Sermon: February 16, 2014, The Rev. Lori M. Lowe

Epiphany VI (A)                                                            St. Paul’s

February 16, 2014                                                         McHenry

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

 

A few years ago, WWJD became popular, especially among young people, in the Christian lexicon.  What Would Jesus Do?  It was emblazoned on everything from rubber bracelets to sterling silver charms and wooden plaques. 

 

It’s an interesting question, I suppose.  What would Jesus do?  But I confess: I was never terribly enthusiastic about this fad.  I mean, we don’t really know what Jesus would do.  Really, we don’t.

 

While we Episcopalians treasure scripture, most of us don’t read it as the literal, inerrant words of the transcendent, omnipotent God.  To be sure, we believe that scripture “contains all things necessary for salvation,” but not that everything in it is literal.

 

In other words, we read the Bible for hope and inspiration, but not so much as a book that could tell us what Jesus would do.

 

If we are in need of a slogan or a motto, we might turn back the clock to another set of initials: AMDG.  It stands for Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam – obviously Latin – meaning, To the Glory of God.

 

Johann Sebastian Bach felt so strongly that his musical compositions were meant to glorify God that he scrawled those initials at the top of every manuscript.  AMDG.  To the Glory of God.

 

Maybe it’s a good thing to have a slogan; something to remind us what we’re about, who we are.  Something to call us to a higher standard.  After all, Jesus spent a lot of his time and energy calling us to something better, something higher, holier.

 

You know the Law, he said, how it says “You shall not murder.”  Well, get this: I say it’s not enough to refrain from actually killing.  I say: Anger and judgment and liable do just as much to kill the human spirit.  DON’T DO IT!

 

You’ve got courts of law to settle your disputes… in which to sue each other and wreak havoc in each other’s lives just to prove that you’re right.  But I say: Work things out, forgive each other, be reconciled!

 

You know the Law, he said again, how it says “You shall not commit adultery.”  But I’m telling you: there are many, many ways of being unfaithful.

 

His litany goes on and on, shining the harsh light of reality on our legalism and hardness of heart… calling us to something better, something higher, holier.

 

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In the past decade or so, St. Paul’s – like almost all churches – has experienced a decline in numbers.  Young people and children have all but disappeared, and we are a “graying” congregation.  It’s discouraging and disheartening for those of us who love the church.

 

Here’s what I want to say to you – and if you remember nothing else from this sermon, remember this: IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT.  You are the faithful.  You have been and are preserving the prayers, the breaking of the bread, and the teaching of the apostles.

 

You are the faithful. 

 

This is happening in all mainline churches, and even the so-called mega-churches are now feeling the pinch.  The Roman Catholics seem to be holding their own, but that has a lot to do with the influx of Hispanic immigrants.

 

The reasons for the loss of numbers are many and complex.  There are shelves of books on the subject.  If you want to make a study of this, just Google “decline in Christian churches,” and be prepared to spend a lot of time reading.

 

In response, there has been something of a movement usually referred to as “the emergent (or emerging) church.”  I’ve found some of this material helpful and encouraging. 

 

Simply put, the main proponents of this movement tell us that every 500 years or so, almost like clockwork, the church – meaning Christianity in general – has undergone radical change, and that we are now in the middle of just such an historical metamorphosis. 

 

Whether one agrees with the whole of the material isn’t particularly important, it seems to me.  But what is clear is this: we are in a time of change; not just the church, but every aspect of life is undergoing radical change.

 

Yesterday, the THRIVE team from St. Paul’s spent the day with some of the other churches in this year’s Thrive program.  We’re learning lots of inspiring and interesting things.  But we don’t have any easy answers for you, and in fact, I rather doubt that our end result will have anything to do with easy answers.

 

But we are asking the hard questions: who are we – this little community we call St. Paul’s?  What is God calling us to do in this present time and place?  How are we even going to go about discerning that?

 

Where we are now, right now, is in the “meanwhile,” in the meantime.  As we live into this process of discerning how to be church in a new time, how to change while holding onto those things we hold most dear… WHAT DO WE DO IN THE MEANTIME?

 

Well, this is what I think: that in the meantime, we live into something better, something higher, something holier. 

 

·        You have heard it said, be polite to each other.  But what would Jesus say?  How about: Love each other!  Treat each other with genuine – even sacred – respect, as if it was me you’re talking to… or talking about.

·        You’ve heard it said, give your time, talent, and treasure to the church.  How about: everything you have and everything you are and ever will be is mine.  Give like it doesn’t belong to you.

·        You’ve read that the poor will always be with you.  But what about this: Don’t just pity the poor – identify with them!  Relate to them, sit with them, eat with them, share with them.  Remember that most of you could be one of them under different circumstances.

·        You remember that scripture says not to gossip.  But here’s the thing: everything you say about another person will come back to either haunt or bless you.  It’s up to you which one.  Pick wisely.

 

Well, I could go on with this for a while.  But I have confidence in you… in your imaginations, your capacity and willingness to ponder these things.  Together, we might even embrace and practice them.

 

Whatever and whoever God is calling us to be as the Body of Christ, may everything we do, everything we say, every breath we take…

BE TO THE GLORY OF GOD.

                     Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.