Monday, July 19, 2004

Cool -- Blogger made some changes while I was gone.  I like it so far.  Okay, now for what you've really come here for.  I preached three times yesterday -- two normal sermons, and one for the centennial celebration of the building that St. Paul's worships in.  It was quite the service, the bishop came down, we had a packed house, lots of clergy from the Diocese of MT, relatives of the lady that donated the money for the building, and some good food afterwords.  So, here you go:
This is not one of my favorite gospel passages.  On the one hand, we have Martha who invites Jesus and the gang to her place and spends all of her time rushing about trying to take care of everything; and Jesus tells her, basically, that she is doing the wrong thing.  This strikes me as problematic because for most of the gospel Jesus is trying to teach his followers about hospitality and servitude.  So why does Martha get it wrong? 
On the other hand, we have Mary, who plants herself at the feet of Jesus and does nothing but listen.  For years this was used to keep women subservient to men:  Sit down, say nothing, and listen to the man.  I'm not fond of either of these views, and I would rather not have to deal with this passage.  But, here they are.
It's funny how things work out though.  We have been here two weeks and our stuff still hasn't arrived.  We are still camped out at the Shackleton's cabin living out of suitcases.  One of the things we were able to do, however, was to go the the library and get our library cards.  So we are almost now fully legal residents of Sheridan.  While there, my wife picked up a book called, "Tuesdays with Morrie."  When she finished, she asked me to read it. 
If you aren't familiar with this book, it chronicles the last few months of the life of Morrie Schwartz, a former college professor of Mitch Albom, the author.  Mitch writes for the Detroit Free Press and makes appearances on ESPN.  Anyway, Morrie is dying of ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease).  It turns out that Mitch lost touch with his favorite college professor shortly after graduation, and just happened to come across a Nightline story about him.
One of the things that struck me in this book is that Morrie says, "You have to learn to die in order to learn to live."  You have to learn to die in order to learn to live.  Both I and Mitch struggled with that, wondering what exactly he's getting at.  And as I moved through the book, Morrie explained it.
Imagine starting every day asking yourself, "Is this the day I will die?"  And what would happen if it were?  Most people ignore their own deaths.  We know, on some level, that everyone will die and that nobody gets out of here alive.  Parents die, friends die, mentors die, and if we are lucky, we won't live to see our children die.  But we tend to ignore our own death.
How many of us have a will?  Have you made funeral arrangements?  Do you know where you want to be buried?  Have you gone through the burial service in the BCP?  I can only answer yes to one of those questions.  The point is, our own death isn't high on the priority list.
But what if?  What if you started each day asking that question?  And what if the answer was, "Yes."  How would your life change?  Would you write letters?  Feed the poor?  Call an old friend?  Shelter the homeless?  Try to mend some hurt feelings?  Or would you pay your bills?  Wash the car?  Dust the curio?
My guess is that you would do the former.  We all know what is really important in life, we all do.  And to prove that point, what's the first thing that people grab when their house is burning?  Pictures.  They don't grab the mortgage bill or the Pledge, but pictures.  We know what's important.
And that's what Morrie is getting at.  If we paid attention to our death, we would spend more time focusing on what's important:  Family, friends, etc.  I have a grandmother who invites people over for special dinners.  She spends all of her time running around making sure that everything is right.  So much time, in fact, that nobody sees her and we spend all of our time getting her to relax.  Just like Martha.
Martha has allowed things to determine the course of her life, rather than work on priortizing her life according to what's really important.  Morrie and Jesus are on the same path here.  For this one instant, Mary had an insight that Jesus was more important than anything else.  Jesus had something to say that was so important it would change her life.  Mary took the time to priortize her life around what's important, rather than allow "things" to priortize her life for her, like Marth did.
The point is:  don't be distracted by what the world says is important.  Work to prioritize your life according to what's really important.  And if you ask yourself, "Is this the day I will die," you'll know what is really important in your life.  So go ahead, ask yourself, "Is this the day?"  And then live like it were.
#2 -- For the Centennial Celebration of the church of St. Paul's
We are gathered here today to celebrate the centenial anniversary of the dedication of this building.  You will notice that we are NOT celebrating the centennial anniversary of St. Paul's.  And that is an important distinction.  For while we dedicate,  consecrate, honor and appreciate, in the end this building is nothing more than a pile of rocks and glass and wood and brass.  Beautiful, to be sure, but things nonetheless.  Much like our bodies are bones and blood and muscle and skin.
And like we are more than the components that make us up, St. Paul's is more than this building.  But Episcopalians are a strange lot.  More than any other denomination, I think, we value our buildings.  We appreciate good architecture and art and we want our buildings to exude a sens of the holy.  And this place does just that.
I have been in my office here a total of four days, and I have encountered many people who are both awed and totally at peace when they enter this building.  As well they should be.  The combination of quiet and coolness and darkness and beauty make this a true gemstone of the Ruby Valley.  And here I should pay tribute to Mary Elling who donated the funds necessary to construct and furnish this building.
Thne congregation of St. Paul's, however, dates back to at least 1868 when it was begun by Bishop Tuttle, a good 34 years befor this place existed.  Another reminder that St. Paul's is more than this building.
Although congregations are not, nor should they be, tied to places, places should be treated as holy.  We see this in the stories from today's readings.  In Genesis, Jacob meets up with the Lord, declares the place "the house of God" and "the gate of heaven."  He ultimately builds an altar in that place.  What Jacob originally treated as a profane place became holy.  And all of the action in the gospel takes place in the temple -- the holiest of all places in Judaism.  The difference her, though, is that decidedly un-holy actions are taking place and Jesus drives out the money changers and others participating in those actions.  This holy place is being profaned.
So holiness does seem to be tied to certain places.  But notice that peopole are not necessarily tied to those places.  God repeats to Jacob the promise originally given to Abram, "You shall spread to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and your offspring."  We too are the children of that promise.  But notice that God didn't say, "I will bring all the nations to you," but that "you shall spread abroad."  We are not called to sit in this place and wait for people to join up.  We are not called to sit in this place and wait for tourists to drop by.  We are called to go out and bring the good news of God into the world.
So if we are bing sent out into the world, what's the point of having a building?  Why not simply throw up a tend and start preaching?  Because the world is a hard place.  After all, Jacob used a rock for a pillow and the wrold ultimately crucified Jesus.  Going out into the world and spreading the good news is hard work.  And after a hardday's work, istn't it nice to rest in a holy place where you can relax and worship and rejuvenate?
This building is a rest stop.  A place to meet with God.  A place to garner our bearings, for those of us who are directionally challenged.  A place to meet fellow travelers, share stories and be comforted.  A place to go forth from, not to permanently stay. 
I give thanks today for Bishop Tuttle who started St. Paul's.  I give thanks for Mary Elling who donated the money for the building.  I give thanks for those members of this congregation who have kept it alive and kicking during the lean years.  But most of all, I give thanks for those people who recognize that we are called to go forth.  Amen.


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