Lectionary blog for Oct. 28, 2012
22nd Sunday after Pentecost
Texts: Jeremiah 31:7-9;
Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52
“See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here” (Jeremiah 31:8).
A young priest was assigned to the staff of a large cathedral. He soon noticed a woman who came in every day before Mass and knelt before the statue of the Blessed Virgin and prayed for an hour.
He commented on the woman’s obvious holiness to an elderly priest who had served the cathedral for decades. The old priest smiled and said. “Things are not always what they seem. Years ago, that woman was the model for the statue of the Virgin. She’s not worshiping God. She’s worshiping who she used to be.” (Apocryphal: told by various sources about a variety of famous clergy.)
Worshiping who we used to be; it’s a bad habit that all of us with a few years on us can fall into. The older we get the smarter, hipper and more successful many of us apparently once were.
Churches and denominations often fall into this habit as well. I have served two churches in North Carolina with histories dating back into the 1700s, and they both had walls filled with portraits of former pastors (referred to by the less reverent as “the rogues gallery”) and a history room stocked with artifacts (dare I say relics?) from an earlier time.
And there is nothing particularly harmful in any of that. It’s good to know about and honor those who came before us. It’s also good to learn from their mistakes, if we can. George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Things get messy when we adore the past more than remember it. Oct. 31 is not only Halloween, it is also Reformation Day, and this is a time when many Lutherans are sometimes guilty of “worshiping who we used to be” rather than worshiping God.
A recent poll showed that for the first time in a long time less than half of the people in America identify as Protestants. The days when the grand-old churches of the Reformation dominated the religious landscape are far gone.
Too many Lutherans and Methodists and Presbyterians and Episcopalians and Congregationalists are left looking back at a rich heritage while scratching their heads and wondering what in the world happened. We must avoid the temptation of worshiping (and trying to recreate) who we used to be and get on with the business of worshiping God and sharing God’s story now, in this place and in this time.
Writing in America magazine and quoted in the Huffington Post, Jesuit priest James Martin shared an interesting sidebar to the recent vice-presidential debate.
“… listeners may have been flummoxed by the Vice President’s offhand reference to de fide doctrines of the church, which simply refers to the most basic Catholic beliefs, which cannot be denied by any Catholic in good standing. (Think, for example, of what is contained in the Creed.) Ironically, this was such an abstruse theological reference that in the official transcription CNN simply wrote “inaudible.”
“Inaudible.” Basically it means “un-hearable,” “incapable of being heard.” It could be a metaphor for the voice of the church in the modern world. No matter what we say, the world no longer hears us.
It’s like my favorite line from the Chris Tucker/Jackie Chan movie “Rush Hour”: “Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?” Faced with a world that stares at us uncomprehendingly, we try saying the same old thing louder and more slowly.
It’s not going to help. They don’t know our language. And they are not running out to get a religious Rosetta Stone course in order to learn it. It is on us, the church, to learn the new languages the world is speaking so that we can talk with the world about the gospel of God’s love.
The text from Jeremiah gives us a vision of those whom God desires to bring together in one holy community. “From the farthest parts of the earth,” “the blind and lame,” “those with child and those in labor,” “a great company.”
Jesus’ healing of the blind man in the Gospel lesson is a sign that this holy community is here in the world now.
God has chosen us to be the ones who call the world to participate in the community of love that is being created. We are the tellers of the tale, the proclaimers of the promise, the speakers of the spiel, the witnesses to the world.
What story are we telling? Are we talking about who we used to be, inviting the world to join us in restoring our imagined former glory?
Or are we telling God’s “old, old” story in a new, interesting and exciting way, inviting the world to join us in the healing, loving, sacrificing and joyful work of God in today’s world?
Amen and amen.
- Can you name a time where your memory of an event has been influenced by nostalgia?
- How can you tell God’s story in a new way?
Delmer Chilton is originally from North Carolina and received his education at the University of North Carolina, Duke Divinity School and the Graduate Theological Foundation. He received his Lutheran training at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C. Ordained in 1977, Delmer has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.