Over this weekend I happened to be asked by a dear friend to officiate at a funeral with an internment at forest Lawn Cemetery. Upon waiting for the procession to arrive at the site, I had an opportunity to walk around the chapel grounds there. This little walk awoke many memories of other funerals long past. I recalled how my personal journey in faith started way back when I was just a little kid of about five years old with a question to God . . . which was “Why?” My uncle had passed away very unexpectedly and my parents had taken me to this same cemetery at Forest Lawn. I can, to this day remember his casket being lowered into the ground, the people all around me all upset and myself asking the question ‘Why?’. I don’t remember actually ever getting an answer to the question, but I do remember a definite feeling of connection with God that very day that has never left me.
After becoming a deacon, I was given the opportunity to serve at many churches in the Episcopal Diocese. I worked in the very poorest areas of Buffalo . . . at St. Thomas’ in the First Ward and St. Matthew’s in the Seneca Babcock area. I also served in suburban Hamburg at Trinity Church with Fr. John Smiley for many years. I also served in a temporary capacity in Dunkirk, Batavia, Alden and Franklinville. In all these places, it has always struck me how very much alike Christians are as we gather week after week to share a common story and a common cup. Christians, that is all true believers, are connected in ways that transcend the physical world. The societal issues that, within the past several years have given rise to divide us, pale in comparison to what it is that unites us which is a common bond, a common hope and a common future. We as believers are connected, whether we like it or not, and that is what this sermon is about this morning . . .
Several 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 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 thirty something 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 weeks 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 and cameras represent speech and communication centers. Just like us, a computer or an iPad can be born, live out its life and die . . . 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 become something much more than the sum of their parts that is still evolving through infinite numbers of 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 computers, on our Tablet screens and on our television screens. As witness to the power of these sights and sounds, how many of us witnessed the horrible acts of ISIS last week as they beheaded the photo journalist, James Foley, in real time?
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 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 our fear and 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. 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. When Jesus rebukes Peter in today’s gospel reading . . . (Jesus) turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.” he is rebuking the Humanistic ideology that Peter wanted to use to take the work of God into his own hands, thereby saving Jesus from death on the cross. 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.
The third choice is that we can stand as a group strongly united, connected and resisting the assaults that are thrown our way. As in last week’s lesson Paul exhorts the Church of Rome “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 wider church today there are many issues that divide us as believers. Not surprisingly, it’s not the first time this has ever happened. There have been many such controversies starting at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. where a bloody fist fight broke out (it was our own Saint Nicholas who broke the nose of the priest named Arius) and two priests who were officially cursed over the words we say each week in the Nicene Creed. Then of course, there was the reformation, where believers in one camp (the 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 the folks from this church, the Anglican Church in America, were vehemently opposed to (and still are). And then, of course, there is the ongoing controversy over the gender and sexual orientation of clergy that continues to be an issue in many denominations. 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 his service. But to do this, to be open and accepting of others to join our cause we must as Paul writes today. . . “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” What Paul is saying 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 a church, 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 custom or habit, 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 Saint Nicholas Church is poised and ready to begin a new work of renewal in the spirit. The liturgical roots that we have endeavored to keep these last several years provide for us a foundation and substance to what we have to offer as a community of faith. I can tell you that from my travels throughout WNY, there are hundreds of people outside these walls that would give anything to have what we have here; a place of quiet dignity in an environment of faith and love. If they knew what was here, I know that they would come. It is up to each of us figure out ways to let them know they are welcome here. Amen
This sermon is part of the ministry of the Word at Saint Nicholas Anglican Church in West Seneca, NY in the United States and a Continuing Church in the Anglican Tradition. If you have been helped by any of the sermons or thoughts expressed on this sermon blog, we would love to hear from you at anglicanchurchofsaintnicholas.org .
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