A Gathering Prayer
Blessed are they who fall in the mud, who jump with gusto and rip the pants, who skin the elbows, and bruise the ego, for they shall know the sweetness of risk.
Blessed are they who make giant mistakes, whose intentions are good but impact has injured, who know the hot sense of regret and ask for mercy, for their hearts will know the gift of forgiveness.
Blessed are they who have seen a D or an F or C or any letter less than perfect, who are painfully familiar with the red pen and the labels as “less than,” for they know the wisdom in the imperfect.
Blessed are they who try again, who dust off, who wash up, who extend the wish for peace, who return to sites of failure, who are dogged in their pursuit, for they will discover the secret to dreams.
Blessed are they who refuse to listen to the naysayers, for their hearts will be houses for hope.
Blessed are they who see beyond the surface of another,
for they will be able to delight in the gift of compassion.
Blessed are they who stop running the race to help a fellow traveler, who pick up the fallen, who stop for injured life, for they shall know the kindness of strangers.
Blessed are they who wildly, boldly abandon winning, for they shall know the path of justice.[i] Amen & Amen.
Scripture Reading Mark 4:30-32 (A Paraphrase)
Once Again Jesus said, “What shall we say the Realm of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It’s like a tiny mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, as a matter of fact, it’s branches are so expansive, that the birds can perch in its shade.”
Our world feels like it is falling apart. We don’t know what to count on. We don’t know who we can trust. We don’t know what to believe. We don’t know where to go or how to be safe getting there. We don’t know if we’re infected with a virus. We don’t know if our companies will survive. We don’t know what this trauma is doing to our children. Where to we turn in these trying times?
Well, William Butler Yates might help us out here a bit. He once penned these famous lines:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere […everywhere]
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
My friends, the center is not holding. All that we trusted – institutions, leaders, corporations, multinational agreements, democracy, capitalism; it all seems to be falling apart. But here’s the thing. When the center is broken, we instinctively turn to the Center that’s always whole. We seek God, the One that was, is, and will always be. [ii] But as we do that, as we turn once again to the center of our faith, as we once again look to the church for reassurance, we come with new questions and with the same old questions; we come longing to begin to put the pieces together.
Now, for as long as I’ve been active in the church, people have been telling me it’s dying. With charts and graphs and data, I’ve been told many times that the center of my life, the church, used to be the right size but now it’s too small. But that’s not what I see. I view churches like mustard seeds – looking to all the world like something too small to matter but with room enough for so many in their shade. [iii]
Consider our church buildings. Some people might look at both of our beautiful church buildings, Cable and Delta United Churches of Christ, and simply see places to gather on Sunday mornings. And until this past spring, that was a big part of our identity as faithful congregations. But if this pandemic has shown our on-lookers anything, it’s that we’re more than just two well-maintained church buildings. When we say we are the “Church” we’re not talking about the buildings’ we’re talking about the people. Our congregations, our members and friends and visitors are the body of Christ on any given Sunday or Wednesday or Tuesday. We are the Church because the Church is anywhere the love of God is demonstrated through acts of compassion or justice and the Church is present anytime we seek to bring wholeness to humanity or creation.
And yes, before this virus hit, we participated in countless outreach ministries and creative mission opportunities. And in the United Church of Christ and in both of our congregations, we’ve always been a little ahead of the curve in our openness to a variety of people from many different walks of life. We’ve been, and continue to be, churches who offer an extravagant welcome by sharing God’s invitation to all people, no matter where they find themselves on life’s journey; an offer to fully participate in the life, worship, and sacraments of the church. God’s invitation is not reserved for an exclusive, righteous few, but it’s extended to all people – all people – no exceptions.
Now, with all of that being said, the fact is we’ve had to cancel or modify or postpone a whole bunch of things that define who we are as Delta and Cable United Churches of Christ. These opportunities to gather for worship or bible study or fellowship are dearly missed. I get that! This is another aspect of that broken center that Yates and I mentioned earlier. But… but here’s the thing. Out of brokenness comes an opportunity to discover wholeness, perhaps even a greater wholeness than we had before.
I mean, consider our parable for today that Jesus shared so many years ago. He looked around at those gathered there, in the dusty arid wilderness, and he struggled for a story to which they could relate. “What shall we say the Realm of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it?” Notice here in Mark’s account that Jesus says nothing about faith. You see, for Mark the mustard seed represents the Kingdom or the Realm of God, a realm that was present all around them. Jesus was the center of that realm and his life was defined by love and grace and forgiveness and compassion. These attributes of Jesus, then, create for us an image of what the realm of God should look like here, in our time. An image meant to bring us peace amid chaos, justice instead of oppression, and wholeness in the midst of brokenness.
And here’s the good news! We don’t need to have all the answers. We need but a tiny understanding of this present realm, a mustard seed of the attributes of Jesus will be sufficient to center ourselves on God and the work of compassion and extravagant welcome to which we have been called!
And here’s the better news! Even when the world seems like it’s falling apart, even when the centers of society seem broken beyond repair, we can find our center God because God is always faithful.
And finally, here’s the best news of all! God is love and each of us are loved by God. And we as God’s faithful are called and challenged to be the Church beyond our buildings by sharing God’s love with all people and by loving all of creation with that same passion.
May it be so. Amen and Amen.