Church Wake up!

June 27- Fr. J. Devin Rodgers

OGRACIOUS Father, we humbly beseech thee for thy holy Catholic Church; that thou wouldst be pleased to fill it with all truth, in all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, establish it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of him who died and rose again, and ever liveth to make intercession for us, Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. Amen. – BCP 1928

As someone interested in liturgy I love the book of Common Prayer. I’m intrigued with how it has changed, been revised and shaped our liturgy over the centuries as the church in every generation has been renewed and reformed. It has facilitated renewal in my own life.

In fact, I have a shelf in my office devoted to Books of Common Prayer. I have almost every edition of the BCP – the 1549, the 1662, several from other countries. I have a translation of the prayer book in French, one in Spanish, and at one point I even had a copy of the BCP in Latin. (yeah I’m not sure about that one either)

This specific copy of the prayer book is my favorite. It is a copy of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, the edition that was used to conduct all of the worship services in the Episcopal Church until the most recent revision in 1979. Many of you are probably familiar with this edition of the BCP. 

This particular copy is meaningful to me, not because it is the 1928 BCP, but because it was given to me by a dear friend who passed away seven years ago. My friend Alan was the person who first brought me to an Episcopal parish to worship. ( I did not grow up in The Episcopal Church) I was visiting him in Chapel Hill North Carolina while on spring break my sophomore year at Miami University. At this point in my faith journey I was experiencing some difficulties in my faith life. 

At the time I was discerning whether to leave the denomination I grew up in, or find a denomination that supported the full inclusion of LGBTQ Christians and would work to honor the spiritual gifts of queer individuals. (Thankfully the denomination of my upbringing has moved towards full inclusion, but at the time this was the question that was being posed and one that I found myself on the front lines of. 

It was Maundy Thrusday and we arrived at the Chapel of the Cross on the edge of UNC’s campus a few minutes before worship. We passed the choir outside. They were lined up, ready for the procession behind the crucifix which was shrouded in wed for  Holy Week. We entered the great nave, were handed a bulletin, and took our place in the pew. 

The organist played a prelude. The final Cadence. Then  it came time for what became one of my favorite traditions and parts of the liturgy. 

The people stood to sing.

“Love Divine’s All Loves Excelling. Joy of Heaven to Earth Come Down!” 

As the crucifix passed, each member of the congregation bowed in reverence. 

Incense filled the nave. 

Approaching the altar, each member of the choir bowed, the clergy bowed, the presider approached the altar, kissed it. The final verse arrived after a brief organ improvisation.

The congregation sang out, their voices intermingling with incense. The hymn lifted heavenward an offering to God. 

It felt ancient yet connected with me in a deeply meaningful and moving manner. 

I remember this beautiful experience being a moment of conversion, not just to a new way of being a Christian, but also a conversion of understanding.

Internally, I was struggling with my faith, my denomination was struggling to discern how I and other LGBTQ Christians could participate, but God still met us and moved our hearts to praise. 

I returned to Ohio, engaged more deeply with the campus ministry and became not just an Episcopalian, but one deeply involved in the church, my parish. My faith matured and I found a home.

What’s more I found a home in a church that I discovered was constantly under change, constantly reforming, constantly trying to meet the world outside its doors where it is. It is always being reborn That is why the prayer book had been revised so many times. As culture changes, we revise the tool central to our worship to ensure that our members, our members yet to me, and yes even folx outside our membership might hear, understand and meet God in a way that is familiar to them. . It is always finding new expression. 

The Church throughout its entire history has experienced the transcendence of God despite any of the social, political or theological struggles that may be raging around her.  Because of this Holy Spirit is able to constantly renew the Church. 

The Church is the living, breathing, active, working, serving Body of the Living Christ.

For this reason I often have difficulties with the way we talk about the church. 

How many of you in previous conversations have ever heard someone say, “The church is dying.” or “That congregation, lost all of its members, it is dead.” 

Can the church actually die? 

No. 

The church cannot die, congregations may cease to exist. Often this happens when they grow to satisfied with the status quo or cease allowing God’s presence to transform them. LIke the language in the prayer book the church must meet the nee+ds and answer the questions of the present culture. 

The Holy Spirit will find a way to do this, We can work alongside the Spirit in this work, when we do this we will find that the church is in fact a living, breathing, constantly transforming community.

The gospel today is a story about life and death. 

Actually it’s a story about life. 

A temple leader, Jarius, approaches Jesus and begs him to help heal his daughter who is at the brink of death. Jesus follows him.

After arriving at the home, a servant emerges from the house and tells Jairus. 

“Don’t bother with Jesus, your daughter is dead.”

Jesus overhears the conversation. He sees people wailing and in distress. “Don’t be afraid.when it comes to your daughter, believe. Believe that God is not done with her yet.” 

“She is not dead. She is only asleep.” 

Little girl get up! 

The girl was alive. 

This is an excellent analogy for the Church today. 

What if instead of worrying, wailing, fretting over numbers and fearing death, we looked towards life instead. 

What if we changed the way we talk about the church?

Instead of the “church is dying”…the church is sleeping and needs to be woken up.

Church get up! There is life yet to be lived. There is service to be done. There is mission to fulfill.

Church get up! The commotion around you, the wailing this talk of death is a distraction. Life awaits you. 

Christians are a people of life.

I was blessed to see this newness years ago. It started with singing, incense, and reverent worship. It started there, but it has grown and is very much alive. 

Almost 15 years later from that first Episcopal worship I’ve seen LGBTQ peopel take on full inclusion in the church and marriage in the church, but I’ve seen so much more than that. I’ve seen immense creativity that I never knew was possible as the church adapts, renews itself and adapts to local customs and culture.

I’ve seen churches in food trucks, a friend recently founded a church that is fully operating fruit farm to teach people about sustainability. I’ve seen churches planting themselves in farmers markets, diners, community centers and coffee shops. I have seen churches sprout up in gardens and zoom alike. 

God is not done with us.

There is life to be had and God is calling us to Remember where we have been, rejoice at the multitude of ways God is blessing us, and calling us to renew ourselves so that we might live, live abundantly to serve others. 

I am grateful that our parish is doing just that. Yesterday, our strategic planning team met for the first time to begin developing a strategy to discern and implement our next phase of where God is calling us. 

Yesterday we drafted a new mission plan, we identified core values that are unique to our parish and if followed will certainly lead us forward in faith. 

“Get up! Live” 

St. Alban’s we awake, wipe the sleep from our eyes.

The Joy of Heaven to earth is still coming down to lead and guide us. 

God gives us the faith to follow.