St. Michael’s Day: September 30, 2018
Preacher: The Rev. Katharine Flexer, Rector of St. Michael’s Church
Happy St Michael’s Day, St Michael’s!
Our service today has a lot of moving about in it, lots of coming and going and not much staying still. Processing everybody round and round and getting all mixed up with each other, the choir circling the church and then going up to the loft, the altar party making its way up to the high altar and Leigh and Gregory and Richard swinging that thurible around – already there’s been a lot of activity.
Lots of activity is sort of a hallmark of St Michael’s these days. Our staff member Richard Storm always likes to say, ‘The Lord loves a busy church!’ as he struggles to cram in one more event into the Looking Ahead schedule every week. St Michael’s is a busy place, so it’s sort of appropriate to celebrate our feast day with lots of busy movement.
And in today’s lessons that detail stuck out for me there too – there’s a lot of movement in the readings. There’s a lot of going up and down, back and forth from heaven to earth. Jacob has a dream and sees angels ascending and descending on a ladder to heaven. Michael vanquishes the dragon and his angels and throws them all down out of heaven to earth. Jesus talks about God’s angels ascending and descending from heaven upon the Son of Man, as if he’s the ladder between heaven and earth. Everybody’s busy; everybody’s on the move. Just like our church.
But busyness, dear friends, is not always a sign of righteousness. We know that. Our lives these days tend to be too busy. It’s not just a New York City thing – the whole Western world has bought into the idea that a life worth living is a busy life. If you’re not busy, you’re not important, as if busyness itself is a virtue. But our exhaustion and short attention spans and deep loneliness are all signs that this is a lie. One of many lies we seem to be buying into these days.
Today marks the beginning of the God’s Call process here at St Michael’s. Yes, unfortunately it means more meetings on the calendar, but this conversation is meant to be different. In small groups with other parishioners – people you know, people you don’t know – you’re invited to share something of how you experience God’s Spirit here at church, what brings you here, what you think this place is for. We’re asking the question together, what’s really most important here? Where is the Spirit moving instead of just us running around? Why is this church here? I think the conversations themselves will be fruitful, as you talk and listen about the deeper things of your spirits together. But that’s not the only purpose to the process. Gathering up all that is said in these conversations, we will discern our call: what should we be doing more of, with our time, our people, our space, our resources? And what should we be doing less of? What is time well spent, and what is us spinning our wheels? What feeds us the bread of life, and what is just snacking?
Today also our pledge drive begins. This is the season of the year when we ask you to pray and think carefully about what you give to the church. We want you to be intentional about this decision, to weigh and value what is important to you, what nourishes you. The pledge drive theme is the Bread of Life – so what gives you life? what of your resources are you called to give to make this a place of nourishment for you and for others? You’ll hear more about all this over the next several weeks, of course, starting with a mailing to you this week. I hope you will take the time it deserves to discern and pray.
But asking the questions of what feeds us, what we value, where we see God at work – these questions matter not just for good time management and stewardship of our resources, important as that all is. These questions matter because this church, and your life, needs to be about more than staying busy. The reading from Revelation puts it in stark relief: we need to focus, because the ‘accuser of our comrades,’ the great deceiver of the whole world, is at loose on the earth. Evil is alive and at work. This is serious, now.
This week in the news has been horrible, and horrible for our country’s integrity. The testimony of both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanagh on Thursday and all that led up to it has stirred up some of the vilest stuff of our humanity. It has brought out memories and experiences of trauma for some, and encouraged self-righteous posturing and defensive self-justification in others. Weeping and anger was in public view on Thursday, and weeping and anger has spread all th
rough our body politic. The details of Dr. Ford’s story are appalling – and it sounds all too familiar to too many of us. The violent anger it has inspired is also horrifying, both in those at the hearing on Thursday, and in people since then, people on both sides of this. My Facebook feed has been full of it: one mother and son I know were openly fighting in written comments back and forth; several sets of friends were calling each other names. It is ugly all around.
There is evil at work here – in how women are exploited and then not believed when they tell of it; in how people of privilege assume they can take what they want and escape consequences; in how every moral question confronting us in our nation has become a partisan issue with no real truth or morality to it. There is evil in how those with power oppress and destroy those without it – and in how each and every one of us has been complicit in that oppression at some point in our lives. Evil is the great deceiver – it lies and pretends to be the truth. It tells us that we are right, that we are justified when we point fingers at each other, that we have nothing to repent of. And that deception is what we are seeing at work today.
And our distraction only furthers our deception. When we’re all kinds of busy we don’t have time to look for the truth. So instead we just believe what we hear from the ‘right’ people, our friends and allies, and assume the worst of those we don’t agree with. We’re too scattered to ask what’s happening in our own lives that feeds this – what is our part in the hateful unwillingness unfolding in our government, the trauma and divisions overtaking our national community. We’re too overloaded and so we just pull in to take care of us and ours. And a church community can become a little too much of that too – a refuge and an oasis for us, but also a place to stay busy and occupied with other things. So that we leave behind the world out there and all of its madness, and just talk to ourselves.
As people who follow Jesus, we can’t just keep ourselves busy. We have a purpose, a movement to be part of, witnessing to the world, for justice and love and mercy and the way of Jesus. The only way this works in our lives is to stop and focus. I say this all the time, but the basic disciplines of prayer and scripture and community are the remedy.
Prayer: We need to spend time in prayer before we do anything else – I often have to remind myself of Martin Luther’s saying, ‘I have so much to do today that I have to pray three hours instead of two.’ It’s tempting to rush headlong into the day, checking the phone, replying to messages, racing out the door. Don’t do it. Stop and pray, first of all. Spend 10 minutes and be still. Ask for God’s guidance. And as a community here in our time together, we must do the same, and not just when the clergy remind us to. We’ll begin to hear God’s voice and not just our own – our own voice that can so easily deceive us.
Scripture: We need to read scripture. Read something of how God has directed God’s people in times past, so that you can recognize God at work today. Read it every day, even if it’s just a little bit. Or read more – we’re beginning another round of the Bible Challenge, inviting you to make a commitment to read all or part of the Bible in a year, with help and support along the way. Knowing our stories changes you for the better – in a way that reading the latest breaking news will not. There is truth and goodness in the world – it is a lie to despair that there is not.
And we need to stop talking and listen. Listen to people you meet each day; ask them how they are and really listen to the answer. Call a friend or a shut-in and listen to them. Go to the diner and sit at the counter and listen to the people around you. Listen to people in this church as they share how they see the Spirit at work. Hear how people in our own community are thinking about things, and what is important to them – even if, especially if, they’re totally different from you. The deceiver wants us to believe that we’re all at war. That is a lie.
This is a good day to celebrate Michael and his angels, because we need their help – to help and defend us here on earth, as our opening prayer says. There is a lot at stake here – as there always has been. The early church called Michael the healing angel, and we need his healing now – the healing that comes with clarity of what is of God and what is not. It’s time, as it always has been, to focus. May we hear God’s voice and the truth that it speaks. May we taste and eat of the bread of life. May we be people of light for this world.