Sunday, September 22, 2002
A Sermon for Seekers Church
By Muriel Lipp
My sermon today will be one of several on leaving our present home and crossing over into our new and unknown future. At least one of these services will offer you the opportunity to briefly tell your own stories. Some of you, like me, have been part of the old Church of the Saviour, and you might want to tell of that Old Land you were part of — and that first crossing over. Or you might want to tell about the early days of Seekers, or how you came here. All of these stories will, we hope, make us conscious of who and how we are as a church. A church is the people.
Exodus: “If only we had stayed in Egypt where we had plenty to eat. Here in the wilderness we’ll starve to death.’ God says to Moses, “I’ll send them bread.” Moses says to the people, “It wasn’t I who brought you here to this new land, but God, and God will provide.” And God did. He sent them a flock of quails in the evening and in the morning manna to eat.
Incidentally, I think it is no accident that Manna contractors are the ones working on our building. How appropriate that m(M)anna has already come to us — even before we arrive, hungry in our new land.
Matthew: The last shall be first and the first last. God gives not according to our ideas of what we think we are owed. God gives as God gives. Forget our own ideas of justice–the American ideal of work-hard-and-you’ll-get-what-you-deserve. God gives as God gives. That is a real puzzle.
And though we have worked and saved hard for Carroll Street we cannot count on what we think we deserve to happen when we get there. How will the new construction in the lot across the street impact us? Will our neighbors welcome us once we have arrived? How will we work out the schedules for Sunday services and weekday meetings with some of us living nearby and others at a distance?
Think of those Israelites in the wilderness — and that’s where we will be — in a wilderness of our own, or God’s, choosing. Surely we’ll say sometimes, like those Israelites, we wish we were back at 2025 where it’s nice and safe and we don’t have to worry about a building. Like those Israelites, we need to constantly remind ourselves that we were called to Carroll Street. We didn’t make the decision lightly or without discernment of God’s will. We will have to keep our eyes sharpened for the flocks of quail and the manna to feed us.
But more positively, unlike those early Israelites, we will have a beautiful home, with a sanctuary that expresses us, and a lovely kitchen to serve us our manna. And the fields outside our doors are ripe for harvest.
Last Sunday our Transition Team in charge of rituals for crossing over met to plan further those events that will help us step from our old land into our new. This group split from the other Transition Group in charge of the nuts and bolts of moving. We’ll all have to help with that, but with these rituals you have some choices. Since we don’t know exact dates when we’ll be able to move, we have to be flexible. But we thought that the first event, other than an occasional work party called by the Building Development Team, would be a farewell to our housemates here at 2025, the Ecumenical Service. We thought that would come sometime in November or early December. We envisioned staying for the Ecumenical Service, those of us who are able, then providing snacks and punch and a few words of farewell, along with a parting gift.
The next event, crossing over, would be a walk to Carroll Street. Some want to walk the whole six miles, and Peter is called to carry the cross, and someone else — I don’t know who — our banner. Those who do not trek the whole trip could be picked up by cars along the way. Others might choose to go by subway and help provide the welcome refreshments and participate in a brief service of reception. If this sounds good to you, you might want to get in shape for the walk by practicing up now around your neighborhood. Think and pray about it. There are many ways to participate.
Many of you are already participating in events in Takoma Park, our new neighborhood, and for you Carroll Street will be a neighborhood church. I must confess I feel some envy. A neighborhood church is a wonderful thing. I must keep reminding myself that a church is not a building, or a neighborhood. A church is the people.
How will God love us as we cross over into our new land? We know from the Matt. scripture that God loves as God loves, not as we think is fair. Simone Weil, one of my favorite embodiments of the Gospel, says God loves as an emerald is green. She goes on to say we find it easy to love God in a thing, such as an icon, the bread of the Eucharist, a cross-and, yes, in a building. Though we’ll worship God in our new building, we won’t worship the building–at least I hope not. However, again I must confess, this building, 2025, has so much of God in it for me; I will need to hunt God in the crevices and floors of Carroll St. Here in this building our children were put through Sunday school. By this altar I joined church back in 1956, and by this altar, overwhelmed by grief, we laid our son to rest. Strangely, last Sunday Sherri Alms used the very poem we used in that service — the Rilke poem about loving the questions. But I am not alone. Others of you have put loved ones to rest here by this altar, have had baptisms, farewells, marriages-and oh, the quilts and the ribbons.
But God is not a building, as we just sang. It is we who will bring God into that building, and I think we’ll find that God is already waiting for us there. God in us and God outside us, all together. That is the Christian church.
Simone Weil says unconditional love of God and love of our neighbors, however anonymous, are what Jesus taught us. However, unconditional love of the church is idolatry-and I emphasize the word unconditional. The Christian church and its hierarchy have often tried to control truth, and this has resulted in the deaths of people who were really practicing what Jesus taught. And the church was not. While Seekers is very low on the scale of hierarchy, still we always need to be checking on whether or not we are trying to control truth. We have three Servant Leaders who are answerable to the stewards. There are 20 — some stewards who are committed to a disciplined life of Gospel embodiment and support of the church, and there are a good number of members who are faithful in many ways, some of them more faithful and disciplined than those of us who call ourselves stewards.
We stewards need to be constantly aware of this structure. Is the Gospel being lived? Are people seeing Christ’s spirit in us? Are new mission groups being called into being? Do we need to look at other structures for governance-for instance, a council to represent us, which would be small and could make decisions more easily than the large group of stewards that meets monthly?
As we live into our new life will we be able to work out the many administrative tasks that such reorganization requires? Should we, or should we not, have a person or group resident in our building? When we get in the way with one another, will we take the difficult initiatives toward forgiveness, or will we choose alienation instead?
These are all practical considerations. The larger things we need to consider are spiritual-matters of faith. And again I can do no better than to quote Simone Weil. These are jottings from her notebook: “Faith is not a contact with God; otherwise it would not be called a night and a veil. It is the submission of those parts that have no contact…”
She goes on to talk endlessly about love. She says, “God establishes a conventional language with her friends. Every event in life is a word of this language. These words are all synonyms but, as happens in beautiful languages, each of them has its completely specific nuance, each of them is untranslatable. The meaning common to all these words is: ‘I love you.'”
For me, one of these examples of God saying I love you was when I heard that the for-profit wing of Manna was going to be working on our building. The combination of our friend Jim Dickerson’s involvement with Manna, and the very word itself as used in Exodus, was an I-love-you from God to me. There are so many I-love-yous from God to us in any given day, but I’m sure we miss most of them. Another I-love-you from God to me happened last Sunday when I turned in my suggestions for music to Glen and Liz. I suggested as a hymn: “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah.” They said: “Oh, we already chose that.” Coincidences? Are they really coincidences, or are they God saying, “Hey, I’m with you.”
Though God is with us, we are in the wilderness right now-neither fully here at 2025, nor yet at Carroll Street. There is a feeling in me — maybe in you too — that I don’t know who I am. Will the Carroll Street location help to define me? I feel that in these almost fifty years I’ve worshiped at 2025, this building has had a lot to do with who I am. Buildings have a way of doing that. I look at our home in Alexandria where we have lived for about forty years. How I love that place, humble as it is-and how I know I must leave it when we are no longer able to take care of it. But nothing on this earth is permanent, including us.
I want to close with a poem by Hubert Neth:
does not mean
that is where
took the people of
what stays with
on the road