Westwood Lutheran Church
I have had the privilege of being a pastor here at Westwood for a whole month! As we get to know each other a bit better, you will find that in my love for the liturgy – which is the name of the ebb and flow of our community worship is a deep love of ancient ritual. Throughout each worship gathering we speak words which do not often appear in our weekly vocabulary: mercy, alleluia!, righteousness, baptism. And, as Betty Lou Nelson reminded me this week, in our worship we say we believe in a communion with all the saints – the saints of our lives, and all the saints of the long story of God’s mission on this earth. What we claim when we gather together to hear the Word and share the meal and therefore the liturgy, our ritual places us in a practice that is much, much bigger than our time and place – from this understanding I believe we, the contemporary gathering of God’s people gain strength and wisdom.
Many of the ancient rituals which we still partake in today are contrary to the rhythms and patterns of our daily living; where else do we come together to be a part of community singing, intergenerational gatherings, to say words of confession and forgiveness– all unique, almost entirely, to Christian worship. But they are different than many, if not most of the encounters we have with each other day in and day out. For instance, have you ever noticed that at the end of the worship service you are kicked out of church? Every week we are dismissed, and not with a soft mid-western suggestion, but a whole hearted boot out of the door with the words, “Go in peace, serve the Lord”. The dismissal piece of the liturgy tells all of us that we are not to dwell or hang around too long, rather it is time to take the Word we have heard and the faith we are gifted with and get to sharing it with all the world…just outside these church walls. Go – get out! And that is our concluding rite…the beginning may be even harder to align with our contemporary social understandings.
We begin…(begin!) our worship with what is formally referred to as the brief order for Confession and forgiveness. At the very start of our gathering we take pause for introspective reflection – not riddled with the failure that the culture of magazines and social media want to tell us about. Rather we look at ourselves and see our participation in a world that is deeply broken, systemically dysfunctional and we acknowledge that we have a place in it. And for this place we name our failures, individual and corporate and we name our disappointments, personal and global and we acknowledge the idols that stand present in our relationship with the God of all life.
What a peculiar practice to begin our worship with -- naming our hurts and confessing to our God the strain we feel in our relationship with God, with each other, with creation. In a word: we are naming our sin. What follows in the worship liturgy is in response to this cosmic disconnecting that we experience in our own way. Step by step we practice being brought back together through our hearing of the common Word, our singing together and praying together, the passing of the peace, the sharing of the meal and even that rude dismissal which kicks us out with a common mission, to live lives that respond to God’s love for us. The whole liturgy is looking back on the truth of the confession…and forgiveness comes again and again as the Spirit carries us through worship.
What a powerful practice we gather for here today.
This is the power and the movement of God’s story, carried through the whole community of saints from Peter to us gathered here today. In the gospel reading for today Jesus asks Peter, “Who do you say that I am” and Peter responds “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God”. Messiah means the promised deliverer, the one who saves us from the brokenness and the isolation that we confess each Sunday morning.
After Peter’s bold confession, calling Jesus the Messiah, Jesus begins the movement of the Christian church with these words recalled in Matthew’s gospel, “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
The keys to the kingdom? Now we’re talking! Jesus gives the church the authority to bind and to loose…or we could think of it as cages or wings? This phrase comes from one of my favorite musical theater pieces from the musical “Tick, tick…boom!” by Jonathon Larson, better known for his composing of the rock musical “Rent”.
The full phrase of the song asks…“Cages or wings? Which do you prefer? Ask the birds. Fear or love? Don’t say the answer…actions speak louder than words.”
Binding or loosening?
Cages or wings?
Fear or Love?
What do we, as the body of Christ, the church of Christ profess with our lives?
It begins with our corporate confession – we bind up all that brokenness and isolation, or all that sin that we confessed this morning. Through our confession we grieve the reality of pain, we lament the power of injustice and rail again the grief of death and all the ways these experience manifest in our lives and in the systems of the world.
We, as the body of Christ, bind that which is not the ways of God, that which hinders the grace-filled mission of God.
And then we hear the forgiveness, the mighty act of God to loosen on earth all that binds us and the whole world! This is the work of the church, to proclaim such endless mercy to all the bound up places of our lives and our world! Of course, it is never done perfectly – much harm, much division, much hatred has been done as the church declairs the keys to the kingdom. But the keys are not the authority we hold, nor are they the core truth of Christ mission. It is on the faith uttered by Peter that day, “Jesus – you are the Messiah, the son of the living God” It is upon Jesus alone that we stand and continue on in love and loosening.
Let’s consider Peter for just one more moment, just in case you worry that this call to be the binding and loosening church is not a call you are up for. After Peter is called the Rock upon which Christ will build the church, immediately following Peter tells Jesus he forbids that Jesus should suffer and go to the cross at all! And Jesus calls him a stumbling block, yelling “Get behind me Satan, you are a stumbling block to me for you are thinking about human ways and not divine ways.” There was Peter’s beginning of the church, confessing Jesus as Messiah, the great deliverer and then standing firmly in the way of God’s mission because he was afraid. Cages or wings, Peter?
And yet God continued to use the life of Peter, and Christ continues to use our lives – broken and isolated though they may be. Christ calls us to be the church to bind up which kills and to loosen that which brings new life.
Cages or wings? Binding or loosening? This is the question put before the church both then and now. The summer is coming to a close, the academic year and the programmatic year of ministry here at Westwood is quickly, very quickly approaching and as always, the Spirit moves and surprises us with change and new life. And so, body of Christ called Westwood Lutheran – this seems a proper time to consider the question…Cages or wings? Which do you live with your lives? What pain will you be binding…what life will you be loosening as Christ’s church?
To consider this question I would like to revisit the words of confession and forgiveness that we began our worship with this morning. Perhaps some of the words could be more specific for you – perhaps you could ponder the brokenness and isolation you feel or witness. What if our confession were a fill in the blank? I will read through the phrases and leave a moment for reflection, for you to imagine what other words come from your hearts and complete the sentence…
Gracious God, have mercy on us. We confess that we have turned from you and given ourselves into the power of ____________. We are truly sorry and humbly repent. In your compassion forgive us our ________, known and unknown___________ What have we done? What have we left undone? Turn us again to you, and uphold us by your Spirit, so that we may ___________________ in newness of life through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Cages or wings church? In the forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ we are called to fly! To loosen on earth that which is loose in heaven – the love of God, the grace of Jesus, the surprising and life sustaining movement of the Spirit. And with this call will you all join me in loosening the cages of our lives (remembering that which we just confessed) We proclaim together...
God, who is rich in mercy, loved us, even when we were dead in sin, and made us alive together with Christ. By grace you have been saved. In then name of Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven. Almighty God strengthen you with power through the Holy Spirit, that Christ may live in your hearts through faith. Amen.
This is the work of the church, gathering to name our reality, speaking to declare God’s new day in our world and getting kicked out to speak such a word beyond these walls. May God give us faith for such an incredible, faith-filled adventure as this. Thanks be to God. Amen.