It has been a while! I missed you all. Here is what I did on my summer vacation. I wrote a lot, read 5 books, saw the new Jason Bourne movie, swam and ran, and am all caught up on Game of Thrones!
But this has not been a light-hearted summer. It has been a summer of discontent. A summer filled with violence and disruption as innocent African Americans and policemen were shot and killed, nightclubs attacked, celebrations in France devastated.
We watched almost every hour of both conventions. We are a divided and angry nation. There were moments when Deanne and I felt speechless, disconnected, powerless, and so far away.
And always, the under current question; What is the role of the faith community; why do we do this every Sunday – what difference does it make? Why do we preach Jesus Christ, and him crucified?
I feel much like the prophet Isaiah when the Lord said to him “Cry out!” And Isaiah responded: “What shall I cry?”
But in the midst, I do not lose hope. The words of Paul that we read today are usually reserved for a memorial or funeral service – But I believe these words have power not only for the dead and dying but for the living. These words are not only for the hope of an afterlife, but for the hope of our present life.
Whatever you are going through, whatever our nation faces –
It may be that the “outer nature” of our national fabric is wasting away; it may be that you are going through some trauma that is changing you… But I have a firm conviction that we are at a pregnant moment to renew our “inner nature;” our spiritual life.
We are at the crossroads, you and I of spiritual reformation and a personal transformation; It is time for a revival; of offering our lives to Christ, committed to being the church.
And this brief momentary “affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory!”
In any time of distress whether it be personal or corporate – you must give time to grief; to lament and even wail, there is a time for that – but only when we are in the gutter, do we look up and see the stars, only when we have hit rock bottom do we realize that there is only one way up – and you and I must stand up, must get up, must rise up, must cry out, must BE and DO.
One positive thing about negative times is this: you get to re-claim who are; you get to press the re-set button. You and I get to re-affirm our bedrock principles that will guide us.
And even in these days when we feel overwhelmed and ill equipped to meet all the challenges –I find myself getting exciting, charged up; this is the day that the Lord has made, so let us rejoice and be glad in it! Yes, THIS day. Yes, YOUR life.
God is not done with us yet, with you yet, with me yet.
And when you are down it is good to get involved in something, which allows you to get outside of yourself. Don’t you love a good project?
Several years ago, I went on the pilgrimage to Rome. One day we took an excursion north into Umbria, to the ancient walled city of Assisi. As many of you know Assisi is famous for being the birthplace and center for the life and work of St. Francis.
Outside the walls of the city and down the hillside now stands a large cathedral church that was built over the church of San Damiano – really a chapel, a small structure where Francis used to go and pray.
One day while praying at the little church of San Damiano, which was in need of significant repair. Francis, heard the voice of Jesus saying to him, “Francis, repair my church!”
And so Francis heeded the call. He returned to Assisi and sold some of his father’s assets without his father’s knowledge and repaired the church of San Damiano by himself.
Yet, this repairing of San Damiano was just the beginning and Francis came to know that the call of Jesus Christ on his life was more than a call to repair one church, it was to repair the whole church of Jesus Christ. And in helping the church to re-claim its mission he was repairing the world, healing the scars.
St. Francis did this by witnessing to peace of Christ, he lived in extreme simplicity, even poverty. He gave everything away. He welcomed all people without judgment: rich and poor, believer and non-believer. He cared for all creatures – stories say that he talked to birds and squirrels and negotiated with wolves! He realized our dependence and connected-ness with brother sun and sister moon and mother earth.
Francis even went to Egypt during one of the crusades in order to meet with the Muslim Sultan. To this day Assisi is the center of interfaith dialogue.
How contemporary! “Repair my church!” Francis’ call is our call. There is still work to be done. And I believe that it starts with me and with us.
So allow me to lay out briefly in skeletal form what I think we need to do to follow the steps of St. Francis, which were the steps of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1. We need to pray more and study the Bible. You and I have to love Jesus more. Before you act, go into your closet and pray; read your scriptures. Hold everything up to the light of God. We must rebuild the church in prayer – from this connection to the deep currents of spiritual power we will be led.
2. We must be even more hospitable and generous; welcome the Muslim, welcome the Syrian, welcome the Mexican, welcome every man, woman and child – especially those unlike us in race, creed, income and status. Hillary supporter and Trump supporter. That is hard for me.
The people of God are not a tribe – “here comes everybody” is the best definition of church I have ever heard. We have very little to protect and everything to give away. Give more money away! We rebuild the church in welcome and generosity.
3. We care for our world– this precious gift of Mother earth; no silly talk of hoaxes and conspiracies – why wouldn’t we want to heal the scars, and bring all our ingenuity and imagination to a new task of balance and sustainability. We rebuild the church by caring for our earth.
4. We become, like Jesus, and Francis the WORD made flesh, incarnational – we embody what we believe. We bear the scars. We seek to heal the scares of racism and become the community that we want the world to look like!
5. We rebuild the church by moving into the world in service to others.
We must not give into fear – but rather be grounded in that love that casts out fear. Fear divides, love unites. Love reveals, fear covers up. If it is true that NOTHING can separate you from the love of God through Jesus Christ our Lord – why shouldn’t you go for broke; what do you have to lose? We rebuild the church in love.
And we break bread together, like this morning – invited to the table not because we are worthy but because we are forgiven; not because we are special but because we are called to witness to a transformed life – the repair of the church and the repair of the world starts here, starts now – with you and me. It is a good day to be alive!
Come, let’s eat and then get to work.