I had to smile recently as I pulled up behind a car with the license plate “In Hs Joy”; I’ve added that to my various mantras and pray it for you this morning.
Nehemiah not only describes Ezra as reading the Law of Moses ‘before all who could hear with understanding’, he also actually sites this proclamation at the one place where all could actually hear it! At the Water Gate no one could be denied. Everybody needs clean water to live, as we are recently reminded.
With some precision, we heard of an event not too dissimilar from an old time revival, or a mission. The impact of hearing the word and Ezra’s preaching moved the assembled to weep for their failings
– and to profess anew their commitment to the Law. This was how Moses had led them through the desert, and with this Law surely God would once again renew Israel.
The crowd’s unanimous acclamation: their bowing, waving arms, the uninhibited exhausting of heart and soul – here is prayer that engages the whole person. I think of lively worship I – perhaps you – have experienced in different congregations. I am aware that such is happening right now in varied Christian communities –especially Black churches – across the lake and around the world. Let us join our prayer in communion with all these churches this morning.
When this spent people wept, Ezra sent them home to celebrate and take strength from God’s joy in them. “Have a nice lunch! Take this refreshment and renewal to those who didn’t make it today. Go find them at the margins.”
Nehemiah describes a worship that is Inclusive, scriptural, and joyful!
In Paul’s analogy of the Body of Believers into which we are baptized, Belonging means Participating!
He reminds us that whoever we are, whatever we bring to the assembly, it has a place and purpose for our growth in truth and love. For this circle – and for the world. These are the greater gifts we are to strive for.
Recently, our weekly bulletin included an insert naming volunteers of the many activities undertaken by Sunday Assembly members.
As I scanned it, I couldn’t help but notice what couldn’t be captured:
The gift of those who reach out to welcome newcomers; the steady listeners who hear our stories. How do you itemize the treasured joy of those who bring their children for us to baptize?
– Or the gift of those who open their grief to us? Just 2 months ago, an icon was created here as Heather, sitting in Phyllis’s chair, put her arm around Richard, Phyllis’ newly widowed spouse. Did we not then look into the face of God’s Mercy?
Over decades, Jim’s Greene has brought so many lovely persons seeking a safe and inclusive worship; in doing so he has made a significant contribution to the growth of this assembly.
Many of you will never imagine how important your presence is to our worship and community; you enrich us with your needs as well as your gifts, both members and guests.
For St. Paul the Unity of the Body he writes of, is accomplished as a grace of the Holy Spirit. And since unity is only possible, with diversity, must we not always seek both??
Zooming out from this familiar Body analogy and our church local, I tried to imagine in this Week of Christian Unity how to express a global image of ecumenism.
We live in a biosphere that is a global ecosystem. It is composed of living organisms and nonliving factors from which they derive energy and nutrients. What drives all ecosystems is the flow of energy. Through the synthesis of organic compounds or carbon dioxide, and mostly energized by the sun, the basis of the food chain that sustains us is built.
Within this home of ours, each specific ecosystem is a community of all the living and non-living things in a specific geographic area, in all their interrelationships in a particular unit of space, as small as the area under a lone pine tree, or as large as a prairie, or even an ocean.
All components of an ecosystem impact each other directly or indirectly. And ecosystems are stable, but not rigid. They react to major changes in the environment, especially changes of climate. Their primary function is growth and the fixation of carbon.
We too interact, as we support, teach, challenge, enrich and change one another. I think of the theological, political, and economic climates that affect us, among others. And we observe that our faith communities also shift during times of major changes in these climates. Some have shrunk, ours has grown.
Reflecting on what scientists observe of the natural world may give us another way to image connectedness of the world’s Christian communities, and perhaps with other faiths.
We know that change and diversity are essential for the survival of community, but it gets better!
The zone of transition along the edges of two adjacent ecological communities is called an Ecotone, taken from “ecology” and “tonos”, the Greek word for tension. In this space two or more biological communities meet, interface and sometimes form a new and different community of species.
As this edge effect increases, the boundary habitat allows for greater biodiversity.
Apart from what I trust are clearly identified property lines, the “edges” at Holy Wisdom are not easily drawn. We have overlapping and various denominations and spiritualities. Benedictine history and spirituality give us stability, while encouraging somewhat adventuresome exploration and growth. This is our distinct and fertile strength! We are influenced by Catholic sacramentality and Protestant scriptural study, by Buddhist practice and 12 Step Spirituality, by the honest, questioning search of young persons who may or not have been raised in a particular religiosity, by multiple genders, by the earnestness of Kaethe’s prayers, and the music of our new young cantors, and by a greater range of personal wealth than is always obvious in this room.
We are impacted by persons coming to this place after deep and rich works and spiritual experience in places near and far.
But we aren’t plants! We don’t just wait for people to come to us.
All Christian communities access their energy from the power of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus proclaimed in this fourth chapter of Luke,
this Spirit of Jesus Risen is given us to heal, to teach, to release the captives- and those in debt. To forgive those who have sinned.
We are to go out and proclaim the Good News of mercy to the marginalized and the poor. We are to let the oppressed go free!
Our membership in MOSES is one way we engage in liberation of the captive. Perhaps this year in Christian Unity we can consider how to go further to the edges of our ‘ecosystem’, to more intentionally connect with different congregations toward healing the divisions that lie between us, especially those of race.
In Jesus’ proclamation of Isaiah 61 before the elders of his home town he omitted a line that would not have gone unnoticed by his elders. The line “the year God’s favor…” continues “…and a day of vengeance of our God.” Now that omission is a challenge to our prison system! In Jesus, God’s mercy excludes no one.
There is no in or out group. This is a new day.
In uniting us followers of Jesus, the Spirit gives us power to transform not only individuals but the world community.
All life in the New Creation is reliant on this transformation!
Now God’s favor is shown, or as one translator wrote, “today it is in your ears.”
May it bring you much energy, peace, and Joy!
For Christians throughout the world who are facing brutal persecution, let us pray
For Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and members of any faith community oppressed because of their faith, let us pray
For the people of Flint Michigan, and communities throughout the world who are denied the basic human right of clean water, that justice will prevail. Let us pray…
Ever Creating God, we stand gratefully on this planet, so alive! Hear our prayers that we might be free to live here ever more in communion with all you have made. Keep us ever aware of your love and mercy, and ready to share these with all we meet.
We ask this in the Jesus’ name, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Amen.