Sunday, November 24, 2013

Keeping it together (Nov. 24, 2013 - Christ the King - J. Barry Vaughn)

Lutheran pastor Peter Marty writes of looking for a childhood photograph in an album in the attic of his home and finding that the glue that held the pictures in place had disintegrated, and all the photos were jumbled up and out of order.


Perhaps you have had that experience. I know it has happened to me. Life has become disorganized. Your high school prom picture is behind the one of you with a bare bottom looking up at the camera with a goofy, toothless smile - the picture that always made you flush red with embarrassment. The picture of you with an arm full of flowers after a dance recital is right next to one of your wedding photos. The picture of you with the other members of your football team is stuck to the picture of you and your wife in front of your first house.


But there is not only a kind of glue that holds the photos of those precious, funny, sad moments of our life in the pages of an album. There is also a kind of glue that holds life itself together, and sometimes that glue also seems to disintegrate.


This last week we observed the 50th anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy. For many his death seemed to be a kind of catalyst that initiated a period of chaos or at least disorder. A decade of domestic disorder followed, that included a polarizing war that never seemed to end, young people in many places seemed to delight in flouting long-established customs by experimenting with sex and drugs, and of course, there were the other terrible assassinations that followed in the years after Kennedy's death - Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Kennedy's own brother, Robert.


Our country may be passing through another season of chaos. Two distant wars have seemed endless and there has been very little to show for the terrible losses of life; our political parties appear to be incapable of working together; many journalists have appeared to abandon all pretext of objectivity.


However, as an historian I want to tell you that the United States has gone through other seasons of polarization and conflict. This is not new and it is not unique. I believe that the United States is strong and will not only survive; it will thrive. The issues that divide us are not small, and all of us need to be informed and involved citizens. But the union is strong and will endure.


There is also a kind of glue that holds our lives together. Perhaps you, like I, have been through times when it felt like that glue disintegrated or when the center no longer held - a time of grave illness, a time of divorce, a time of death.


Perhaps when you mentally went through the pictures of your life there no longer seemed to be any order. You may have wondered if that mental picture of your wedding day had any meaning; the memory of holding your child may have been shot through with sadness; you could even have wondered if there would be any more memories of life to cherish.


About ten years ago a two year relationship that I was in came to an abrupt end when the person I loved died of a self-inflicted drug overdose. I believe it was accidental, but I'll never know for sure. For a time I withdrew from parish ministry and moved back to Alabama from Philadelphia where I'd been living, and more or less hibernated in my mother's home for a couple of years.


What brought me out of that cold and dark time was becoming re-engaged with the church, finding that I still had something to say that spoke to the hopes and dreams of people in the pews of the Episcopal Church.


The author of Colossians tells us that there is indeed a kind of glue that holds life together, a sun around which our lives revolve: "...  in [Christ] all things hold together..." "In Christ all things hold together..."


Christ Church has been through a time of chaos, disorder and polarization. People have left and gone to other churches, or they have just left. Period. Friends have become estranged from each other. It may have seemed that the center no longer held, that the glue holding the life of Christ Church together was disintegrating.


I have heard some of you say that what you needed was to call a new rector. Well, I hope that I can play a part in holding this great church together, but everything you needed to hold you together was already here. All you had to do was to come into the church and look at the figure behind the altar.


Our Christus Rex reminds us of what holds us together. It is Christ on the cross. The Christus Rex reminds us of the magnificent paradox that it is in the midst of his suffering and death that the very glory of God shone out through the life of Christ. It reminds us that Christ is present in the midst of our own suffering and death and will never leave us. The Christus Rex reminds us of what holds us together.


Dividing and separating and leaving should be options only when all other possibilities are exhausted, and I believe that there are always other possibilities because I believe in a God who is endlessly creative.


Last week Bishop Dan spent a little time with the vestry following the 10.45 service. One of the vestry members asked the bishop what he believed was the biggest issue facing Christ Church. In his quiet, wise way, the bishop said that the biggest issue that faces us, the one that will destroy us if we let it, is the way we deal with conflict. What we have to do is to learn to disagree with each other without leaving, to agree to disagree. In a sense, I believe he was telling us that we have to learn exactly that lesson that successful married couples learn - we have to learn how to have an argument.


I have long believed that Episcopalians are not very good at arguing. We turn arguments into personal attacks: "You're only saying that because you're a woman or a man. You're only saying that because you're young or old. You're only saying that because you're Anglo or Latino. You're only saying that because you're gay or straight."


What we must learn to do is to have a knock down, drag out fight with each other, and at the end pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, embrace, and say, "But Jesus is Lord."


Because he is and that's the only thing that matters.


An old friend of mine, a Presbyterian minister in another state, recently took his church out of the Presbyterian Church USA because they voted to ordain gay and lesbian clergy and bless same sex relationships. I still love Mark and consider him a friend even though we disagree sharply over this issue. But I am deeply saddened by his decision to withdraw from his denomination over this issue, because I think that we can still believe that Jesus is Lord, still be joined together in Christ's fellowship, and have different opinions about that issue.


Lutheran pastor Peter Marty goes on to say, "When chaos strikes, people seek strategies for putting life back together. The challenge for us is to make the Lordship of Christ more than just words. We don't need more talk of making Christ first in our lives. The world is full of religious talk. What we need is  to live as if Christ were indeed the head of the body, and not some extra equipment we strap on.... Colossians tells us that everything that is God is present in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Though God once was content to dwell in places like Sinai, Zion or the Temple, now God is in present in a person. Everything that God is, and cares about, now resides in Jesus Christ. Christ is the face or the image of the invisible God." (paraphrased from Peter Mart, "Super Glue", The Christian Century, Nov. 16, 2004)


From time to time we have all heard of people who have seen the face of Jesus on the side of a barn or on the side of a mountain or even on a piece of toast or a taco. But we can see Christ all around us every day. He is present in every human heart. Colossians says that Christ "is the image of the invisible God." And Genesis tells us that every single one of us is made in the image of God. If you would see Christ, look within. If you would see Christ, look at your neighbor, as well as yourself.


The way to reorder jumbled lives and hold things together in the face of chaos and the way to put this great old church back together is to cherish the fullness of God dwelling in Christ. He is the image of the invisible God, the one who holds all things together.