29th Sunday (C) — October 9, 2016
Where do you think I got my story for today? Options are:
- Barnes and Noble
- Movie Theatre
- Great Clips
- None of the above
Yes, “none of the above”! It was the Optical Shop in Valley West Mall.
Last week, I inadvertently sat on my spare glasses. And being 25 pounds overweight, I bent the supposedly unbendable frame and popped both lens. (The guy who always works there said “these are bent pretty bad, I can’t guarantee I won’t snap the frame.” That line was bad enough, but nothing like his next line. As I was leaning over the counter as he looked down on the frame he said: “You’re a preacher, aren’t you?” OH NO!!!! Simultaneously I was thinking, OH NO! I’M TRAPPED and OH NO! PLEASE GO ON!)
That was 11 a.m. At noon I was still standing there, saved by the noon eye appointment. I had one of the most interesting, engaging, misguided, theological, spiritual conversations in a long time.
We talked about these things:
- Catholic vs Baptist beliefs
- what it means to be spiritual, but not religious
- is the bible the literal word of God
- the meaning of evolution
- the age of the universe and what God was doing all those billions of years before we showed up
Plus he’s been writing a book about all this for the past twelve years. Not on the computer where it can be easily edited — no, in long hand because that’s the means in which he can think and write.
I said: WOW! That’s dedicated He said: AT LEAST I’M PERSISTENT!
I said: Oh, my, I’m writing about persistence—it’s our readings this weekend.
I said: ‘I can tell you what’s going on with you by the way you answer this question’:
Do you write your personal narrative by just adding on your ideas and thoughts that come to you as time passes, which means –one just accumulates on top of another—so if I were to read it, it’s like a diary? You never change anything?
- or –
As you determine new ideas by your thinking and praying and observing and testing it in conversations with others, it helps you develop your new ideas — and therefore you go back into your 12-year book, and re-edit the pages so you can better understand where you are at the moment?
He said: ‘the last one’. I said: ‘That is so great. That’s what my church is doing!’
What do I mean by: ‘that’s what our church is doing’? We are in the midst of a 50-year seismic shift in our church thinking!
Pope John XXIII who was canonized a saint last year and the church council—Vatican II got it started.
The model for centuries until 1955:
- We came out of the Reformation fights with a decision that said, “we know what the truth is about God, about the Bible, and about what Catholic life should be.”
- We learned, memorized it—and basically seldom changed it.
- Church teachings were a lot like a diary—one day, one year upon another…and it builds and builds
- We kept to ourselves and didn’t associate much with other religions, other faiths.
The model from 1965 until now:
- The church is not just like a diary; it is more like a journey—we are a story in progress.
- We opened up the windows so we could see back into our story to find a fresh look at who Jesus is.
- We revamped our attention to the Bible, and pushed it out into people’s day-to-day lives.
- We engage other churches, other faiths, to see what is the best in them that we can emulate.
- We look to the best in Buddhism, the Jewish experience, Islam, and many others ways of connecting to the eternal experience of God.
- We no longer feel that openness to others will somehow dilute our own faith experience.
- We go back into our ‘centuries old’ story and re-edit so it can better tell us where we are at this moment.
- We have developed a fresher vision of where our church story is heading.
- We’ve said that leadership no longer just comes from the top down, but also respects the vision of the individual person and parish community.
- Leadership is modeled more like that of Jesus. He tells his story, God’s story; He tries to convince the apostle, the listener, that the best chance for the meaning of life —the meaning of our lives —makes more sense when we come together to empower each other to help bring about God’s kingdom.
And nothing beats persistence! It permeates our readings today.
Take Moses in the first reading today: Moses was a reluctant leader. He became the Messiah figure of the Old Testament.
Ever persistent, to journey to the Promised Land.
He was re-inventing the story of God to make it relevant for their journey. A bloody story, a driven man. He did not allow the old story of keeping the experience of God to himself and a chosen few, of thinking that others have little to offer. He listened, then acted.
He was not a dictator of the truth. His mission was to convince people that their best chance of finding meaning was to bond together and let the story unfold in their telling it — leading to the experience of the Kingdom of God.
And not just a kingdom in heaven — a kingdom right now, alive in our midst.
What is to come of our present 50-year change-shift in how we the church respond to the big questions of our time?
It has not been perfect, but we believe that as our own story is rocky at times, the church story is as well. It is maybe two steps forward and one step back.
It’s like our own families when we try to adjust our thinking. It is often difficult, but necessary. Maybe it’s best to go back to the old way of doing things, although we know if we persist, a better family will be born.
Some today are like the Israelites with Moses: “Let’s turn back! At least we knew who we were before. We were more stable; we knew more answers.
Pope Francis looks to me looks like he is eager to venture out into an expanding Catholic story. We didn’t elect a young man, who we might say isn’t tested and is changing things too fast. We elected the senior man (pardon my insensitivity: I mean, the 76 year old who was already retired and had a non-refundable plane ticket home. Now pushing 80…)
He looks to be tried and true — and a bit persistent.
He’s an activist who comments that he is not perfect —
- not knowing all the answers; open to listening; a pastor (not just a theologian)
So it’s like Moses, like Jesus, like us: the Spirit guides; we are not just keeping a diary; in our time, we are living the story that God has inspired in us.
So we stand strong………and even stronger together!