In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.
Today is our Annual Parish Picnic—our chance to get together as a Church family and enjoy each other’s company. It is important to remember that we are all a family here. When we gather as a family, we are strengthened; the bonds that tie us together are shored up so that when we are parted that bond remains intact. Three things are present that bind us as a Church family. Rules, History, and Worship. These three things unite us in God’s love.
What is the first thing a group has to do to establish community? Set up the rules.
When I was a counselor at Camp, one of the first things that needed to be established were the rules of the cabin. Rules such as: “Don’t slam the door;” “Drink lots of water;” and “Don’t talk to me when you are naked.” Now that the rules are established, we can all have fun and everyone is safe.
Before entering the Promised Land, Moses gave the people the rules for living in the land—rules that showed them they were loved and protected. Sometimes the Israelites bumped into the boundaries set by these rules and God needed to them of the rules. Though, at times, they are perceived by the Israelites as barriers to freedom, the rules given by God are really present to show the people he loves them.
We know this portion as the book of Deuteronomy—a re-establishing of the rules after the period of the wandering in the wilderness so that the people will remember them when they enter the land. The big thing they received was the 10 Commandments—the ten principles on which all other rules are based. God says, “Remember these ten, then the rest will at least make sense when you bump into them.”
These are so important that even though the sacrificial law has been removed with the coming of Christ, we still keep these as a standard in Christianity. In fact, we will always say these in Mass on Sundays as one of the first things we do. We either say the full ten or Jesus’ summary of the Law. So each Sunday when we gather together, we start things off by re-establishing the boundary rules.
Now we all share a common set of well-established rules. These rules set us apart as the family of God. These rules make us holy—set apart—for God.
What is another thing that always comes out when families gather? Stories. Funny stories. Stories of shared hardship. Stories of lessons learned. These are all things that unite families as they gather together. They unite because the stories are about shared experiences—experiences that bond people together.
Whenever the clergy of our diocese gather together, it is a guarantee that at least one Nashotah story will be told. Why? Because it is a shared experience that unites us. Each of us lives our own life. Each has their own walk with God. Each of us has our own ministry to which God has called us, and if we do not remind ourselves of our common experiences, it is easy to remain on that individual track.
Moses re-tells the story of their shared history to the new generation of Israelites prior to entering the Promised Land. He tells them the highs. He tells them the lows. He tells them about their history with God. This is key to their future, because history determines faith. Faith is present belief in something based on previous known history that guides through an unknown future. Moses tells the people to have faith in God for all that he has done in the past, and allow that to enlighten their uncertain future.
As Christians, we re-live our history every Sunday as we listen to the readings.
In the Old Testament, we see God preparing the world for his son Jesus. We see how much in need the Israelites were of a savior to provide a better way. And as we see them fall so many times, we see ourselves, desperately in need of God’s forgiveness.
In the Gospel, we see Jesus bring salvation to the people of God. We see him again answer the pleas of the people and fulfill his promise to them.
In the Acts of the Apostles, we find that this salvation brought to God’s people includes us, and we see the beginnings of the Church.
In the Epistles, we see how those closest to Jesus teach us how to live as a result of our salvation.
And in Revelation, we see the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to give us hope.
The Bible is our story that unites us together as God’s people—God’s family.
A family is strongest when all members worship together. We are created to worship God. That is that God-shaped hole in our hearts. If it is not filled properly with God, we seek out substitutes and try to make due.
God required all Israel to offer their sacrifices at the Temple, three times a year—Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. In doing this, all Israel would come together multiple times a year to unite themselves as one to God. It is often said, “The family that prays together, stays together.” This is demonstrated In Israel’s history.
Israel was one nation, until Reheboam, David’s grandson, rejected the opportunity to re-unite his crumbling kingdom by lowering taxes and putting an end to the draft. So the kingdom split in two, North and South. The Northern Kingdom of Israel no longer wished to come together with Southern Kingdom of Judah, and as a result, set up their own false temple at Shechem—thus making themselves a new family—apart from the family of God. Rejecting God’s protection, the Northern Kingdom was over-taken by the Assyrians in 722 and are not mentioned again really until Jesus encounters the Samaritan Woman.
Worship in the Old Testament had a purpose. God required the three Pilgrimage Festivals so that all his people would come together to confess their sins, make reparation for their sins, offer themselves fully to God, offer their possessions, and finally to dine with Him and with each other. Our union with God unites us with those created in his image—all humanity.
But in the Old Testament, this worship was incomplete. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Old Testament worship was a shadow—a copy—of the worship taking place in heaven. This is why sin offerings were continually being offered, because the people still remained in their sins. Yet, through the one offering of Jesus Christ, those sins are forgiven, and we are then incorporated into the true worship of God—not a shadow. In coming together as Christians to worship God in the Sacrament of the Body and blood of Jesus Christ, we are included in that one sacrifice for our salvation. Because of Christ’s one offering, our sins are truly and perfectly removed. And in our participation in the Mass, we offer ourselves completely to God, and we dine with him with heavenly food.
Our presence here, unites us to each other and secures anew that sacred bond we all share with each other and to God.
So Beloved, what we are doing today is very important. We are gathering together as a family to receive our rules, remember our story, and worship God. But as we head out to eat together, let us remember why we need to remember our familial bonds: we are to strengthen ourselves to encounter the culture and convert them to Christ. Luckily, we don’t have to undergo the task the way Israel had to—by killing everything and dedicating everything to God by fire. We don’t have to do it that way, but our task is just as comprehensive: we have to convert the whole world.
Last week proved that we cannot settle for merely contenting ourselves with laws which benefit the Christian viewpoint. Laws can be changed. We must take on the much more daunting task of converting the heart of the culture, so that laws that benefit us are superfluous. And this task is why it is essential that we meet together, because we are going to need the support of our family.
In the Name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.