7 Jul 2013
“‘Behold, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.’” (Luke 10:3) In the name …
Last weekend Sharon and I traveled over to Tanglewood to see Garrison Keillor and his show A Prairie Home Companion. It was the last broadcast of the season. It airs live on National Public Radio from 6 – 8PM on Saturday evenings nationwide. If you’ve never listened to the program before, it’s a compilation of radio skits, music and conversation. Because it is aired nationally it has to be perfectly timed. It begins precisely at six, has a break precisely at seven and closes precisely at eight. And that’s basically all I was expecting: two hours of entertainment. But Garrison Keillor was wound-up on the night before his summer vacation. He came back on stage for an encore. I thought maybe he and his guests would sing a couple of extra songs. Instead, he stayed on stage for another hour and three-quarters. His encore lasted almost as long as his show.
It was so much fun to be there and to watch those artists having fun. I don’t think the encore was scripted. Garrison Keillor was giving a chance for his band members to take center stage and it looked like they relished the chance. He enticed the guest artists to join along. After about an hour or so, the guests had exited the stage and I think we in the audience thought it was just about over, and I think the guest artists did too. But Garrison Keillor sang to them off stage and invited them back for “one more song,” and then kept them there for more than a half hour. The stage hands started dismantling the set around them, but they kept singing and playing anyway. It was really a joy to share in the fun they were having, and I think and I hope that part of their fun was watching how enthusiastic we all were to be there and to share in their gifts.
I remember this one older gentleman in front of us. As the encore continued, people weren’t sitting anymore, they were standing. Eventually, this older guy in a Red Sox baseball cap and wearing knee-high black socks and short pants had to sit down. Then Garrison Keillor encouraged the group Joy Kills Sorrow, a Boston band, to sing Sweet Caroline, the Neil Diamond song that has become a part of the Fenway Park experience. When the old guy in the Red Sox cap heard the first strains of that song, as tired as he may have been, he shot up out of his seat, stood with his daughter, swayed to the music and sang along. I loved just watching the whole thing unfold so unexpectedly. All of those people having such a great time, on stage and off, and part of the excitement was that all of this wasn’t because of musicians being paid to perform. It was their love of performing. It was just the joy of the moment for the ones playing the music and for those of us responding to the music.
That’s the kind of enthusiasm that church so desperately needs. I wonder sometimes if we’ve let institution replace inspiration. Sometimes we get so worried about the rules and the theology that we forget why the rules and the theology were born in the first place. They’ve taken on a life of their own. Enthusiasm is what made the encore at Tanglewood so exciting and fun. And enthusiasm is what the church needs more of. St. Paul finishes his remarks to the church of Galatia by saying that everything besides Jesus is unimportant to him, in his words, “[T]he world has been crucified to me and I to the world.” (6:14) Everything, he says, is “a new creation.” (6:15) Faith gave Paul the gift of seeing life in a new and exciting way. Does religion still do that? Or too often does religion try to make us feel defeated and despairing? Too often does religion try to make us feel distant from God no matter how hard we try and our world perilously close to violent, destructive judgment no matter what progress we seem to make? Where is Paul’s “new creation”? Where is his optimism born of the fact that Jesus has given him a new way of looking at those around him?
Or what about the seventy-two? Luke is the only Evangelist to tell of the missionary work of a group larger than the twelve disciples. This large number of 72 evangelists going out and spreading the gospel may then actually be a reference to Luke’s own day and Luke’s own church community. These earliest Christians are heading out into the world as the very first steps that brought the faith all over the globe. Their task is daunting. Even Jesus says that they’re going forth as lambs among wolves. They are to distinguish themselves not only by what they say, but by what they do. They’re going to stick out like a sore thumb. The Roman Empire was built on power and conquest. Christianity would be the polar opposite. It would exist in that world, but not of that world. As the seventy-two return, they rejoice as they tell Jesus of their work. Whether the 72 belong to Jesus’ day or to Luke’s, the message remains that just like Paul, for them everything had changed because of church. And the word that both Jesus and the 72 use to describe the work of the church is “rejoice.”
It’s a blessing when the work of the church is joy-filled. Friday’s auction of a week ago, for example, was a fun event. I think it was Matthew Dibrindisi who called it a “fun-raiser.” Ron Nault told me we should do it again in the Fall. But this here is also the work of the church. It should also be filled with joy, not with a sense of obligation. We come together to allow ourselves to become more aware of the presence of God, and we come together because of the people around us, and both of these should help us to rejoice. This experience and mystery should help us to be like lambs even if the world gives profit and protection to the wolves. We should rejoice here just like at Tanglewood not because we are paid performers, but because we are cheered by the gifts shared together freely. They played until all of the instruments were boxed up and then reluctantly sang Good Night Irene a cappella. That’s what rejoice means. That’s what we are called to be like even if we are lambs among wolves, to play for the love of the music, to worship for the love of God. And that’s what I hope we can be here at Holy Name of Jesus, a rejoicing church, and for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo