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A post-homiletical discourse delivered by the Rev. Dr. James R. Beebe
Rector, St. Patrick’s Church, Incline Village, Nevada, January 30, 2011
There he is – the music minister at St. Paul’s, Akron – right in the middle of a serious bidding war. I happened to walk in right at the time when he was competing for a red 1995 Honda Del Sol 5-speed with T-tops. He was doing it on eBay. EBay gets over 20 million hits a day and is the quintessential “participant sport.”
[Leonard Sweet] At eBay, the power belongs to the people, not to the producers. In the world of e-commerce, the buyer often sets the price. There are lots of other auction sites on the Web, but eBay is by far the highest-profile. Some have referred to this new yen for haggling as “the age of participation.” Others call it the “horizontal society.”
Whatever. But in many ways we live in a world that is unrecognizable from the 1955 standard. Nowadays people are more likely to take cues from people around them than from people above them. There are fewer bosses and many more clients.
After the U.S. Women’s World Cup team victory over China a number of years ago, a USA Today editorial reflected on the fact that the salaries of professional soccer players didn’t even come close to those of football and baseball and basketball players. “If soccer does break through,” the editorial said, “it may well be measured by a different type of success: not numbers of viewers, but numbers of participants.”
I recently went to the birthday party of a seven-year-old boy. He surprised us all by insisting we listen to his interpretation of the theme song for “Phantom of the Opera” before the cake was cut. No joke. You see, he was given a karaoke mike and stand as a birthday present. Sure enough, he belted out the whole song, whose words he had memorized. It wasn’t enough that he just listen to the CD – he had to actively participate in its performance.
It’s one of the reasons why video games are all the rage. Sorbonne professor Anne-Marie Duguet, head of the Center for the Aesthetics of Cinema and Audiovisual Arts in Paris, defines the creators of interactive arts as “the authors of experience.”
Kids nowadays engage media in three progressive levels: first, fascination; then, exploration; and, finally, integration. What’s interesting is that they have to explore, hands-on, before they can integrate. We are entering a new era. The old one – the representational era – was one in which people wanted to have decisions made for them; in the new one – the participatory era – people want to make their own decisions.
In the representational era, the task of leadership was to administer guidance and regulations; in the participatory era, leadership is empowering others to lead. In the old era, people could not be trusted to use their personal freedom in service of the church; in the new one, people are self-organizing and can be trusted to invest wisely of their resources and time. Big difference.
It might go without saying, but it seems to me that the “interactive” part of being church is how we treat others. Not what we think about the Trinity or one substance. How we treat others. Fred Craddock tells the story of when he was a little boy in a poor farming family. They had just lost their farm and had been forced to move into town, to a little, four-room house. They had only one spigot out in the yard and the toilet was out back. They were as poor as Job’s turkey and having a rough time.
“My sister was entering high school,” he writes. “She had trouble with her complexion when she was moving into her teens, and always worried about it and kept her head down and combed her hair over part of her face. One day in the mail my sister got an invitation from Cullen Lyle to a slumber party. Cullen was the prettiest girl in high school and her father was a wealthy businessman. And I heard my sister after she was seventy years old speak of the importance of that. I can drop a footnote here: if you are poor, and exclude prosperous people because you think they’re smart, or if you’re prosperous and exclude the poor – you have a right to do that, but it’s not church.”
Fred Craddock was picking up right where the prophet Micah left off. Micah was a simple country boy in 8th century Israel who was imploring his people not to try to bribe God with lavish sacrifices, but rather to actually live out their faith.
And what does “living out one’s faith” mean? Israel, like the later Gentile Jesus Movement, was invited into relationship with God by pure Grace. After all, Abraham was a pagan, for crying out loud. Which means that God already accepts you. You didn’t earn your way into the kingdom by obeying the commandments. But once in, you were maintaining your identity as God’s people by being faithful to the commandments.
But for many, living out one’s faith simply means going to church. One hour a week. Six one-thousandths of your week. That’s it. Because direct access to God comes in that six one-thousandth, right? Lots of folks have a problem reconciling what treating people right has to do with worshiping God. Two different things, right? That’s right, if God is “up there” and we are “down here.” But what if God’s actual 411 is a bit closer to home?
What if, Monday through Saturday, we interact with God in every moment? What if God’s location is in that person sitting next to you? What if worshiping God means honoring the God that is in Cheryl or Yvonne or Charley? That would be an entirely different ballgame, now, wouldn’t it? Then, what you do in that other 994 thousandths would mean not just something, but everything.
I mean, you can stand on your head for six-one-thousandths of your week. And that’s precisely what the prophet Micah’s cohorts were doing. Standing on their spiritual heads. Making a BIG deal of going through some liturgical motions, ostentatiously pious for six-one-thousandths of their week. And being interactive for six one-thousandths of your week is not being interactive.
Well, enough is enough said Micah.
“Whaddya gonna do?” he asks them, “Offer up burnt offerings, maybe juicy year-old calves? No? How about THOUSANDS of rams? Ten THOUSAND rivers of oil? Still not enough? Then how about sacrificing your first-born? Think THAT will get you an ‘in’?”
“Here – let’s ring up God and ask HIM. Whaddya think, Boss? NO?? You don’t WANT our precious yearling calves? NO?? You don’t WANT a herd of rams or a bunch of oil? NO?? You don’t WANT our first-borns? Then what DO you want?”
“Wait, let me get this –
You want us to be FAIR?
You want us to be KIND? (and LIKE it?)
And you want us to walk humbly with YOU?
What’s the catch?”