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4.30.2017

Looking Backwards to Build a Future

Sermon for Easter 3A
(and the beginning of St. Mark's celebration of it's 153rd anniversary)


Do you remember when St. Mark’s had a men and boys’ choir and a girls’ schola? Do you remember when we would have a dinner at St. Mark’s and Cunningham Hall would be filled? Do you remember when we had a youth group that performed Godspell in the sanctuary?  Do you remember?  So many times I have heard these words – here at St. Mark’s and, before St. Mark’s, at St. Barnabas by the Bay in southern New Jersey and before St. Barnabas, at Church of the Transfiguration in Palos Park and before Transfiguration at St. Mary’s in Park Ridge. . ..  Do you remember?  It’s a bittersweet question, isn’t it?  It’s one that has us looking back to a time with fondness, remembering all the good things that were present (and, often forgetting the bumps along the way) because really, even in the best of times, there are bumps. We all know that’s true.
And so, we look back.  Nostalgia- a homesickness for a home we can never go back to again, try as we might.  Cleopas and his companion are on such a journey.  They are leaving Jerusalem, heading to Emmaus reminiscing about all the things that have taken place in the weeks just passed – all the works of healing and miracles that Jesus did among them, the meals shared, the stories exchanged – and then the pain – the arrest of Jesus, his being tortured and put to death, their own feelings of guilt for doing all the wrong things, and wondering if doing something different would have changed the outcome.  But through it all, remembering the love and the loss and wishing they could start again.  If Andrew Lloyd Weber, Timothy Miles and Bindon Rice had been alive in the 1st century writing Jesus Christ Superstar, Cleopas and his friend might have been singing, “Could we start again please?”[1] as they walked along.
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to hear The Rev. Canon John Floberg speak at Bexley Seabury’s Spring Convocation. His name may be familiar to you as he is the canon missioner for the Diocese of North Dakota and the leader of the Episcopal Church’s support for water protectors opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline.  After the encampment protest along the Missouri River had ended, Floberg told us of a group setting up a second camp.  He spoke with the organizers and asked them – “are you trying to capture a moment or are you trying to build a future?”  It’s a question, he suggested, we must always ask ourselves because “the persistence of nostalgia” can keep us stuck.[2]   The disciples who had hidden behind locked doors had become stuck.  Cleopas and his companion on their way to Emmaus had become stuck.  And as they share their nostalgic thoughts with this stranger on the way, the stranger – who we, of course, know is Jesus – says to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!” or as Eugene Peterson paraphrases in The Message, Jesus says, “So thick-headed! So slow-hearted! Why can’t you simply believe all that the prophets said?”[3]
But then Jesus does something remarkable.  He goes back even farther into history – not just a few weeks but back to “Moses and all the prophets” and he “interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”[4]  And he does this not to point to some nostaligic time where everything was better but to help them to see the future that lays ahead of them.  The final piece of Jesus’ interpretation of his life through Scripture comes not in a text – because the Gospels had not yet, of course, been written – but in an action, one that is familiar to all of us, as if we too had been there in the first century.  Jesus “when he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.”[5]
Jesus helps Cleopas and his companion look back in order to see the future.  It is a kind of looking back that seeks out the core of who and whose they are and invites them to move into the future with their eyes wide open.  And so they do – they run back to Jerusalem to share what they have experienced only to find that Simon has also had an encounter with the risen Lord.  And together, they were freed from the “persistence of nostalgia” that was keeping them stuck and instead were able to begin building a future on the bedrock of the past. 
At St. Mark’s we too have a history – 153 years of history, in fact.  There are a few among us who can remember what things were like here 50 years ago, some who can look back 30 years and still more who can look back 10.  And there are many among us who are only familiar with the last few years or maybe even a few months.  But what all of us share is our desire to build a future.  And so we must always use caution when we look back to ensure that we are not becoming stuck in nostalgia but instead are using the past to propel us into the future.  What are the values from the past that have served St. Mark’s well?  Are they values that make sense in our current environment?  If the answer is yes, then, by all means, let’s find a way to bring those values into the future we are building – not to bring the same programs, but the same values.  And what are the traditions from the past that have served the Church?  Are they traditions that we would do well to continue in our generation?  If the answer is yes, then, by all means, let’s carry them forward into our future.  And what are some of those values and traditions that are tried and true?
I invite you to turn to the bottom of page 304 in the Book of Common Prayer for a few that have stood the test of time.

Celebrant
Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?
People
I will, with God's help.

Celebrant
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
People
I will, with God's help.

Celebrant
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
People
I will, with God's help.

Celebrant
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
People
I will, with God's help.

Celebrant
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People
I will, with God's help.

God help us to always be a Church that looks backward to move forward.  Help us always to be a church that does not become stuck capturing a moment but instead is propelled ever forward with your help building a future on earth as it is in heaven.


[1] Andrew Lloyd Webber, Timothy Miles, Bindon Rice, “Could We Start Again Please,” Jesus Christ Superstar, Universal-Polygram International Publishing, Inc., 1971.
[2] John Floberg, “After Standing Rock,” Bending Toward Justice: Chicago Convocation 2017, Bexley Seabury, April 26, 2017.
[3] Luke 24:25 (NRSV and The Message).
[4] Luke 24:27.
[5] Luke 24:30-31.

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