Golden Globes, Football, Fiscal Years and Epiphany: A Tale of Liturgical Seasons

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My church kicked off the season of epiphany in style this morning with a fun Epiphany introductory video I made with some kids.  Then we sang the traditional We Three Kings, followed by a bunch of fun upbeat songs about “light.”   Then we read the lectionary Psalm (#29) together and talked about what it means to be in Jesus’ fan club.

But I have to be honest and admit that now Christmas is over, Epiphany is one of the last things on my mind.  Instead, this first month of a New Year is weighed down by seasons of another sort.

My news feeds are saturated with stories of the Golden Globes, reminding me that for the entertainment industry this is Awards Season, a time filled with what we might call liturgies of human glory and honor.  In fact, if I was a bit more of an arrogant Hebrew Prophet I would call the awards shows worship services to the idols of vanity.

So too my social media feeds remind me that the NFL is providing another season, or rather a post season.  This week we watched the first of the teams falter in their quest for dominance, a liturgy itself of human strength and cunning.  And we watch and wait to see which team will rise to the top.  150 million will watch the last match, which is a bit more than the number of people who voted for a US President just months ago.  The angry Hebrew prophet in me is tempted to call those games worship services, worship to the idols of violence and competition.

Then there is this other thing weighing on my heart and, mostly, mind.  My church ends its fiscal year on February 28th this year.  With the close of a fiscal year comes a mountain high list of responsibilities.  We have numbers to crunch, vision to share, a new board to elect and goals to set, all of which will be accomplished with no less than 1 dozen business meetings.  We might call these a liturgy of institution.  The arrogant, angry and overwhelmed Hebrew prophet in me is tempted to call those meetings worship services themselves, worship to the idol of human control and manipulation.

Yet today was not just the first Sunday of Epiphany.  It was also the Baptism of our Lord.  The Gospel text for today was Matthew 3, that famous story where Jesus begins his ministry by entering into the waters of the Jordan River.  John the Baptist didn’t know quite what to do with Jesus in the water and I don’t either.  Baptism is for sinners.  Jesus had not sinned.  The waters are for the spiritually dead.  Jesus was more spiritually alive than anybody has ever been.  The sacrament is for humans.  Jesus is the Son of God.  Yet here is Jesus, wading into the waters of death, sin and chaos and beginning his ministry right where we are at.

In a way the Baptism of Jesus reenacts the incarnation.  This might be why Mark and John leave out the manger, in favor of the water.  In the baptism waters Jesus is taking on flesh again, taking on the unique position of being a human after Adam, a human represented by all humanity’s shortcomings.  This is a God entering into sin and death as one of us.  Like the manger, this is Immanuel, a God with us, a God among us, a God meeting us in our human liturgies of award shows, violent competition and financial reporting.  Here is God in the flesh, come to redeem us from the life taking, death dealing liturgies of the world and light up the better way which is the only way, the liturgy of the cross and the resurrection.

So my hope this Epiphany season is that God will enter into our awards shows, our sporting matches and our business meetings and bring new Epiphany so that our feet can stay on the path of life!

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Religiously Spiritual Board Meetings

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I am very spiritual and not very religious.  This is really good for me because we live in a world where everybody is spiritual and nobody is religious.  In fact saying, “I am spiritual but not religious” has become the pass-code that lets that gatekeepers of spirituality know that I belong in their religious establishment.

Still, despite the fact that I am very spiritual and not at all religious, I have no idea what it means to be spiritual and not religious.  I think it might have something to do with not doing things you don’t want to do while doing only the things you want to do.

So I don’t want to pray ten times a week.  That would be very religious.  I do want to think about God while watching TV, which is a very spiritual thing to do if you ask me.  I don’t want to do the very religious thing of getting out of bed on Sunday morning and going to a building full of people.  I do want to do the very spiritual thing of sleeping in and watching NFL games in the comfort and safety of a warm pillow.  After all, I hear some of those quarterbacks are Christians and a few of them even pray when they score touchdowns, which is so spiritual and not very religious.

Or maybe I am wrong about that and you can be spiritual by going to church, so long as that is what you want to do.

Either way and no matter where you stand there is certainly nothing more religious than church board meetings.  You cannot get any less spiritual than the two hours it takes a group of people to discuss things like who is going to clean the church toilets and who might want to run the nursery next month and how much money it is going to cost to buy a new heater.

And those are the easy parts of most board meetings.  Once we get through the mundane list we have to tackle the brutal issues.  For example we have to figure out how we are going to open our beautiful building to 40 un-churched teenagers and still have a building left by the end of the night.  Then we have to argue about whether the latest criticism from the most critical member of the congregation is worthy of our attention this time around.  Then we have to hang our heads in despair because another family moved out of town and took a sizable chunk of tithes with them (which means we can forget that new heater).  And we have to do all this while planning the next potluck even though nobody wants to bring mashed potatoes.

I have a feeling that when we throw around the words “not religious,” board meetings are the kind of establishment religiosity we are talking about.

Yet there is a very deep spiritual connection that happens when a group of diverse but committed Christians who are chosen both by God and the congregation get together once a month to pray together, laugh together, cry together and dream together.

Under the right leadership, board meetings can be incredibly spiritual.  They can be times of prayer.  We pray about our shortcomings and we pray for that person who loves to point them out.  They can be times of grieving when we cry about the loss of a very committed family while hoping that they still have a a peaceful move.  They can be times of commitment where we remember that God is not glorified by an empty building and only by opening our doors to those out of control teenagers do we stay on mission.

And they can be times of worship where we bring to God our broken light bulbs, our empty nursery, our depleted checking account and our lack of a desire to mash potatoes for the potluck.  We bring all these with our sincere hearts and let God remind us that even the tiniest of chores are in fact large acts of spiritual devotion.

We open and close our meetings with prayer but we really don’t stop praying the entire time because we know that to do the business of the Kingdom with the King is a high and worthy calling.

I don’t know if that makes it religious or spiritual and I don’t really care.  All I know is that when our board meets, we all meet God.