restore justice point us towards an inevitable conclusion that the Church too is irrelevant and inadequate? That this time spent in prayer and praise, in proclamation and preaching, in breaking bread and drinking wine—that this time, is meaningless in the face of the evils that afflict the beloved children of God?

I hope not. I pray not. Because, it is in this place where I am reminded that this is not a story of my own salvation. Rather, it is a story of OUR salvation. Of God’s desire for the liberation of the all, rather than the salvation of the one.

When we confess together, when we demonstrate our reconciliation through the passing of the peace and our unity through the breaking and the sharing of the bread…

I am reminded that what we do here is meant to enact in microcosm God’s will for the world.

So, we confess, we repent, we forgive and are forgiven. We are reconciled and at peace, we gather together to be fed and all are freely given bread.

What we do in the here and the now of this gathered community is the enactment of God’s will for the entire community.

And, if we can't do it here, how on God's good earth will we do it out there?

Because, we didn’t build the temple to restore the world, 
we built it to restore ourselves so that WE might restore the world.

A weighty task, but not one we undertake alone. Because, something else that is made clear in this gathering is that we do not, and should not, serve God alone. We serve God in fellowship with the Body of Christ, the body that carries the burden with us. The sharing of the burden is the fulfillment of the promise of Christ we hear in the Gospel today.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The burden is lighter when shared…our singular bodies are not meant to exist in isolation, we who are MANY are one body. One body in baptism, one body in the sharing of the bread, one body, one hope, one call. A call to serve alongside the other members of the body, and in that service making the burden lighter for those who labor alongside us.

So, then how shall we serve? What is God’s calling? What is our purpose within this body?

This body that shares a sense of relative stability, a stability that allows us to look up and look out into those places in the world that long for the now we have, that seems so far off from the now they live. And, so what shall we, we the Church, we the body of Christ do with our ONE wild and precious life?

What shall we do from this temple, from this altar, from this place…how will we make what we create in this place a creation for the world? A new creation that will make real the hopes of captives and lift the burdens of the oppressed...

To return to the words of prophets, “return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope: today I declare that I will restore to you double”. Our hope, our joy, the worlds need—and a restoration beyond what anyone, anyone in the now can imagine! Amen.


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