29 October 2017: Pentecost 21
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, ” “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” 41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42 “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, 44 “The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet” ‘? 45 If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
Dear People of God at Intercession,
The time has come for us to say goodbye. Today we recognize and name that the relationship we began just about three years ago as priest-in-charge and congregation is now ending. And today we celebrate the process we worked through together. It feels important to say again that although the process did not lead in the direction some of us anticipated or hoped for at the beginning, the process did, ultimately, work. We have come to a greater understanding of who we are as a congregation and what God is calling us to be and do.
When I first arrived at Intercession in February 2015 you spoke openly of your fears about closing and your frustrations to find yourself in this place. Many of you were tired. Some of you were resentful, confused, frustrated.
A frequent description I heard of life in this congregation was that you felt disconnected. You talked about how those who worshiped at 8 didn’t know those who worshiped at 10:30 and vice versa, and that the gap between morning service people and the 1pm service community was even larger due to language and culture. You lamented the lack of connection between these three ‘congregations’ and longed for more opportunity to be together.
When it came to ministry that was happening, I heard words like ‘fiefdom’ and ‘silo’ – a sure sign of being in survival mode. Many of you had assumed leadership or taken responsibility for a particular task, and yet communication channels were not strong. It was unclear who, or what, was the central operating focus. Fatigue took over. Too many people worked alone. And any notion of all the parts working together for the sake of the larger whole got lost as people worked to simply keep things going.
But then, we gathered that summer to tell stories of this congregation. Energy emerged. Connections were made and people heard things they had not known before. We continued the Story Telling Project in the fall as you shared your own stories of faith during worship. Again energy. Again connections were made. Along the way, a tentative hope emerged from the persistent faithfulness of you, the people of God at Intercession. I began to see a glimpse of the body of Christ in this place.
As time went on we explored ways to strengthen our connections. Along the way we learned that the English-speaking people are energized by bilingual worship and the Spanish-speaking people crave worshipping in Spanish. We learned that Sunday is the day most of us are available to be together and yet not all of us are available at the same time. We have done more to make announcements and congregational faith formation events available in both languages. We have combined our two English language worship services into one. We worked to lift up ministries like the Community of Hope dinner and garden and Footprints, as expressions of who Intercession is as a congregation. We built ministry teams of more than one person. Last fall we began All Team Night, so that teams can do their work alongside the work of other teams and at times, work together. We haven’t figured it all out but we ARE more connected that we were three years ago. The Spirit of God is moving among us and evidence of her work is everywhere.
And yet, honestly, to me, things feel not quite done. I wish that things were more neatly tied up with a pretty bow on top, but that is not the nature of life together in community. We never fully ‘arrive.’ We are people who are always on the way. Always looking ahead to what is yet to be. Always becoming.
Which is why I smiled when I read the gospel for today. This reminder of the greatest commandment is the perfect bridge between the ending of one chapter and the step into the unknown future: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
When we hear these words we usually think first of our personal life – loving God with my whole heart and soul and mind. Which is why it is good to remember that this commandment was first given to God’s people – a whole community of people – learning, while they wandered in the desert, what it looks like to together follow God through thick and thin. This commandment reminded the people how they were to live.
Today this commandment reminds us that our fundamental call as humans is to love God with our whole selves, with every fiber of our beings. It also reminds us that we love God most fully in community. As a body. As THE body, of Christ, in the world.
And so, permit me one more word. One more admonition as you continue on the way, loving God with your whole selves: adopt a corporate posture known as strong back, soft front.
A strong back comes from a strong core. A core built up over time through exercise and practice. Your communal core will be built in worship, and formation. In fellowship, and corporate prayer. In song and silence, and meals shared around this table. To increase your corporate strong back you will need more, not less, of these exercises. And through them, your connection to God and one another will be strengthened, allowing you to stand tall as the body of Christ in the place. Stand tall and be seen for who and whose you are – beloved of God.
As your strong back pulls you up, your tired, slumped shoulders straighten, and your soft front is more exposed. This is your place of vulnerability and vulnerability is essential to corporate life. Vulnerability allows us to recognize and express gratitude. To see that all is gift given from God. Vulnerability is what allows us to express love. Think of Jesus on the cross – there is no more vulnerable posture and no posture more fully reveals the depth of love. Your communal soft front will make you approachable and welcoming as gratitude and love lead the way.
But there is one more piece to this posture: wild heart. You see, when your posture is strong back, soft front, you lead with your heart. It can be a little scary to put your corporate heart out front and center, and yet your heart IS your center. Your wild corporate heart beats to the rhythm of prayer and is nourished with the Spirit of God flowing in you. Your corporate heart is wild because it is animated by the love of God, a love larger and deeper and more gracious than any love we can muster on our own. Your corporate heart dares to do what others see as foolish trusting that the God who brought us together as one body will accompany into darkness, death, despair, bringing light and life and healing.
Strong back. Soft front. Wild heart.
You are the body of Christ.
Live like it.
I will hold you in my prayers and covet knowing that you hold me in prayer as well.
In gratitude for you and with thanks to God.