Serendipity in Sunday morning worship this week:
Lighthouse for Christ, a chorus of young people from local churches came to sing at St. Paul last Sunday, April 25th. Their leader, Amy Prichard is a talented young woman, who started the group with a few of the youth at her church, the Cape Ann Bible Church. They didn’t have enough numbers to make a full chorus, so they opened the group up to the whole community. Other young folks from other churches joined. Their name derives from where we live, an island dotted by lighthouses, in Annisquam, Rockport, and Gloucester Harbor, to name a few. And the Light does shine right out of Lighthouse for Christ when they sing.
During the last couple of weeks Amy and I, and our music director Susan Taormina, have been swapping emails about what the group would sing, and what would work for Sunday morning. We found some appropriate service hymns, and left the rest of the music choices up to Amy, since she and her group were our guests.
Then, all week I struggled with the sermon. Here’s why: I went to visit St. Francis House in Boston last week with some of the other clergy. And the visit was mind-blowing.
St. Francis House is a day drop-in center for people who are homeless, jobless, or otherwise impoverished. The House is on Boylston street, one block from the corner of Tremont and Boylston, at the beginning of Chinatown. It offers comprehensive wrap-around services to its guests. Our visit took several hours, and the guests who enter there, and the people who serve there as staff and volunteers were breathtaking witnesses to the power of God’s love, and goodness.
I’ll write more later, about that visit, but that’s what I wanted to preach about on Sunday morning. It seems to me that St. Francis House is the kind of place that lives on resurrection hope, and even practices resurrection–much as Peter does in the lesson from Acts for this last week. Peter raised Dorcas from the dead. St. Francis House offers the resurrection hope of possibility for people who have reached the last end of their resources. That’s what I wanted to preach about, but even after writing it out, and working with it during week, I wasn’t satisfied. Something more was going on. It was one of those times when the scripture readings really wouldn’t leave me alone, a sort of wrestling, tentatio , Luther called it.
So all week, it was back to the drawing board. Finally, I settled on the Revelation reading and the Gospel. This Easter, our readings in Revelation are phenomenal–lyrical passage after lyrical passage of praise and hymns of thanksgiving, angels and all peoples, nations, and tribes, and in every langauge gathered round the throne with the Lamb at the center. Those are the readings that won’t leave me alone–so no matter how I tried to move away from them to write about St. Francis House, I had the experience of being drawn back again to the book of Revelation. I’ve been a Christian long enough to know the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and to know also, that obedience is the only option. (Sometimes being a disciple is to perpetually feel like you’re being led where you don’t want to go). So Revelation and John is where the sermon landed.
I wasn’t comfortable with it. And yet, on Sunday morning, the Revelation lesson was exactly the right focus. Because: along with all the other lovely moments in worship, Lighthouse for Christ sang their hearts out in praise using the very text we heard that morning: Rev. 7: 9-17. One day, they sang, God will wipe away every tear, and we will drink at the springs of the water of life. And of course, they sang so beautifully that the language came alive in that moment: the beauty of God is in our midst now, already. We have been delievered already from the great ordeal, and we live already in the center of that unending fountain of praise.
Amy and her group did not know we were reading Revelation, this week, and they didn’t know I would be preaching on the text of their song. But in one of those beautiful moments of sacred serendipity, it all came together, orchestrated by the unseen hand (one hopes) of the Spirit. At least that’s one way of thinking about what happened.
Does God actually tend the moments of worship in a small church in an obscure corner of the world, even when there’s so much else happening, like earthquakes, volcanoes, war, and oil rigs exploding, or tornados, or 2 million people displaced from their homes in Haiti? Does the Holy Spirit actually have time to pay attention to the worship details and the spiritual needs of the people in our humble, hidden, hard to get to church?
The most high, transcendent and mysterious, wild and strange, loving and just, all merciful, compassionate God, Lord of space and time, is also immanent, and apparently had time and energy for us, enough to take a strong but gentle hand in fine-tuning Sunday’s worship in a wonderfully invisible way, all through the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, a gift of our Savior. Welcome to the risen life. Amazing.