Monday, November 03, 2008
reinventing the wheel
I've heard a couple of good sermons over the past few days...
We don't usually have mass on Saturday, but one of our Bishop Visitors was here last week and it was All Saints Day, a major feast day in the liturgical year. A sermon about saints and prayer and time travel... pretty interesting stuff.
The lessons for yesterday, the 25th Sunday after Pentecost, most people probably didn't get to hear, as our celebrant pointed out. Most people in church yesterday were hearing Saturday's lessons because most churches were celebrating All Saints Day. Yesterday was really All Souls Day, which some will celebrate today, but we (in my community) won't celebrate it until tomorrow, because we have today off. (How's that for time travel?)
The Gospel (Matthew 23:1-12) comes smack dab in the middle of all the "Woe to You" warnings... Jesus warning the Pharisees and scribes about how they will be judged in the Kingdom of God. But in this passage he stops and says essentially, Don't throw the baby out with the bath water. Just because the Pharisees aren't practicing what they teach doesn't mean their teachings aren't valid.
It's a good point to remember any time. Not exactly the same as Don't shoot the messenger, but in that vein. The third cliché that comes to mind in all of this is reinventing the wheel.
Both celebrants talked about our church's preoccupation with the past. When we celebrate the saints of Christian history, we dwell in their faithfulness and glories. What does it have to do with us? Our past is pretty flawed, our saints were pretty flawed... why not just ditch it all and start over?
Some are, in fact, doing this. Starting over. It's not surprising or fresh news that membership in churches and religious communities has dwindled over the past decade. Church attendance is down across the board. Monastic communities are dying out. Yet there are also movements to build new communities, based on new rules, new ideals. There is ample evidence that the hunger for spirituality is as strong as ever. But whatever is on the menu of the institutional church is simply not what people can swallow.
Everything has a life cycle. Joan Chittister wrote volumes about the life cycle of monastic communities. She had some excellent insights and warnings of her own when it comes to the need for transformation of stale and outdated practices and beliefs.
As a community, we begin again to grapple with our corporate identity, as we also remain focused on individual ministries and obligations. It's a fine line. The company of saints provide not just a background, but a "cloud of witnesses" for our struggles today.