What makes us click?

“What makes us click?”©       by Rev. Jim Ryan, jimryan6885@gmail.com

Homily thoughts on the Second Sunday of Lent, March 12, 2017

Today’s Gospel is the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus.  Following a vision of Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah the disciples hear a heavenly voice that proclaims Jesus to be God’s Beloved One.

This season of introspection invites us to focus on ourselves both as individuals and as community.  This reflection takes on the second invitation – that is, taking the measure of our community identity.

One could argue that the Gospel selection this Sunday portrays an event that gives us insight into identity as it can happen in the course of an interpersonal relationship.  Here’s what I mean.  This story tells of that day that Peter, James, and John experienced Jesus as no longer just the man who was their teacher, no longer just the man with whom they traveled the roads, into towns and across the desert.  In this vision Jesus becomes the One.  This is the One who speaks directly with Moses and Elijah.  This is the One who is singled out by a heavenly voice and proclaimed to be the Beloved One.  This is the One with whom their personal identity is sealed for the rest of their lives.

Not only that, this is the One who gathers them together so that they could learn to proclaim the New Teaching, the Good News.  These three disciples, and the larger group of Jesus’ followers, have a communal identity that centers on this Jesus.  Whether you or I interpret Peter’s request to build tents as an indicator of a proclivity to fashion institutions, clearly the story of the event we call the Transfiguration of Jesus tells us that following Jesus is both an individual and a communal choice and challenge.

For those of us who were reared in the Roman Catholic Church we may quickly pick up on the foundations of our identity with this communal expression of following Jesus.  It can be found in the concluding statements of the Nicene Creed.

Just for a pop quiz, if I asked you what are the marks of the Church, how quickly could you come up with the answer?  How certain would you be of this list as the identifying marks of the Church?  (Here’s a clue for those who strain to recall their catechism:  there are 4 marks.)

Further, how certain would you be that the fullness of these 4 marks inheres fully within the Roman Catholic Church?  (So, when was the last time you saw the word “inheres”?)

Yes, you are correct if you remember these 4 marks:  One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic. 

Next question, do you still believe the Roman Catholic Church has a corner on these rocks of identity?

Our Mary of Magdala Community just celebrated Eucharist on Ash Wednesday evening with our host community, Wauwatosa Area United Methodist Church.  What a glorious celebration which we have done for the past 4 years.  I think it’s safe to say that all of us understand that both communities are founded on the marks of One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.  And we have made it possible, even with these small steps, to get closer in our time to realize Jesus’ prayer that his followers will be one.

So, if these marks of identity are shared across denominations what can we say about our own individual community of Mary of Magdala?  How do we gain identity with Jesus and with each other in this local expression of living Jesus in our time?

I would like to offer two experiences that may help us to more deeply appreciate our identity.  These may help to answer the question, “What makes us click?”  These two are governance and heritage.

By governance I do not mean some sort of structural way of running things.  Governance, it seems to me, is about making things run well.  And here’s how we run well and have done so since we formed as a community.  During our recent Community Meeting this surfaced again in our discussions.  We engage in mutual respect and recognition for the ministries which we do both individually and communally.  The transparency of acknowledging each one’s putting into practice understanding the call of Jesus and gathering together to celebrate these choices is a way of self-governance.  As we do this we responsibly engage in the oversight of the material items of communal life.  This is how church happens from the ground up.  It is what I call the experience of being a communitarian catholic.

Secondly, our community celebrates heritage and lives it out in liturgical ways that remain ever old, ever new.  It is in our DNA to be a liturgical people as it is part of that DNA to appreciate the mutations that keep our prayer a living and dynamic celebration of community.

Let me back up a little.  Recently I read the book, The Gene: an intimate history, by Siddhartha Mukherjee.  As he writes, he covers territory in understandable terms that a non-scientist like myself needs.  He succeeds quite well.  It helps for me that he identifies the human genome as built upon information that must be deciphered.  Mukherjee also gives perspective as he paraphrases Aristotle.  He credits the ancient philosopher with the question, “What provides an organism the information necessary to deliver form and function to an embryo?”  Remember Aristotle would have asked this question 2500 years ago.

Heredity, whether of the probabilistic sort or dependent upon mutation and variation, is intricately based upon often unfathomable interconnections.  It may also be based upon the most imperceptible change.  However that happens, Mukherjee’s point is that the genome as an indicator of heredity is both physical and informational.  And its changes are life-shaking.

My image of how this applies to the faith I have received is as follows.  Consider that Jesus, on the night before he died celebrated the Passover Meal with his friends.  In the course of the meal he takes the bread and says the prayer that is called for in the ritual.  But on this night he adds a change to the ritual.  He invites his friends to share the bread as he says, “ This is my body.”  In four words Jesus changes everything.

These four words, “This is my body,” I now see, is the information of the liturgical mutation (might one say mutation within the liturgical genome?) which forms the basic identity of who we are as a celebrating community in faith.  This also forms the basis of liturgy from the ground up.  All the ritual and liturgical form that has accumulated over 2000 years is exactly that, accumulation and not Jesus’ mutation that delivers form and function to the embryo, here called the community.  This would mean that our communal identity is based in a mutation caused by Jesus.  Our heritage is ever old in his doing that then, and it is ever new in our finding ways to celebrate his presence among us now.

So, our community may be viewed through the marks of governance and heritage – self-governance and mutational heritage.  It is how we form church from the ground up

A Prayer during Lent  (JR)

Break open the clouds of darkness and impending danger, Holy One, to let your light encourage and embolden us.  You favor us with gifts of vision, hope, and courage as we gather together today in prayer.

We celebrate the ministry of each one here and of all our community members.  Such commitment of service governs our abilities and our mutual respect.  It is also the sacrament of our heritage that grounds our hope now and in that future which is yet to unfold.

We pray in the Name of Jesus, the Beloved One.   Amen.

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