My colleague Buddy Crawford did a remix sermon using this as fodder-research for his own homily. If I had preached, these would have been my words. Enjoy.
The Church: It Is What It Becomes
It is what it is…
As most of you know, or have heard, this is a phrase that I simply detest. As it has gained popularity increasingly through the years I have found myself in conversation after conversation about why and how I find this phrase to be everything from fatalistic, to defeatist, to frankly, un-Christian. It has driven me so crazy that I’ve begun to do some research on when the popularity of this phrase kicked in and who is really to blame.
Well, you may find it interesting to know that the originator of the phrase is a bit murky and that there are more than a few people to blame in contemporary culture for its use. The most recent use however can be attributed to every one from John Fox to Bill Bellichick (football coaches using it to convince their teams to move on to the next and play). It has been used in plays and movies by the same title and yes, for many people it was famously uttered by none other than the inventor of the internet himself, Al Gore.
Gore seems to have uttered this phrase in November 2002 saying, “I strongly disagreed with the Supreme Court decision and the way in which they interpreted and applied the law. But I respect the rule of law, so it is what it is.”
You see what upsets me the most with this, “it is what it is” saying, is that far too often these words are used to keep us from pursuing even more faithfully or even more diligently or even more prayerfully…what could be.
By my read, this is not an isolated incident. It happens all the time. Words get uttered, become common place, and then boom, we just take them for granted. In fact, the same thing might can be said about our often age-old, deeply christian, understanding of what is going on over here (pointing to altar)…in the Eucharist…the conversation and debate about what happens as the priest stands up here and elevates bread and wine…says a few words..has long influenced how we live our lives together and how we live our lives out in the world.
I mean if I were to ask you where the place those “fruits of his redeeming work” were that you are to gracefully receive (a la the collect from today) how many of you would think, in my work place? How many would think in traffic on 285? How many would think in the vicissitudes of everyday or in the doctors office with my loved ones? Would not we all somehow think that the place where God is most dependably present in our lives is not, well, right over here…or right up here?
And should this really surprise us, I mean the church has been grappling with what this all means since the gospels and Paul first started reporting Jesus saying things like, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them.” And then, as if Jesus saying these things wasn’t enough to suggest that the SACRED center of God’s presence was in the church, there have been practices that have evolved and re-enforced our thinking about what happens with the bread and wine.
Surely you remember this from your confirmation classes right? In the days of latin liturgies the priest would stand, fully vested, raising bread, surrounded by gulfs of incense and would say…hoc est corpus meum: or as the people began to hear… hocus pocus… And boom…the magic that was the work of the priest and church took on a whole new kind of meaning. A whole new way of shaping and distilling the blessings of God became priest centered, because they were; a whole new way of thinking about flesh and blood emerged; and a whole new way of inviting or dis-empowering participation with God in the world emerged. Make no mistake my friends, this thinking, this sacred vs. secular thinking still lingers somewhere, subtly, quietly, unspoken of like the chamber of secrets or the name of Voldemort in the deep recesses of our shared life together.
Ok, before this jumps from sermon to seminary lecture, let me just say this: what we do here is not magic, what we do here is mystery. You might could say: it is, what it becomes…
You see, it is a right and good and joyful thing to hold this table, to hold bread and wine in esteem. The work that we do here together ought be centering and it ought become sacrament. But my friends it can really only be such if we are ready to see our part in making it a table where Jesus can show up. And by show up, mean I abide. That means that when we are here, from the “Blessed be God” to the “Go in Peace”, we understand that the work of this table (of this place) is not just something that we just do, its not just something that is the same (or simply tweaked) week after week. No, no my friends, it is not what it is…it is what it becomes….and when we pray, when we sing when we make sacrament together…things become what they could be.
At this table, in this place, we are always being invited to become things newly…to bring the new problems of our week, to bring the new adventures of our lives, to bring our new hopes and dreams and fears and crisis to bear on the liturgy. We do so trusting that when we do…when we dare, we go from being people who show up to consume Jesus, to being people who expect the God who is beneath and above and within and behind and beside to be able to transform what we bring (St. Patrick’s Prayer).
Yes, yes, when we join in…we go from the people who trust those professionals in the funny clothes to do the magic, to being those who make mystery together.
A little story to close: Every week we have a liturgy at Mount Vernon Towers. It is a delightful group. As many of you know, earlier this year one of our beloved parishioners Jack Adams died. He went on to join the great cloud of witnesses. There were a lot of things I appreciated about Jack and a lot of things I hardly knew. But there was one thing I experienced about Jack: he knew his liturgy AND Jack knew that in the imagination of the 1979 BCP the greatest expression of our shared liturgical faith was found in the great AMEN at the end of the Eucharistic prayer. That no matter what we brought, no matter how well the priest sang or how grandiose the movements, that the AMEN at the end was the place where the all the members of God’s church claimed that was God among us.
So this morning and every Sunday, bring all of yourself to the liturgy. Do not let it be what it is…No, we don’t need that… As the celebrant presides, make sacred the work. As the bread is broken, surrender your needs to God, AND when that great AMEN comes…let it be…join in loud…and pray…for my friends, this is church…and it is, what it becomes.
And that, that is good news.