The Whole City

Sermon for Sunday, February 4, 2018 || Epiphany 5B || Mark 1:29-39

There’s a certain line in this morning’s Gospel lesson, and I can’t decide whether it is hyperbole or not. “That evening, at sundown,” Mark tells us, “they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door.” The whole city. Archaeologists tell us the city of Capernaum had a population of about fifteen hundred in Jesus’ day, so imagine a group larger than the student body of Fitch High School crowding around one house on a quiet side street near the sea. “The whole city was gathered around the door.”

Now you might be wondering why I’m harping on about this rather innocuous verse, and I’ll admit it has stuck in my craw this week. To be honest, reading about this whole city gathering around Jesus made me sad and wistful. Imagining this great throng trying to get near this wonderful source of healing made me long for a return to another time in the history of our little piece of the world.

Continue reading “The Whole City”

12 Moments: An Instructed Eucharist

At St. Mark’s on Sunday, June 7th, we did an “Instructed Eucharist.” At four points during the service, we paused and I talked us through what was coming up. I based the instruction on something I wrote a few years ago and revised last week called 12 Moments: Reflections for an Instructed Eucharist. What I said during the service was a very abridged version of this pamphlet. Then I handed the full pamphlet out to folks at the end of the service. You can download the pamphlet by clicking the image below or clicking here.

12momentscover

Twelve Moments: the Conclusion (May 18, 2012)

…Opening To…

The liturgy of the Eucharist is best understood as a journey or procession. It is the journey of the church into the dimension of the Kingdom. (Alexander Schmemann)

…Listening In…

Eternal God, heavenly Father, you have graciously accepted us as living members of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, and you have fed us with spiritual food in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart; through Christ our Lord. Amen. (The Post Communion Prayer)

…Filling Up…

One of the most common trials of the life of faith is putting up a great, big barrier between life inside the church and life outside of it. With this twelve part series, I have sought to show how the moments of our worship inside the church can inform and strengthen our walks with God outside the church.

Each moment of our worship is shot through with the presence of God. And do you know what? So is each moment of our lives. When we recognize God’s abiding presence in our lives outside the walls of the church, then we can worship God at all times. We can participate in God’s movement in this world.

The next time you attend a Sunday morning service, pay attention to each of the moments of the liturgy. Ask yourself what God is trying to teach you in those moments about your life as one of Jesus’ disciples. What are the priorities you are living by? How does your worship encourage you to change those priorities? How do you structure your life? What is your foundation? What anchors you? If the answer to these last two questions is not “my relationship with God,” then pray about how you can change your life so that you participate in your relationship with God more fully.

Worship will help you do that. It will help you structure and anchor your life in the One who breathes life into all creation. What a wonderful gift it is to be able to worship that One, to be able to commune with the God who both speaks creation into being and breathes life into our beings one breath at a time.

…Praying For…

Dear God, thank you for the opportunity to worship you and for your wisdom in helping me order my life around your movement in it. Help me to take your hand each day and walk in the paths that you show me. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, nourished by the bread of life that you sent to the world, Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

Preparing to Serve (May 17, 2012)

…Opening To…

The liturgy of the Eucharist is best understood as a journey or procession. It is the journey of the church into the dimension of the Kingdom. (Alexander Schmemann)

…Listening In…

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of God’s Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be amongst you, and remain with you always. Amen. (The Blessings, adapted from Philippians 4:7)

…Filling Up…

Our twelfth and final moment in the worship service comes after the prayer that concludes the Communion. The priest (or bishop if present) blesses the people, usually making the sign of the cross in the air. Many people in the congregation will “cross” themselves in response, but this isn’t necessary. If it isn’t part of your devotion then don’t feel compelled to follow suit. Crossing oneself is a physical sign of spiritual alignment. By touching the four “cardinal directions” of your body (North at the forehead, South at the navel, East and West at the shoulders), you motion with your physical body in order to orient your spirit toward God.

But I’m getting off track. The Blessing is the final prayer of the service. The service began with the promise of transformation in the symbol of the cross and ends with the blessing of God, which shows that transformation has begun. God’s blessing always leads to change in our lives, wonderful growth that we couldn’t possibly imagine.

The service concludes with the dismissal. “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Thanks be to God.” With the dismissal, we orient our bodies away from the altar and toward the door at the back of the church. The world outside awaits. Everything we did during the service has made us ready to enter the world as the people of God. The church is like a gym. You go there for exercise, but you play football on the field, not in the weight room.

…Praying For…

Dear God, you strengthen me in body, mind, and spirit through my worship of you. Help me to take all that I have learned in the service about ordering my life and apply it to my life outside the four walls of the church. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, nourished by the bread of life that you sent to the world, Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

Sharing Christ (May 16, 2012)

…Opening To…

The liturgy of the Eucharist is best understood as a journey or procession. It is the journey of the church into the dimension of the Kingdom. (Alexander Schmemann)

…Listening In…

Isn’t the cup of blessing that we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Isn’t the loaf of bread that we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Since there is one loaf of bread, we who are many are one body, because we all share the one loaf of bread. (1 Corinthians 10:16-17; context)

…Filling Up…

We have reached the penultimate moment in our survey of twelve moments that take place in the typical Episcopal Sunday service. Like the Peace, the act of sharing Communion every Sunday was not commonplace until a little over thirty years ago. The Episcopal Church preferred the service of Morning Prayer and had Communion only occasionally. But with the “new” Prayer Book (that’s in quotations because it came out when Jimmy Carter was president), the church shifted to Communion every Sunday.

So what happens when we take Communion? What’s really going on? Well, I’ll give you two answers. The first is going to sound like I’m copping out, which I am, but for good reason. The second will take up the rest of this discussion. The first answer to what’s really going on is this: “I have no idea.” Seriously – the mystery of the Eucharist is way beyond my pay grade. I do know that something is happening because of the nourishment and joy that people receive when they take Communion, but don’t ask me to do the math.

That being said, here’s the second answer. When we share the bread and wine, we are completing the Eucharistic moment that began with the prayer of consecration. No one can give you a satisfactory answer to when the bread and wine becomes the Body and Blood of Christ. If we could, then the words we say would be magic – hocus pocus, if you will. (By the way, those magic words come from the Latin for “This is my Body.” Cool, huh?). Rather, the blessing of the bread and wine takes the entire Eucharistic moment and culminates in the sharing of the Body and Blood. If we consecrated the elements and then didn’t share them with one another, then that would seem strange right?

The Body and Blood of Christ are meant to be shared. We take in the bread and the wine; thus we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. But, we too, are members of that same Body. So when we partake of Holy Communion, Christ nourishes us with the sharing of his Body so that we can share of ourselves as his Body. We share our gifts as we do God’s work in the world. And the sharing of Christ in the Eucharist nourishes and empowers us to do so, and to do so together, as the one Body.

…Praying For…

Dear God, you shared your Son with us when you sent him into the world to save the world. Help me to take him and so I may be a part of his Body and serve you, walking in his footsteps. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, nourished by the bread of life that you sent to the world, Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

Giving Thanks (May 15, 2012)

…Opening To…

The liturgy of the Eucharist is best understood as a journey or procession. It is the journey of the church into the dimension of the Kingdom. (Alexander Schmemann)

…Listening In…

On the night he was betrayed he took bread, said the blessing, broke the bread, and gave it to his friends, and said, “Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.” After supper, he took the cup of wine, gave thanks, and said, “Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this for the remembrance of me.” (Words of Institution, Eucharistic Prayer C)

…Filling Up…

Our tenth moment in worship is called the “Eucharistic” prayer. While the term “Eucharist” comprehends the entire Sunday worship experience, it is also a special word used for this particular section, as well as a name for the elements of the blessed bread and wine that have been indwelt by the presence of Christ.

Also known as the “prayer of consecration,” the Eucharistic prayer is composed of several parts. The “sursum corda” (Latin for “Lift up your hearts”) is the special exchange between the presider and the congregation, in which the priest asks for permission to pray on the congregation’s behalf. Then the prayer recounts God’s movement in creation, humanity’s downfall and need for salvation, and the coming of Christ. Then the priests prays the “words of institution,” in which we remember Jesus’ last supper with the disciples, and, in remembering, we take part in that supper ourselves. It is not a reenactment of the last supper, but a participation in it. Finally, the priest appeals to the Holy Spirit to dwell in the bread and wine, so that they may be for us the Body and Blood of Christ.

But let’s take a second look at the word “Eucharist.” This fancy word would be much less fancy if you happened to be both from Asia Minor and two thousand years old. This strange looking word simply means “to give thanks.” So, when we come together to share the meal, we are coming together to give thanks to God for all the blessings God has bestowed upon us. The fact that this intentional thanksgiving happens in community reminds us that we must share our blessings just as we share the body and blood of Christ. And it is the very dwelling of Christ in us and we in him that sustains us as we share with others.

When we give thanks to God for the blessings and gifts God has given us, we must remember that thanksgiving is the catalyst for sharing. If we do not share our gifts with others, then we have not truly thanked God for them. This is so important that I’m going to say it again. If we do not share our gifts with others, then we have not truly thanked God for them.

Sometimes, these gifts may seem meager or inadequate, like simple bread and wine. But those are the times we must remember that Christ is there with us, giving thanks for us, and breaking us so he can share himself through our lives with this broken world.

…Praying For…

Dear God, “open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver us from the presumption of coming to [the] Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of […] Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.” Amen. (Eucharistic Prayer C)

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, nourished by the bread of life that you sent to the world, Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

Giving Back (May 14, 2012)

…Opening To…

The liturgy of the Eucharist is best understood as a journey or procession. It is the journey of the church into the dimension of the Kingdom. (Alexander Schmemann)

…Listening In…

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:2, and an “Offertory Sentence”)

…Filling Up…

Our ninth moment is easy to miss because in the Book of Common Prayer there is no bold heading that says the “Offertory” and no dialogue between the leader and the people. The leader can say a sentence from scripture to trigger the beginning of the offertory, but the suggested words are tucked away in a different place in the book. Often, the choir sings a beautiful anthem during the passing of the collection plates, so unless you are aware of the plate sliding by you, you are liable to miss the whole thing.

But the offertory is just as important as any other piece of our service. In a symbolic action, representatives from the people bring to the altar the gifts of bread and wine and money or other gifts. In most churches the gifts of bread and wine come up first and then a few minutes later the money comes up, thus severing the intimate connection between the two. So let’s imagine for a moment that all the gifts arrive at the altar at the same time. What would we see?

First we would see the bread placed before God, a symbol of the bounty of the earth that the Lord has made. Human hands took that bounty and molded it into the bread that we bless. The same goes for the wine, a symbol of celebration that also comes from the fruit of the earth, pressed and fermented by human hands and feet. Then we see the monetary offering placed before God. In juxtaposition with the bounty of the earth that most certainly sprang up because of God’s goodness, we see our financial gifts given to the glory of God. And we realize that we are simply giving back to God what God has blessed us with.

All of our offerings to God are really our giving to God what is already God’s – sort of like when your parents give you five dollars to buy them a birthday present. The money is theirs, but you’ve taken it and used it for their joy. That is what happens in the offertory.

…Praying For…

Dear God, you give to us out of your abundance, goodness, and love. Help me to have a generous heart, that I may give back to you of the first fruits of all you have blessed me with. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, nourished by the bread of life that you sent to the world, Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

Practicing Peace (May 11, 2012)

…Opening To…

The purpose of the worship of God is to help us see our dependence on God and the vast resources that God wants to lavish on our lives. (Ian S. Markham)

…Listening In…

“I have spoken these things to you while I am with you. The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you. Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:25-27; context)

…Filling Up…

Our eighth moment in the typical worship service is something that wasn’t part of a typical worship service until a little more than thirty years ago. Well, let me rephrase – the passing of the peace of the Lord is one of the oldest traditions in the worship of the Christian church, dating back to the “kiss of peace” in the earliest days of Christianity. Then at some time over the centuries, it fell out of practice, only to be recovered in the Book of Common Prayer that we use now in the Episcopal Church. (Other denominations pass the Peace, as well.)

The Peace is the fulcrum of the service, the pivot point between the liturgy of the Word (everything we’ve been discussing up until now) and the liturgy of the Table (everything we will discuss following this). We have praised God, listened to scripture and interpretation, said what we believe, prayed, and confessed our sins. Soon we will partake of Holy Communion. But first, we pause to practice greeting one another with the peace of God.

Peace is not just the absence of conflict. In a greater sense, peace is the abiding presence of God. When we greet one another with the peace of God, we express our desire that the other may forever be held in the palm of God’s hand, may forever abide in God’s presence. During our worship, we practice this greeting in the safe space of the church among those with whom we feel comfortable. It becomes easy to bring God’s peace to our fellow churchgoers.

But the challenge is taking the peace of God out into the world where it is sorely needed. Just imagine how different we could make the world if we brought with us into every handshake and high five and wave and embrace, the peace, which passes all understanding. God’s abiding presence exists with or without our awareness of it, but when we move through our lives wrapped in the peace of God, we will affect everyone we encounter for the better.

…Praying For…

Dear God, you are the source of all peace; help me to dwell in the ocean of that peace whenever my heart is troubled so that I may know that I am in your presence and have nothing to fear. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, glad to have the opportunity to worship you freely and to bring my weekend worship into my weekday life.

Be Part of the Solution (May 10, 2012)

…Opening To…

The purpose of the worship of God is to help us see our dependence on God and the vast resources that God wants to lavish on our lives. (Ian S. Markham)

…Listening In…

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen. (The Confession Sin)

…Filling Up…

Our seventh moment follows on the heels of our sixth, the Prayers of the People. The seventh moment is the Confession of Sin. Its location is no accident in the service of Holy Eucharist. We confess our sins very soon before we take communion. This gives us an opportunity to examine our consciences, ask for and accept forgiveness from God, and then take in the nourishment offered through Communion so that we can be strengthened to follow Christ more closely in our lives.

The Confession comes right after the Prayers of the People because the prayers can help us see where we have fallen short, where we have missed the mark, where we have separated ourselves from God. The Confession of Sin and the Absolution proclaimed on God’s behalf by the priest reconcile us to God, repairing the relationship that we have let slip but which God never abandons.

But there’s something more to the Confession of Sin. Notice in the words above that the Confession is entirely plural. When we confess during the service, we confess as a group. We confess our complicity in all of the big sins of the world that we are part of simply because we exist in a system that is broken. We may not be able right away to break out of that system, but by confessing our complicity we show our desire to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. The reconciliation that happens through the Confession and Absolution reconnects us to God, who is the source of the solution. Thus, we are able to pull ourselves just a little bit more out of the muck of the broken system of this world.

The more we confess this corporate sin, the more readily are we able to see the brokenness in the system for what it consists of – injustice, domination, disparity, fear, apathy. Why would we want to be part of that?

…Praying For…

Dear God, help me to look at the world through your eyes so that I can see a place of beauty that is scarred by humanity’s brokenness, of which I am a part; and then help me to break free of the system so that I can join you as part of the solution. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, glad to have the opportunity to worship you freely and to bring my weekend worship into my weekday life.

Prayer is Central (May 9, 2012)

…Opening To…

The purpose of the worship of God is to help us see our dependence on God and the vast resources that God wants to lavish on our lives. (Ian S. Markham)

…Listening In…

Grant, Almighty God, that all who confess your Name may be united in your truth, live together in your love, and reveal your glory in the world… Guide the people of this land, and of all the nations, in the ways of justice and peace; that we may honor one another and serve the common good… Give us all a reverence for the earth as your own creation, that we may use its resources rightly in the service of others and to your honor and glory. (excerpt from Form IV of the Prayers of the People)

…Filling Up…

In the very center of our service, we come to our sixth moment – the Prayers of the People. I love the fact that these prayers fall in the middle because their location reminds us of the centrality of prayer in our lives. Of course, the entire service is prayer, but in the very center we find these prayers dedicated to God working in very specific facets of our lives and in the life of the world.

Indeed, the Prayers of the People follow a prescribed formula. We pray for “The Universal Church, its members, and its mission; the Nation and all in authority; the welfare of the world; the concerns of the local community; those who suffer and those in any trouble; and the departed.”

In each of these categories, we invite God to be present and to be at work. But these categories also function as the map for our own service. When we pray these prayers, we can ask ourselves how we are participating in God’s work in each area – in the church, in our country, in the world, in our local community, among those who are in trouble. In the final category we pray for those who have died to remind ourselves that our service to God and God’s relationship with us does not end when we pass away. Rather, the relationship becomes more perfect. This hope propels us to continue working to bring God’s reign ever closer here on earth.

Prayer is central to our lives. Anything we do in response to God’s movement is prayer – this includes kneeling at our bedsides, serving at the homeless shelter, singing songs of praise, sitting in silence just listening, and so many other responses that it would take a lifetime to list them all. The more we strive to be responsive to God’s call in our lives, the more we will be praying, and the more central will God be as we move through our days.

…Praying For…

Heavenly Father, you have promised to hear what we ask in the Name of your Son: Accept and fulfill our petitions, we pray, not as we ask in our ignorance, nor as we deserve in our sinfulness, but as your know and love us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (from the Collects at the Prayers)

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, glad to have the opportunity to worship you freely and to bring my weekend worship into my weekday life.