“sneak-a-peek,” worship, August 16, 2015

After 12 years of lectionary-based worship here at Woodbrook,
in a church whose lectionary worship tradition goes back some 35 years,
we are taking a lectionary sabbatical.
For one year (September, 2015 through August, 2016),
we are looking to the stories, the energy and focus of our culture
to wonder together if we have a better story to tell—
always asking, what is our scripture-informed, faith-based
response to our culture.

We are not just looking at ways
our faith stories confront our culture and its priorities,
but also the ways in which they subvert them.
And we’re wondering if this year-long discipline will allow us
to reboot our faith stories—our beloved Bible stories—
with more appreciation
and a deeper sense of their profound truth and relevance.

As part of this lectionary sabbatical, we restructured our worship service
framing it in what we call the witness of the closed canon (Scripture)—
that which defines truth for us.
Within that frame is the frame of what we call
the witness of the open canon—
which is the truth Scripture defines for us
that we then find in literature, music, visual arts and popular culture.
Within that frame is the frame we call the witness of the living word
which is first, a church member’s reflection on the reality and relevance
of the theme in their life and second, the preaching.

The witness of communion and baptism
are cradled within those frames,
when celebrated.

“sneak a peek,” worship, August 16, 2015

Responsive Call to Worship
We gather on a regular basis
to hear—
to be reminded—
of stories and truths
that nurture and sustain
the assurance of our faith—
the assurance that lies in the promise
of the one story we say we trust most.
We gather to be reminded
not just that we are believers,
but also that our believing is to be made manifest
in the living of a life
that is the word of God made flesh—
made incarnate.
We gather to go forth
as salt—as yeast—as light—
as nothing less than agents of transformation
working toward—living into
God’s vision of what is to be.

Witness of the Closed Canon, i.
1 Corinthians 12:12-27
For just as the body is one and has many members,
and all the members of the body, though many, are one body,
so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit
we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—
and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.
If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand,
I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it
any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say,
‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’,
that would not make it any less a part of the body.
If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?
If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?
But as it is, God arranged the members in the body,
each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member,
where would the body be? As it is, there are many members,
yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand,
‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet,
‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary,
the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,
and those members of the body that we think less honorable
we clothe with greater honor,
and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect;
whereas our more respectable members do not need this.
But God has so arranged the body,
giving the greater honor to the inferior member,
that there may be no dissension within the body,
but the members may have the same care for one another.
If one member suffers, all suffer together with it;
if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

Witness of the Living Word, ii.
This Friday, families will converge on elementary schools around Baltimore County
as our children are invited to sneak-a-peek.
In this anticipated annual tradition, they’ll go to their school.
They’ll walk the halls and find their classroom.
They’ll meet their teacher.
Well, let’s be honest, they’ll assess their teacher.
They’ll sit at their desk.
And parents will watch and hope and pray
for a good year—a rich year of learning and relating—
of wonderful, new and exciting experience—
of discovery and enthusiasm about a process of growth.

Today, here in worship at Woodbrook,
we’re going to sneak-a-peek at upcoming worship.
We’re going to sneak-a-peek at some Scriptural assurances.
We’re going to sneak-a-peek at the story of some people’s faith.
We’ll have to work through the first part,
so we can smile through the second
and squirm through the third.

So, first, we sneak-a-peek at upcoming worship—
beginning in September with the new school year.
If you spend a lot of time thinking about the church year,
you may begin to wonder if, once upon a time and long ago,
the early Church, as it’s now called,
then a fledgeling movement with dubitable prospects—
questionable longevity,
very intentionally assessing the culture in which it found itself—
set about to claim and re-story the stories of that dominant culture.

I’ve referenced before the quote by Dr. David Walsh,
“The one who tells the story shapes the culture.”
So was the church year originally less an organizing of stories
into a chronology
as an intentional, sneaky, subversive strategy
for confronting and undermining the stories of culture—
both to undermine culture’s authority
and to claim some of that authority for itself?
Maybe it was a survival technique.
Or maybe a creative rejection and critique of culture.

I can imagine the early church fathers and mothers
sitting around tables in quiet rooms
to carefully and so very intentionally
identify pagan festivals in late December—
maybe the natalis solis invicti,
the Roman celebration of the birth of the invincible sun,
maybe the Saturnalia, the agricultural festival of Saturn,
or the birth of Mithra, the Sun of Righteousness,
maybe the Scandanavian Yule traditions—the winter solstice—
or some of all of them,
and not just attaching to them the story of the birth of Jesus,
but with that story of Jesus, subverting them.

Considering the other highest and holiest story,
the early Church named Easter after a goddess
in whose honor feasts were held in the spring—
at a time also linked to the Passover celebration,
timed for the Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox—
tied to the cyclical rhythms of the seasons,
and, more specifically to a time of new growth—
a time of the light growing stronger and longer.

Another example, maybe my favorite, All Hallows’ Eve,
the vigil leading into All Saints’ Day, was initially the first Sunday after Pentecost—
then May 13—just perchance the culminating day
of an ancient Roman three day household festival, the Lemuralia
the annual time to exorcise the dead from homes.
And in some eastern traditions, All Hallows
is still celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost.
In the West, however, the church moved the feast day
to November 1—a day that just happened to fall, perchance,
at the culmination of an ancient Irish festival,
Samhain (the old Irish name for November)—
which had its roots in a harvest festival—
one marking the end of harvest—
the beginning of relying on what was harvested and slaughtered—
the dead supporting the living.
But Samhain also fell between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice
at the transition into the darker part of the year,
and so, represented a day, in days of old,
when the veil lay thin between the living and the dead—
and so a day on which the dead posed a threat to the living …
just like the Lemuralia!
So it was that All Hallow’s Day subverted first the Lemuralia and then Samhain.

So maybe our sacred stories were deliberately linked to days of the year—
to cultural emphases and celebrations.
It’s a very incarnational affirmation,
and so very interesting to consider incarnation as subversive strategy!

The Church Year, in this consideration,
is not just, or even primarily, the stories the church tells itself—
in fact, so much less the stories the church tells itself (and knows)
as the stories the church tells the culture (which didn’t know the stories)—
with the culture pretending not to hear—
not to care—
not wanting to hear—
not wanting to acknowledge.
You have to tell really good stories to people who don’t want to hear them!

These were less stories directed inward to the church community
in familiar reassurance,
as stories aggressively directed outward in confrontation—
in apparently, a subversive strategy
for a systematic and systemic claiming and repurposing
of pagan festivals as Christian holy days—
both confronting and rejecting culture
and simultaneously claiming its energy.

Through the millennia though,
our stories went from being the transformation of cultural stories told
to being the stories culture told.
And, since then, it has been the stories of the church,
which themselves have been, in turn,
claimed and re-storied
by those hoping to both gain and undermine,

And it is the church’s stories that have been drained of meaning and energy.
Advent became the shopping days left to Christmas,
and Christmas all about Santa Claus and presents (not presence)—
presents as gifts to possess not as gift to know and experience—
and stockings full of candy.
And then there’s that whole North Pole mythology—
a creepy theology of “he sees you when you’re sleeping—
he knows if you’ve been bad or good—
rewards and punishes you accordingly.
Oh, and Easter is about the Easter bunny and Easter baskets—
candy, new dresses and hats.
And All Hallow’s Eve has become Halloween—
no more a day of acknowledging fear and mortality,
but another day of costumes and candy.
It’s like candy has become the new eucharist!

So as those now in the church and in that painful place
of noticing that so many of our traditions have been claimed
and redefined, so many of our stories restoried,
maybe it’s not about trying to win them back—
somehow to explain, “No, no, they’ve been compromised!
They’re so much richer and deeper than what they’ve been turned into.”
No.
If a tradition or a story has successfully been claimed and repurposed,
it’s done. You don’t try and reclaim it.
You come across as kind of anachronistic—
not to mention desperate and whiny—out of touch.
You really don’t want to be perceived
as defensive of a story co-opted.

And it doesn’t matter why it was co-opted—
whether it should have been.
It’s not even always the story’s fault.
It may well be how the story was told.
Though it doesn’t always matter how well a story is told
to whether or not it is well received.

So, it becomes, rather, a matter of very intentionally,
and in the ancient tradition of the Church,
identifying the dominant traditions of our culture—
the dominant stories of our culture,
and then claiming and repurposing them—restorying them—
systematically and systemically
in the whole-hearted belief that our culture tells a dangerous story
(too shallow and too small to be worthy of our lives)—
one that needs to be distinguished from stories of our country and our history
(culture has dangerously enmeshed
stories of country, history, religion and the individual),
and that our faith story needs to be heard (instead of subsumed),
but needs to be told in the vernacular
and with all the power and authority inherent to what is dominant
and taken for granted—
not set apart from where people are,
but in the midst of where they are.

Maybe we begin by identifying a new church year.
Maybe we do it sadly. That’s fine. We can even be angry.
But we have to let it go—that lovely story of deep meaning—
beginning with Advent leading to Christmas,
Epiphany, Lent, EasterTIde, and Ordinary Time.
We have to let it go to grab ahold of our faith story
moving ahead of us—always ahead of us—
into what’s barren with the promise of bounty.
We move holding on less to what’s been as to what will be,
for our faith story is alive—never locked into one telling

Some stories were never meant to become mainstream.
It actually becomes problematic (antithetical) when they do.
For the defense of stories is the role of the powers that be,
the re-storying, the role of those confronting what is.
Dominant power is always invested in maintaining the status quo—
exactly what the church year was originally designed to undermine.
The church year was never supposed to itself become the status quo.
It suffered from too effective an implementation of a subversive strategy!

So what if, for one year,
we were to take a sabbatical from the church year as we’ve known it …
and as we’ve lost it.
and, considering the rhythm of school and national holidays,
the retail rhythm, sporting events,
the cycles of nature.
retell all those stories to the tune of God and faith?

What if instead of a chronological emphasis
(this happened once in time, and we celebrate it once in the church year),
we had a kairological emphasis—
affirming that truth is ever with us—
not so much once in history and once in celebration,
but recurring always—
all parts of the story simultaneously true.

And yes, this might be strange.
Yes, it will involve explaining to our selves and our children
we’re out of step with the rest of culture.
That’s not a bad thing! That’s not a bad thing.
It may be a hard thing.
Yes, we’re celebrating Christmas and Easter
at times other than Christmas and Easter,
because our stories are true all the time.
The logical extreme would actually be to not celebrate
the birth of Jesus at Christmas,
but that’s too much.
We’re not going to do that to you!

We’re sneaking-a-peek this morning at some different elements of worship
we’re going to incorporate into worship this coming year:
two readings from the witness of the so-called closed canon.
These are the books of the Bible—accepted as authoritative—
closed not in that they’re not living—
not still relevant or inspiring, but in that they’re not added to.
Two readings from the witness of the so-called open canon—
the truth found in literature and the media—
the affirmation that the truth of God
is still being written and sung and interpreted.
Finally two expressions of the living word—
one being the preaching,
one being a church member taking just a few minutes
to relate the theme to their day to day life.

That’s all what we’re going to do in worship this next year.
Here’s a sneak-a-peek at how that might work.

At this time when many are sneaking-a-peek at classrooms and teachers,
we’re sneaking-a-peek at Scriptures,
that themselves sneak-a-peek into what lies ahead
offering us apparent glimpses of future truth.
Throughout Scripture, we are offered intimations
hints—clues of a bigger truth—of something more real
of God’s vision—God’s will.
That’s Paul’s image of the body—
of an interdependence that values and celebrates the least of these.
That’s Hosea’s image of the loving parent
teaching a child to walk and never giving up on that child (Hosea 11:1-9).
That’s Jesus’ kingdom parables.
That’s what we’ve found in Revelation—
a peek at something holistic, inclusive, non-violent, creative—
something beauty-full, wonder-full—something grace-full.

Now is this peek the “and-they-all-lived-happily-ever-after” of fairy tales?
We all know that’s not always true.
And yet parents of a sick child will say, “Everything’s going to be alright.”
And we know it’s not necessarily all going to be alright—
not if that means all will be well and whole and healthy—
not if it means there won’t be brokenness and pain and grief.

We’ve been invited through the years,
to sneak-a-peek into the living and dying of some within our community of faith.
Some of you remember John Duvall. Some of you remember Sonya Park.
Many of you remember our journey together with Margaret Oshida.
Now we walk with Sandy Minton into that thin veil between life and death.
And the prayers we have prayed for healing have not resulted in healing.
And yet—and yet we have been offered affirmations of trust and assurance
that are nothing short of miraculous.

Sneaking-a-peek into the story of Donald Miller,
some of us may know he wrote the very popular memoir Blue Like Jazz
that I didn’t actually read. Well, I started it. Couldn’t finish.
But after the success of Blue Like Jazz,
Miller was approached about turning it into a movie.
In his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years:

How I Learned to Live a Better Story
(Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009),
he tells the story of how the movie producers
showed up at his house, and basically told him
his life was too boring to make a good movie!
He ended up being sent to a workshop on story writing
where he learned “that the elements of story
involve a character who wants something
and overcomes conflict to get it …” (Miller, 48)

After the workshop, he was talking to a friend, Jason,
whose daughter, Rachel, was in trouble—
dating the wrong guy—into the wrong things.
Donald said to Jason (because he was just at this workshop)
“Your daughter is living a terrible story” (Miller, 50).

Well, Jason was intrigued—wanted to know more.
Donald told him “that the elements of story
involve a character who wants something
and overcomes conflict to get it ….
I don’t know, exactly, but [Rachel’s]
not living a very good story. She’s caught up in a bad one” (Miller 50).

Well, Donald almost forgot about that conversation,
but Jason sure didn’t.

And later, when he ran into Jason again,
Jason said Rachel was doing better.
“And when I asked him why,” Donald writes,
“he told me his family was living a better story….
He realized he hadn’t provided a better role for his daughter.
He hadn’t mapped out a story for his family.
And so his daughter had chosen another story,
a story in which she was wanted, even if she was only being used.
In the absence of a family story, she’d chosen a story
in which there was risk and adventure, rebellion and independence.
“She’s not a bad girl,” my friend said. “She was just choosing
the best story available to her.”
I pictured his daughter flipping through the channels of life, as it were,
stopping on a story that seemed most compelling at the moment,
a story that offered her something, anything,
because people can’t live without a story, without a role to play” (Miller 50-51).
Jason decided to stop yelling at his daughter and, instead,
created a better story to invite her into.

Well, he did some research,
and that family started giving sacrificially to build an orphanage—
to help others—to help children in need.
“The truth is we [didn’t] have the money.
I mean we just took out a second mortgage.
But I knew if we were going to tell a good story,
it would have to involve risk” (Miller, 52).
And then came the evening his daughter came to Jason and his wife, Annie,
wanting to go to Mexico—to meet the children—
to get more involved—to help more (Miller, 53).

“You know what else, man? … She broke up with her boyfriend last week.
She had his picture on her dresser and took it down and told me he said
she was too fat. Can you believe that? What a jerk.”
“A jerk,” I agreed.
“But that’s done now,” Jason said, shaking his head.
“No girl who plays the role of a hero dates a guy who uses her.
She knows who she is. She just forgot for a little while” (Miller, 54).

It is our calling—both opportunity and privilege—
to help people recognize the need for a better story,
and then to, very practically, help people live a better story—
find opportunities for living a better story—
a richer one—more meaningful—more beautiful—
more aware of others—
grounded in relationship, in service, in grace and hospitality.
It is our calling—opportunity and privilege
to point out when we settle for the lesser,
simultaneously to point out the wondrous aspects
to the story they are already living
the hints and intimations within it
celebrating what is more—
and to live together into more of more.

If you spend a lot of time thinking about the church year,
it may occur to you that it’s less an organizing of stories
into a chronology
as it is an intentional, sneaky, subversive strategy
for confronting and undermining the stories of culture.
If you spend a lot of time thinking about our calling,
it is less to tell the story of our culture—
to live the story of our culture
as it is to tell and live into the story of God.

So we’re going to keep sneaking-a-peek into a better, richer story—
into a subversive story within our culture.
Because you know what?
Baltimore needs a subversive better story—
as does Charleston and New York.
and Washington, DC.
Our culture—our country needs a subversive better story—
as do we—each one of us.
Because the story that’s told—
that’s commonly accepted and celebrated—
is not the story that is most true—
not at the deepest levels of truth.
It’s not the most real story—
not the best story.

So we’re going to be sneaking a peek at our own days and lives too,
to wonder do our lives—does mine—does yours—
offer a peek into a bigger story—
a bigger truth—a bigger love?
Does our living—does mine—does yours—
offer a peek into God?
And if not, why not?

No one who plays the role of a hero—
who knows the better story—knows themselves beloved of God—
along with all creation—
should indulge a small story of exploitation and selfishness.
We know who we are.
Even if we forget for a little while every now and then.

I am—we are—God is, I believe,
watching and hoping and praying
for a good year—a rich year of learning and relating—
of wonderful, new and exciting experience
of discovery and enthusiasm about a process of growth.

Will you sneak-these-peeks with us?
Will you risk living into a peek?

Witness of the Closed Canon, ii.
Isaiah 11:1-10
A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

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