Thursday, April 23, 2009

(Im)perfect Church

It is always the season of Easter when I find myself wandering aimlessly through the book of Acts. While it sounds like a good idea – learning about the early church while participating in the season of new life and resurrection here in the 21st century – it is messier than I remember.

Last week I preached on the lectionary texts that included Acts 4:32-35. This snippet of the early church seems to describe a hippie commune or socialism at its very best(?). Everyone is getting along and living in harmony. They share possessions and property, giving to all who are in need…for four verses.

Many church starts find that they are so busy with the big picture and becoming stable and steady that there isn’t time or energy to argue about the little things. Disagreements and division come later and the good ol’ days never last very long. By chapter five of Acts, drama erupts about land being sold. Peter is shouting about Satan and calling someone a liar before he drops dead and everyone watching silently freaks out. The four verse harmony in Acts short lived. And it is both beautiful and discouraging to a young, optimistic pastor of today's church.

The good news about Easter is certainly happening the morning we celebrate resurrection in all its glory. People pour into pews they haven’t graced since Christmas and hear about the miracle that is bigger than one Sunday or one worship service. Then I hold my breath for folks to return in celebration of the Easter season, hoping others are hungry to know what an empty tomb means for tomorrow and the next day.

I could write about the two endings in Mark’s gospel and why I love the first one all day long. But there is something grand about the second, longer ending to his account. When Jesus appears to the disciples – the ones who never quite understood his teachings, the ones who betrayed him the day he died, the ones who hid in fear after the crucifixion – Jesus has two words for them. He gives them both law and gospel.

Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” - Mark 16:14-15

Hey, kids. I stopped by to let you know that hiding behind these locked doors isn't doing anyone any good. You’re doing a crappy job being my followers right now and your faith is pretty shaky. But that doesn’t mean I’m done with you. It doesn’t mean I can’t use you. So even though you are not perfect – even though you get in the way sometimes or let confusion and fear overwhelm – I’m calling you into this mission because I love and choose you. I am here because I claim you and give you power in my name. I am sending you to tell of my kingdom boldly and to participate in the miracle I have created for the sake of the world.

God does not require perfection, but finds ways to weave his righteousness into our silly and messy lives. And it takes a wonderful God to do things the slow, tricky and creative way by calling us into participation. It takes a God who can tell it how it is and then invite us along. It takes a God who never gives up, who keeps promises and who makes things new with a Word every Easter day.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Finally. The Rising.

Easter morning was a fabulous blur. I arrived early and collected my thoughts for worship. Then I flitted around during the pancake breakfast with no real duties, just connecting people and greeting family members in town for the weekend.
People poured into the sanctuary, laughing and greeting each other. The pews were packed and I was overjoyed seeing so many people at worship. The banners streaked across the high ceiling, drawing our attention to the front window: a cross and a glorious Jesus promising to be with us always. I believe you.

When I got home, I noticed the tulips planted this fall poking through. It sounds small and cliche - new life, rebirth - but this is the first time I've ever seen something I've planted breaking through death and coming alive with green shoots. Spring is truly here and the signs are all around us. May your Easter season be filled with banners bright and green shoots - signs of hope everlasting!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

That's True.

I had to focus on the Words of Institution as I looked out at their eager faces. Six of our young people were about to receive their First Communion. One pressed his palms against the pew ahead and hoisted himself high off the ground to see better. Others looked around for each other with big smiles or made a serious effort to follow along in the bulletin. For a moment, they were all looking at the bread and wine, hungry and thirsty. What a privilege to serve this meal.

During our First Communion class, I pulled out a beautiful quilt made by loving members of my internship church. Each patch tells a different story through soft fabric patterns – the garden, the grains of wheat, Jacob’s ladder, the Star of David – and when it covers me, I am draped in the story that saves.

We talked about how worship is much like my quilt. Everything we do helps to tell the story – our stained glass windows, our hymns, the scripture read, prayers spoken and peace shared. “If there were a center patch in my quilt, it would be Holy Communion. Some people think the sermon is the most important part of the service, but it’s not.” And then we talked about the bread and wine. I gave them a tour of the sacristy and we walked through the morning routine of filling wine cups and placing the elements in the rear of the nave. “So we can see it when we walk in?” That’s true.

One brilliant girl asked why we never use banana bread. A beloved boy made the connection that we can’t see Jesus when he comes with the meal, but we can taste him. That’s true. They all double checked that the grape juice is white, not purple, and were swept up in the mystery of Jesus telling us to do this even two thousand years later.

And so, on this Maundy Thursday at dusk, I watched holy and innocent faith hold out its hands. Some smiled wildly and others contained their glee with a mask of reverence. But after the service, they all danced with joy on the courtyard lawn. We tore the rest of the bread into little pieces and, with the same glad respect they had at the altar, returned the extra bread to creation and fed the birds. “The best part is, we get to take communion again this Sunday…and every Sunday!” That’s true.