On Tuesday at Frank Allis Elementary School I caught a glimpse of the resurrection. God let me peer around the corner for just a moment. What I saw was a promised land of prosperity and new life for not only Lake Edge church, but for this entire neighborhood. In a world full of "NO" I experienced a room full of God's "YES." It was awesome, and the antidote to my own doubt and fear.
In a time of "exile" life can feel pretty unstable. I can understand why some here want to restore the doxology to our 9am service, as well as others who worry about preserving the unique and uplifting music of our 11am service. But in uncertain times church as we've know it can cling so much to worship that we miss the point of what worship is all about.
The Prophet Jeremiah understood. Forcibly removed from everything they knew and counted on; seemingly tossed aside and abandoned by God, the Jewish people are lost and fragile. In a strange land; they no longer feel like they belong. This feeling shouldn't be a big stretch for any of us today. Weeks before one of the most contentious presidential elections any of us can recall, the feeling of being ripped away from anything we've come to count on is all too real. As God's church at Lake Edge continues rebuilding, what's emerging is quite foreign to many. The natural reaction is to lash out against those we blame for our discomfort. In Jeremiah's time the blame went to the Babylonians. The Jewish upper classes were swept away bag and baggage. Worse, God doesn't lift a finger to save them or appear to care about their captivity. When such moments of "exile" occur in any place or time rather than honest reflection on what we may've done or left undone or could've done better, we often settle for assigning blame. Then, we say and do awful things, things completely the opposite of the faith we're trying to preserve.
Since Jeremiah's people blame the Babylonians and since God isn't going to fight for them, they decide to stand up for themselves. Their idea has merit, but their initial response doesn't. Like our moment of "exile" elders stood up and complained, "Let us wage guerrilla warfare and harass and topple these evildoers," becomes a rallying cry. Jeremiah responds with a strong but decidedly minority voice amidst their dis-ease, "Thus says the Lord, (do not blame and shame and avoid this moment where I have sent you, instead settle in and build yourselves up) seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your own."
Last week I quoted John F. Kennedy, and today I repeat this wisdom, "Too many of us prefer the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." Or as Jeremiah would say, "Thus says the Lord, (do not blame and shame and avoid responsibility for your choices, instead settle in and build yourselves up) seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray on its behalf, for in its welfare you'll find your own."
As Jesus was traveling on the border of Galilee and Samaria (a place where Jews and Gentiles mix and things were known to be testy) he was approached by 10 men with serious skin ailments separating them from the rest of society. No self-respecting son of Abraham would dare allow contact with diseased outsiders, let alone risk a public interaction with Samaritans. Jesus does both. He prescribes the ancient remedy for return of social standing, "Go show yourselves to the priest," he tells them. On their way all are healed of their disease. One of them, glimpsing something greater returns to give thanks and seek deeper communion with a healing God. The other nine do not.
What we do on Sunday does indeed matter. When some of us demand special prayers and songs at services I hope it comes from a true desire to ensure worship sustain and prepare us for meaningful outreach and support to our neighborhood and each other. Ah, but are we directed from above or from the evil spirit of these days? The answer is easier than we might think. A few simple questions will tell: Do we allow ourselves to sit with whatever causes us discomfort before we open our mouth? And if we're certain a word needs to be said, do we show respect and care for others or do we simply blurt it out unconcerned with who gets hurt along the way? Do we own our feelings or do we blame others?
Jeremiah tells his exiles what all exiles today need to hear. "Don't self-righteously seek to blame and shame someone else for whatever you feel without a moment's thought for their feelings or your responsibility to treat others with the same loving kindness we all claim as sisters and brothers in faith."
Our UCC General Minister and President, John Dorhauer in chapter two of his book, Beyond Resistance tells us, "The Church was birthed for mission." For those among us uncomfortable with the idea our church might turn its attention outward and become what one member called "a mission club," hear this: Jesus didn't establish His church to be a building; full of classrooms and offices, with a grand sanctuary and a cafeteria. Nor did Jesus ask to be worshiped. Dorhauer reminds us the church, was "birthed for sending. To be in mission," he says, "(means) to be sent." Not about budgets or buildings and bloated infrastructure; "At the heart of what it means to be Church is a sending." As one seminary professors told us, "The Church is a base camp for mission and ministry." In this sense your darn right were a mission club...and Jesus is club president. And as president Jesus believes worship isn't an end onto itself, but a means for getting out into the world to serve and build community. Doxologies and uplifting music are powerful tools to deepen and activate faithful people. But if our church identity is only about one hour each week, or our little social circle or click, then all the special prayers and songs in the world aren't gonna matter one bit.
Jesus said to all his Disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, to send out workers into the field. Go! I am sending you."
The ten former lepers encounter the healing power of a Living God; nine slip back quietly into business as usual. Only one has the presence of mind to turn from the crowd and give thanks to God for a glimpse at a new way of life and then make it happen. I had my own glimpse this past week. Let's all see it together, so we too can be made well.