|Sermon by: The Rev. R. Casey Shobe
Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration | Dallas, Texas
February 5, 2017
The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
On the speed dial of every rector’s cell phone are three people: the Sr. Warden, the Sexton, and the Altar Guild Director – and at a church like Transfiguration, that third person on the list very well may get most of the calls. Our worship is our core as a church, and it’s the heartbeat of our life together. So I feel a healthy sort of pressure to preserve our rich liturgical tradition, to make sure we worship as beautifully and flawlessly as we possibly can. I’ll let you in on a funny little secret: Gabby Guion, our AG Director, and I recently discovered that we share the same dream: that one day we will experience a “perfect service,” where every detail is just right and everyone does exactly what they’re supposed to exactly when they’re supposed to from start to finish. It’s like our great white whale, and…it hasn’t happened yet.
Here’s the thing, though, about this obsession with a “perfect” service, with getting everything “perfectly right” in here: it’s actually a distraction. It’s an idol. It’s not what worship is really all about, and it threatens to draw you and I farther from the one who we come here hoping to experience. Because no matter how perfectly we do everything here, if it’s not taken back out into the world, it does not matter.
- No matter how sweetly we say our prayers or sing the hymns,
- no matter how well we follow along with the chanting of the psalm, or how well we remember to cross ourselves or bow or kneel,
- no matter how earnestly we hold out our hands to receive the host or how devotedly we light a candle at the icon or shrine,
if all that we feel and hope and pray and do in here doesn’t move outside with us when we leave, then it doesn’t matter.
We make a mistake if we believe that what we’re doing in here is the point. That how well, how beautifully, how perfectly we enact the liturgical choreography of church is the point of the Christian life. One of my Anglican heroes is a man named Frank Weston, who was bishop of, of all places, Zanzibar, and almost 100 years ago he delivered an address to an international gathering of Anglo-Catholics – you know, the ones who make our worship seem like a Baptist prayer meeting – and in his address, he had this to say.
“I say it to you with all the earnestness that I have, that if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in his Blessed Sacrament, then you have got to come out from before your Tabernacle and walk, with Christ mystically present in you, out into the streets of this country, and find the same Jesus in the people of your cities and your villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slum.
If you are Christians then your Jesus is one and the same: Jesus on the Throne of his glory, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus received into your hearts in Communion, Jesus with you mystically as you pray, and Jesus enthroned in the hearts and bodies of his brothers and sisters up and down this country. And it is folly—it is madness—to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the Throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children. It cannot be done.
You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.”