From The Mystery to Mission
Rev. Leanne Walt
Life hinges on those moments when we are provoked to ponder the mystery of it all. Prompted by a birth, a trip to the shoreline or simply the sight of a bird taking flight. Plunged into the depths of illness or lifted up to the heights of a mountaintop – inclined somehow, someway to enter the doors of a church giving way to the mystery – we partake in the age-old questioning of the meaning of life.
In Kurt Vonnegut’s book Cat’s Cradle, he retells the familiar Genesis creation story in light of humanity’s proclivity to ponder the mystery of it all.
He tells it like this:
“In the beginning, God created the earth, and he looked upon it in his cosmic loneliness.
And God said, "Let Us make living creatures out of mud, so the mud can see what We have done." And God created every living creature that now moveth, and one was man. Mud as man alone could speak. God leaned close to mud as man sat, looked around, and spoke. "What is the purpose of all this?" he asked politely.
"Everything must have a purpose?" asked God.
"Certainly," said man.
"Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this," said God.
And He went away.”
Like all prophesies, Isaiah’s begins with the mystery.
King Uzziah died in the 8th century BCE. Uzziah was Judah’s king who was greatly admired for enhancing the kingdom’s agriculture, building watchtowers in the wilderness, and strengthening their army. After his death, Isaiah begins to fear for the future of his people. In such uncertain times, Isaiah makes his way to the temple, to worship the mystery ~ to wonder at the purpose of it all.
What makes this well-known vision of Isaiah’s particularly unique, apart from the disturbing image of flying 6-winged flaming celestial bird-like creatures is that it happens while he is in the Temple worshipping God.
So many prophetic revelations in the bible occur in the wilderness or in a dream or on a mountain or the sea. Yet, here Isaiah’s glimpse of the holy appears to him in worship.
As a minister, I regularly meet people who feel the need to share with me the fact that they find God in nature, not in church. And it’s always delivered to me as if it’s a revelatory concept for us crazy churchgoers, this idea of the divine being in a tree or sunset or drifting clouds. Never mind the fact that the bible is soaked with images of God in nature: the Tree of Jesse, the burning bush, God in a pillar of cloud leading the Israelites out of Egypt, and the countless Psalms that speak to the glory of God made evident by the beauty of the sun, moon, stars, ocean and mountains.
One of my closest friends often reminds me that she doesn’t believe in religious institutions and instead finds God on early morning walks with her dog through the woods near her house.
Yet, I can’t help but wonder what will happen when cancer invades the body of someone she loves or when she looses her job or a parent?
How will her God of the forest and the trees offer her strength and comfort during those times?
Like Isaiah, it is often in times of despair when we walk through the doors of the church. Perhaps we’re former tree and sun worshippers or perhaps we’ve been burned by a community of so-called “faith,” lost trust in the clergy, or were told our beliefs were unchristian and our questions unwelcomed, or perhaps we were never inclined to set foot in a church before. Whatever winds may have brought us in the door, we have come because somewhere along the line, we realize that there are times when we can’t explain away the events of our lives using the laws of science, nature, or society.
Because God exists in the mystery. In the unknown as well as the known.
God exists in the seed’s need for soil in order to germinate and in the roots’
need for water in order to grow.
God exists in the reality of loneliness and our need for human connection.
God exists in the fact that disease invades some bodies and not others,
in the fact that some are hungry and others are not,
that some know love and others do not.
God exists in the fact that the sun rises on the evil and the good and the rain
falls on the just and the unjust alike.
A life of faith begins with a surrender to the mysterious, an admission that the rule of God is other than the rule of science and humanity. God is in the bad as well as the good, in the ugly as well as the beautiful.
When Isaiah steals a glimpse of the holiness of God in the Temple, he cries out that he is unworthy. He is unclean, he is a sinner! Yet, still, God comes to him in worship, wipes him clean of sin, and sends him to proclaim justice to the captives, to stand with the suffering, to call our the religious hypocrites of his day.
Like all prophesies, Isaiah’s begins in the mystery and ends in mission.
At this moment, the youth group and other adults in this congregation are right below us in the church kitchen. They are setting out pieces of bread, covering them with meat or peanut butter or jelly, folding the bread together and placing them in a bag, each one intended to feed a hungry belly. Prayer in motion. From mystery to mission.
This afternoon a group of us will be journeying to Park Street in Boston to go to Common Cathedral, an outdoor church that primarily serves a homeless population. What makes Common Cathedral so special is that it is about more than feeding hungry bellies. It’s about feeding hungry souls. It is about common, corporate worship.
At Common Cathedral, those who lack shelter, struggle with addiction, and suffer abuse read Scripture, sing hymns, speak their prayers aloud as we do every Sunday morning, and they even preach the Word. And there, on the open street, in the open air, with no walls to close them in, they receive invitation to God’s abundant feast at the communion table and they journey to the table together, bearing all of the common burdens and responsibilities, joys and mistakes that weigh on God’s people. This is Church. From mystery to Mission.
At the communion table, we discover our primal identity in the mystery, not in the socio-cultural distinctions that we have learned to live by. Our identity is not found in our ethnic community, or the titles we hold in our homes or places of work. It is not found in our financial instability or stability.
Gathering for worship is the way in which we connect with our primal identity in Jesus, as it teaches us to live by the spirit and not the flesh. In corporate worship, we learn to live into the primal role that Paul defines for us in the 8th chapter of Romans: that we are all children of God – that the many are truly one.
Compelled by the mystery, we gather for worship. And we come so that we can learn to live not by the limitations of the mind but by the openness of the heart.