Back in the 1960s, when I was a lot younger, I remember Steve Martin, the comedian, saying that he was going to write a book one day just using verbs, because so many things just kept happening! That one-liner came back to me when I was reading the Gospel for today.
There so many actions, verbs, in there, the transactions of the kingdom of heaven; “finding, hiding, selling, buying, searching, throwing, catching, sitting, gathering, separating, weeping, gnashing, celebrating, bringing out a treasure that is both old and new.
So with all this verbiage, you can see why Richard Holloway, the former Primate of the Scottish Episcopal church wrote that it might be helpful to distinguish between Orthodoxy – right formulas of belief – and Orthopraxy – right ways of living, living out our belief. Because belief – as in “I believe” – turns out to be a verb as well.
And I’ve always thought that it would be a good idea to have a sermon time where someone stood and, instead of talking, did something like Tai-Chi, so that we could see what a dedicated body can do. Not just talking the talk, but walking the walk, dancing the sermon so we could see it moving right in front of us: belief in action.
Then I realised that our liturgy is just that, a kind of moving picture; a choreography of belief. Visitors and newcomers notice it more than those of us who are regulars in the weekly routine: for they see how very odd it is. We sit, stand, sometimes kneel and bow, some of us cross ourselves this way and that, we pass and give and receive, move forward and back, finally returning to the same place, but changed, somehow, by the motions we go through. You can sometimes see newcomers looking around, thinking, “What in God’s name are they going to do next?” But what we are acting out in this place is an exercise in orthopraxy; a kind of spiritual workout routine, that sets the style and pace for the rest of our lives in the rest of the world.
You see, a good corporate liturgy, with people really worshipping together, is a kind of icon in motion, a vehicle of altered consciousness, a shared work of art to help us see all the detail, all the light that’s already there. Like a great photo that gives you a depth of seeing that you might have overlooked before, like one of those rare portrait that shows someone looking like they might get to be if they live life right, make the right choices, get good gifts. That’s what we’re about while we are in this place: to sharpen up our vision, our expectancy, and our action! We come here to get the world inside and the world outside in that kind of clear focus.
Because if you really look, you can learn to see our whole liturgy is nothing less than an an amazing dancing class. Here we learn how we are to move in the world with the God in whom we live and move and have our being. In the end, it is all about the verbs, the actions that we learn here, that we live out everywhere.
So when we come to church on Sunday, we bring nothing less than our selves, our whole selves, souls and bodies, to this Eucharistic celebration. That means we each bring all our questions and concerns, issues and ideas, histories, hopes and fears, the best and worst of who and what we are, where we come from and where we are going. And when we get here we mix it up, move it out into this liturgy of confession and praise, mercy and glory, in listening and responding to the words in psalm and scripture, the words and music of the community of faith gathered throughout the world, throughout world history into this place on this day.
It’s a two step motion. We present our sins, our concerns, our thanks-givings, all our self-offerings: and then we join with Jesus in his self-offering as his disciples and his friends in celebrating this eternal communion. We take all that we have and all that we are, and we give it all over, give it all up and receive it back as a gift to give to others, in the same way and at the same time as we take his body and blood, in order to remember that we are members of his body. To paraphrase St Augustine, “This is what we do: this is who we are.”
So thats where you see faith moving on, the point of the whole dance routine. We come to reach for Christ; and Christ comes to us and uses each of our individual and corporate, community, ministries to reach out to the world. We first come here to get a grip on him; and we stay to learn to hand him to the world and hand the world back to him. That’s where the dance is!
For the hands which grasp the body and blood of Christ here, are the same hands — same bodies — that touch the world in daily life in the places where we make business, peace, war and love, where we touch the lives of friends and strangers, where we spend our days. The grace of this shared liturgy, this Eucharist, is that it is a vehicle enabling the love of God in Christ to reach into the particulars of all our daily liturgies so that we can come to move like Christ in all these places.
For each one of us, as ministers of the Church, members of Christ’s body, is called to proceed –- and I’ll say dance — into the world which God loves, day after day, year after year, time after time: to take on all the tasks of stewardship in this wonderful world: to be present to family, friends and strangers, in tasks, hobbies, jobs and joys, present in the times of frustrations and puzzlements, present in agreements that must be honoured, in situations that must be met. All of these are places where we are called to act out, serve out, flesh out, live out the reconciling life of Jesus - in serving love of every kind - in the ministry of acceptance, love, and forgiveness, in bringing out a treasure that is both old and new.
May God give us the Spirit, the grace today and everyday, to take up and live out our lives and our ministries as gifts to be received and gifts to be given, and all in Christ’s name. Amen.