Epiphany 2. January 16, 2011, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church
Approximately 100 years ago at the beginning of our married life Karisse and I lived in Dallas. Like many young couples our financial resources were rather limited. We lived in a trailer on the edge of a little suburb called Hutchins backed up to a pasture. We didn't have the money to skirt our trailer, but I did notice large white chalky rocks in the pasture. Knowing what I do about pastures and ranchers I figured I would do the rancher a favor, and save some money myself. I collected a bunch of them and built skirting around the trailer with them. This was my first introduction to caliche.
As my years extended in length in this fine state I began to discover that these white chalky rocks had certain characteristics which were pretty predictable. They do not weather very well, which means they do not make good skirting for trailers, and they are uniformly hated by construction workers and excavators, unless they are crushed and spread on a country road in lieu of other gravel or pavement. They are also common over virtually all of Texas, in fact, a quick review of online sources will tell you that caliche is largely a calcium carbonate hardpan that forms in arid soils around the world. It offers a source of lime for Portland cement, construction and sugar refining, and it bedevils gardeners in arid climes the world over. I never knew it was so pervasive.
At the risk of being reductionist, the faith is like caliche. One generally knows it exists in cathedrals, saints and a few religious professionals, and like the piles of caliche in the pasture behind my trailer house, the faith is often seen as something for sale in churches. When one needs some faith one goes to the outlet store, the local church, and in exchange for a modest donation one leaves with the goods one came for. If the donation does not procure the kind of religious feeling one expected one shops at other stores. Many people go through their entire lives like this, leaving it with a kind of tenuous faith—more an emergency fire insurance policy than anything else.
Some, however, begin to discover that the faith is a little more pervasive than that. One sees folks who pray over a meal in a restaurant, one seeks and discovers a sense of forgiveness outside of the church, one may even have a truly religious experience somehow, somewhere. It is often at this time that people begin to seek for it on a more consistent basis. The need for a continual presence in their lives impinges on their consciousness, like a picture of grandma over the mantle that one sees every day. Many people go the rest of their lives as regular church attenders and consistent givers. These people make nice statistics for church records, they are the mainstay of any congregation, and they are the first to fight over changes in the church.
But if one continues to look one finds that the faith is even more pervasive than a picture of grandma over the mantle. It pops up in malls and in pastures and in children's faces,
It peeks from behind spring flowers and fall leaves, it whistles in the winter air and floats to one on the voice of a beloved one. God seems to be all over the place, and the more one worships in church the more one begins to see Him wherever one looks. It is then that one discovers that if one does not see God everywhere one sees Him truly nowhere.
All the readings today push us to this way of relating to God. Paul encourages the Christians at Corinth to stand firm in the faith that they shared with Christians in many other places. John sees Jesus coming and gives testimony that this is not just another first-century Jew, but the very Lamb of God. But most poignantly, Isaiah proclaims a theme found throughout the Old Testament, that Israel was to witness to the God of not just the Jewish nation, but of the world. What others worshipped as a local deity was but a shadow of the reality, and the Jews knew the reality. The startling claim of the Hebrews was that their god was really everyone's God. Ours as well.
The faith needs to be for us a breathless adventure of discovery, better expressed as un-covery. Evangelism is the adventure of discovering (or un-covering) the reality of God's presence in other people who may not realize it fully yet. Service is the adventure of un-covering the reality of God's presence in situations of need, injustice and oppression. Study is the process of un-covering the truth of God's presence in our lives, in our society and in our world. Worship is the process of un-covering the magnificence of God in our collective midst and how that inspires us for the journey. Stewardship is the process of orienting our whole lives to serve this great un-covery. Giving is the process of un-covering the purposes of God for the goods over which I have been given jurisdiction. I could continue, but I think you get the point.
In the January 2 edition of The Living Church Scott Bader-Saye, professor of Ethics and Moral Theology at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, writes a provocative article titled "Money, Boredom, Fear." In it he articulately describes how our culture has alienated us from our own leisure. There is no longer any social consensus as to the purposes of life, our end, our trajectory, our destiny. Stripped of a Holy Grail to seek, we fall into an anxious flitting from rush to rush, always in search of the latest thing but always doubting it will be ultimately worthwhile. He writes, "Churches need to resist the temptation to become another form of passive entertainment." And he is right. Church is not passive entertainment, it is the portal to destiny. It sends us on an ever-expanding adventure with God that lasts a lifetime, and it opens the doors to the only goal that offers purpose, meaning and fulfillment. It sends us in search of the Holy wherever we are, whatever we are doing, and with whomever may be present.
Go—ask, seek, knock, you will find, you will receive, and the door will be opened to you!