27 Sep 2009
9/27/09 SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
Fr. Randy Calvo 2009
“Taking some of the spirit that was on Moses, [the Lord] bestowed it on the seventy elders.” (Num. 11:25) In the name …
This is supposed to be a true story: Recently, there were huge fires burning out of control around Los Angeles. A Fox News photographer requested approval to go out and get some up-to-the-minute footage of the inferno. When it was granted, he quickly used a cell phone to call the local airport to charter a flight. He was told a twin-engine plane would be waiting for him. Arriving at the airfield, he spotted a plane warming up outside a hanger. He jumped in with his bag, slammed the door shut, and shouted, “Let's go.” The pilot taxied out, swung the plane into the wind and took off. Once in the air, the photographer instructed the pilot, “Fly over the valley and make low passes so I can take pictures of the fires on the hillsides.” “Why?” asked the pilot. “Because I'm a photographer for Fox Cable News,” he responded. “And I need to get some close up shots.” The pilot was strangely silent for a moment, finally he stammered, “So, what you're telling me, is . . . you're NOT my flight instructor?”
Jumping into a situation where no one is sure what to do is just not healthy, but sometimes relying on someone else to take control of things for you can be just as risky. And I think this is the message behind both of today’s readings. Faith is meant to be extremely personal. In other words, we can’t tag along on someone else’s experience. Church is essential because it opens up paths to God that we probably wouldn’t be able to find on our own, and to challenge us to think beyond our own expectations, but church can’t replace our own experience. The church can speak of the love of God, for example, but if we don’t experience it, it’s no more exciting than cold leftovers. I’m afraid that some people become bored with church and faith because they have no real experiences of God of their own. Religion becomes someone else’s story rather than our shared experience. Have you ever been invited to someone else’s house to watch vacation videos? Talk about a long night! Their experience may have been fantastic, but as long as it’s only their experience it can make the clock move awfully slow. Then look at pictures in the travel section of a newspaper and it’s a whole other world and the reason is because we start thinking of going there ourselves. Now we’re not talking about someone else’s story, we’re planning our own. Church is not limited to retelling the stories about Moses and Jesus like in today’s readings. Church is about seeing in their experiences the possibility of our own. This we cannot do on our own outside of church, nor can church do it for us.
Worship is not intended to be a spectator sport. We believe something amazing takes place here. We believe that here we not only encounter God in Christ, but that we discover God in Christ. There is a mystical reality in worship, and mystical shares the same root as the word mystery. By definition, it’s unknowable, it’s mystery, for those who aren’t engaged and involved in worship. It’s not something that can be studied from the outside. It has to be experienced firsthand. Watch what takes place here and leave unaffected. Share in what takes place here and enjoy the ride. See where Christ will lead, watch what God will do, be surprised by how we can be changed. At the Seminar, Fr. Bilinski asked the teachers to project their students a decade into the future, but instead of asking what their lives would look like, work, college, marriage, whatever, the students were to be asked what their faith would look like. We could do the same here. What will our faith look like in ten years? If we don’t expect, or maybe the better word would be allow, for any changes in that time, then the mystery is gone, and God is a mystical reality. More aptly, if we can’t foresee what our faith will be like in a decade, then we should realize that neither can God. He has blessed us with freedom. He cannot know until we decide. This is that idea of conversation. It’s on-going; it’s vibrant; alive, active, changing. This is what worship puts us into contact with. It can’t be watched; it has to be experienced.
This shared experience of God is what lies behind the Moses story in today’s Lesson. The Spirit of God that inspired Moses so that he could lead the people of Israel was then shared with 70 others. Joshua, the faithful young protégé of Moses, sees this and worries about the declining stature of his hero Moses as the spirit of God is shared with others, and in response a very calm leader replies: “‘Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow His Spirit on them all!’” (Num. 11:29) In a similar occurrence in the New Testament, the disciples witness someone outside of their group of twelve invoking Jesus’ name, and they try to stop him because they believe that this dilutes the authority of Christ. And like Moses, Jesus replies instead, “‘Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.’” (Mk 9:39-40) Being in a plane without any real pilot is not healthy, but when it comes to faith and religion expecting someone else to take charge for us is equally not healthy.
In our shared act of worship, we catch hold of the ever-moving God so that His mystery gives way to our experience. Our experience of faith must continue because God continues. This is part of our spiritual transformation and it can’t be done without worship and without church because God in turn expects us to help in the transformation of others. Our stories become part of their stories, and theirs of ours. This community’s experience of God in Christ is that act of sharing that our readings point out to us today. We need not protect and isolate the experience of God. Rather, we need to share it as fully as we possibly can. And for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
In the name …
Fr. Randolph Calvo