July 2, 2017 – Proper 8
Letters Home (from a retired pastor to his family, the Church)
A few years ago a friend of mine had a major expansion added to his home in Southeast Alaska. I imagine life in our little Alaskan towns are no different from any small town when it comes to needing the services of skilled craftsmen. Our communities have an ongoing shortage of tradesmen. As a result those we have are most often multi-skilled. They have their specialty, but have learned to apply those specialties in very wide fields of application. After a great deal of searching and negotiating, my friend hired a shipwright to build the expansion on his home.
Ship and boatwrights share many skills with carpenters. There are a few central differences to their work. For shipwrights there are very few straight lines or square corners. Carpenters build their skills on these. Carpenters construct on firm foundations that are set deeply in the earth. Boatwrights have learned to build on a foundation that rides the wind, waves, vagaries of the seas, and always moves with the ship; these foundations are known as the ship’s keel. A carpenter primarily makes use of nails to join the framing members together. Shipwrights make extensive use of nails, screws, rivets, glue, and sometimes welds. Land-based homes are not intended to move or flex. Boats and ships move all the time and flex with the sea. Because of these special conditions, water craft are knit together as one being, a unity of construction. This may be the root of the sense that they have personality.
All this is to say, my friend’s house is like no other house I have seen. Its joints were glued and screwed; not simply nailed. I am absolutely certain that if the rains of Noah’s days returned to my home town, and the water rose to this home, it would float and be a safe and sound vessel for its family, regardless of what came its way. My friend is also a priest and both of us are struck by the fact that his home is a metaphor for our shared faith.
The church and ships have always been understood to share a great deal with each other. Both are built on firm foundations. In both cases these foundations are not stationary, they are mobile. In the case of a ship, its foundation is its keel. In the life of the people of the church, the foundation is an abiding relationship and commitment to Jesus of Nazareth. A ship’s members are rarely straight and square. The diversity of the members of the body of Christ is as varied as every curve and angle in the most complex of vessels. And like the members of a ship, the members of Christ are joined together by a weld called baptism that joins them to Jesus and each other. The design of this faith community is intended by its Creator to survive all storms, shifts and changes it encounters as it sails through the ages. This does not mean it does not shift and adapt to new environments; it must to endure.
There is a gift for the world in this. We are living in moment of history whose defining characteristic seems to be change. I have come to believe that the “Digital” revolution will prove to be more disruptive to society than the industrial revolution was ever imagined to be. We are witnessing shifts in economics, patterns of employment, education, ideas, and vast dislocations of populations. In addition people are losing faith in the social institutions that once gave our communities shape and security. I have had many conversations with people over the years who were seeking something they could attach themselves to and trust as their lifeline in this sea of constant change.
This is the mission of the community of Jesus. It is easy to see by all who choose to look at us that we have changed. We gather together in various communities which reflect our individual spiritual and stylistic needs. The way we read, understand, and apply Jesus’ message to our lives and the world around us has adapted to the age in which it is lived. But in the midst of all of this our prayer remains that we be united in a unity of spirit (welded to Christ Jesus), and that our lives and communities be sanctuaries to which those in need of shelter are drawn. All of us need a firm foundation to weather this storm of change. As the church, that’s our job.
Proper 8 (The Sunday closest to June 29)
Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 230)