A few weeks ago at work I had an experience that many computer users fear most. Upon trying to open a file, my screen spit out the ominous message “attempting to open a corrupt file” and then it just stopped in its tracks with a resound-less crash and then of course the worse possible scenario happened . . . the dreaded . . . ‘Blue Screen of Death!’. Being a computer user with some thirty years of experience, I tried every trick I could think of to repair the error, until finally I gave up, called the IT guy about the problem, and went home wondering ‘Why me, Lord?’. Why does it always happen to me?’ But, as I drove home, I got to thinking that in reality, problems with computers in fact, never happen to me, but when they do they are so very annoyingly noticeable, and, at least in my own mind, always seem to border on the catastrophic.
When I returned to work the next morning, the problem had been repaired with a little note to remind me that problems like these are the price we occasionally have to pay for being connected. My software program, an adobe reader/writer, had somehow been corrupted by a faulty plug-in file somewhere out there in hyperspace causing a system wide failure that was, in ‘computer speak’ a fatal error.
But, the lesson in all this wasn’t totally lost on me as God was able to use this incident to clarify something that was bothering me for past few days about today’s readings.
It has been speculated that the internet is probably the most significant invention by man since the invention of the wheel. We are creators of the computer, and not surprisingly, most of its components have been made pretty much in our own image. Printers represent hands, hard drives represent memory, programs represent skills, monitors, keyboards, speakers and cameras represent speech and communication centers. Just like us, a computer can be born, live out its life and die . . . and sometimes in a most horrible death. As a single device, a computer is nothing more than a hard working information machine, but when connected through the world wide web, our computers and iphones become something much more than the sum of their parts, something that is still evolving through infinite numbers of appliances, wires and ubiquitous connections known only to the designers. We can only dream of what is next in the evolution of this technology.
People, like computers in this new internet age, are connected to one another in ways that are sometimes quite obvious but at other times quite incomprehensible. We draw on each other’s altruism and knowledge to solve problems and we suffer at each other’s cruelty and apathy as we strike out against each other’s ideologies. Because today we are not only connected by our relationships but also connected by our technology, the hurt we inflict on each other is not only magnified by sight and sound but is felt everywhere, almost immediately, throughout the world, on our computer monitors and on our television screens. As witness to the power of these sights and sounds, how many of us witnessed the horrible acts last week in Syria or the Boston Bombers a few months ago or of 911 in real time or the Challenger accident? I, for one, experineced all of them.
The problem that can happen by being so connected is that we as a people are left wide open and vulnerable to whatever those connections may bring. As our home computer is subject to assaults from viruses and worms sent by people who wish to cause us harm, so we ourselves are also subject to the assaults of our enemies through word and deed and the spreading of ideologies contrary to our core beliefs. When enough of us are convinced or turned to one way or another, a critical mass is formed and revolution is not far off on the horizon. This is how the messages of hate and evil are spread and the way evil feeds on the fear of others.
So what can we do? Well, we have three choices . . . (one that has been taken by way too many believers judging by our many empty pews) . . . to simply shut down, stay away and let others take up the cause, i.e. we can choose to live in benign neglect of our own salvation and our own beliefs. The attitude of ‘I don’t need you and you don’t need me’ may work until one day there comes a problem that cannot be solved on our own and we are forced to face it and fail, or reconcile with each other and overcome it as a community of faith.
The second choice is not much better than the first choice. The second choice is to become immersed in the psycho-media-religion of the day. To take on all kinds of belief systems, attitudes and ideologies that basically uphold the humanistic value systems so prevalent in the media and in our self centered and hedonist society. Humanism teaches that it is immoral to wait for God to act for us. Jeremiah describes this best in the Old Testament reading to day . . . But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water. Humanism tells us that whatever our philosophy of the universe may be, ultimately the responsibility for the kind of world in which we live rests with us and not with God. Jeremiah tells us that our humanistic beliefs consist of cracked cisterns and arguments that cannot hold water.
The third choice is that we can stand as a group united, connected and resisting the assaults of the enemy that are thrown our way. As in today’s lesson Paul exhorts us to let love be mutual, show hospitality to strangers. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled. In other words “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”.
In the church today there are many issues that divide the orthodox and conservative from the progressive and liberal. Not surprisingly, it’s not the first time this has happened. There have been many such controversies starting at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. where a bloody fist fight broke out and two priests were officially cursed and anathematized over the words we say each week in the Nicene Creed. Then of course, there was the reformation, where believers in one camp (the Roman Catholic Church) went to war with believers in another (the Reformers) in Germany mainly over one teaching of Paul called the doctrine of Justification of Faith and the Church’s subsequent split. In our most recent times there was a great controversy over the release of a new prayer book in 1979 which this church, the Anglican Church of America was so vehemently opposed to. And then, of course, there are the continuing controversies over the gender of priests and same sex marriage issues that continue to be dividing issues in many places.
The third choice is of course the way to get though it . . . to humbly sit, to wait, to listen and to decide what truly is the will of God. But while we are watching and waiting, we need to be open to the power of God to amend our lives, to heal the brokenness of our spirits and to strengthen us in all things. We can do this in having faith that God will bring into connection with us, others of the body who are willing to be called into the same service . . . “For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” What Paul is saying to us in the New Testament is that we, as the Body of Christ, are dependent on each other for our mutual spiritual support. It is not only ‘a nice thing to do when we have time’, but our bounden duty to use the gifts that God has given us to work and pray for the strengthening of his kingdom.
Many think that the focus of such ministry is on the priest or the vestry, but it is not. The focus of ministry is on all believers according to their gifts as bestowed upon them at their baptism. The priest and the vestry are connections or strands in the fabric of one’s spiritual life but they are not the only ones, there are others including your family, your friends and those with whom you work. We, as the church of Saint Nicholas, form a wonderful tapestry of soul’s as it were, each connected to each other by the spirit that lives within all of us; each different in race or gender or heritage or custom, but each very much the same in being loved as a child of God. When one is added we all rejoice, and when one is lost, we all mourn. This is as it has been since the creation and will be until we are all called home.
I believe that this church is poised and now ready to begin a new work of renewal in the spirit. The liturgical roots that have been faithfully kept since the inception of this church provide both foundation and substance to what we have to offer as a community of faith. I can tell you that from my travels throughout the various churches and places in Western New York, there are hundreds of people outside these walls that would give anything to have what we have; a place of quiet dignity in an environment of mutual love. If they knew what was here, I know that they would come. It is up to each of us to invite them and let them know that all are welcome. Amen