As we move into 2010 and focus on Abundance as a theme for our parish this year, it’s good to begin with our wayshower, Jesus, the one who models how we are to be faithful in our worship. To begin with, we need to define our terms: What is worship? Why is it important? How do we become faithful?
For musicians like myself, I tend to equate singing and music with worship, but it is also true that worship can happen without those things. Neither is worship limited to what we do as a community at Mass every Sunday. Real worship can be defined in a simple sentence: it is responding to all that God is, with all that we are. If we look at it in this way, we see that worship has to be more than a feeling: it has to be a way of living, a way of continuously responding to God in every aspect of our life.
If we look up the word, “faithful”, in the dictionary, there are two definitions. There is an idea of being “faithful” in a religious sense, but there is also the non-religious sense, where the word “faithful” refers to loyalty, consistency, moving forward in a committed way. Statements like, “She is a faithful wife” or “the painting is faithful to the unique talents of the painter” are some examples. Both of these definitions fit as descriptors of Jesus when we say he was faithful in his worship. In today’s Gospel, there are four little words that really struck me when I read them. Jesus is described as attending synagogue on the Sabbath, as was his custom. “…as was his custom.” That was the nature of his commitment to his heritage as a Jew and also his commitment to the community of believers with whom he prayed for much of his life.
There are a couple of insights I want to share with you in this pericope. First, as the Messiah who is becoming more and more aware of his mission for his God, Jesus still chooses to worship the Father in a public way. You will recall that his was a unique relationship with God, one that was so complete and full, we could say, “Well, it’s not like Jesus needs to go to synagogue at all!” Yet he continues to attend.
Jesus attended public worship regularly, apparently every Sabbath, exactly as Paul would do later on. In the early Church, Eucharist was brought home by family members to those too ill to attend Mass, as a way of reminding them that they were still part of the community, even if they couldn’t be there in person. One of the reasons we have summer study sessions, retreat days and book studies here at Holy Redeemer, is to foster community, to remind ourselves that we aren’t doomed to find our own way through life. We have a group of caring people who are on the same journey we are on, who wrestle with the same questions, who have the same doubts and fears, but who nonetheless experience the same moments of grace and clarity that we do. And we need others to challenge us when we get complacent or tired; that is true for parishioners and for pastors.
Jesus wanted to worship with his family and neighbors, both of whom constituted a tightly knit community there in Nazareth. His commitment to them is real, even though the time will come when they reject him and his ministry. There would have been young and old there at synagogue together, worshiping as one family before God. This is identical to what we have here at HR: young and older, married and single, gay and straight. We are family and we find no reason to exclude anyone from our circle because we know that that is what Jesus wants us to do.
Jesus was also faithful in his private worship times, responding to all that God is with all that he was. We need the same discipline in our lives to discover, like he did, who we really are. As he stands up to read, someone opens the scroll for him to read from the prophet Isaiah, and Jesus chooses to locate a verse that applies directly to himself. He had just been baptized a short time beforehand by John the Baptist, and by now he is aware of his mission, of who he is called to be. But he would not have been able to hear God’s plan for him had he not spent years studying the Scriptures, listening in silent worship, paying attention to the activity of God in the everyday occurrences of his life. We, too, find the answers we seek when we discipline ourselves to spend time with our God.
“Today this text has been fulfilled” he says to the congregation, and he thereby asserts his vocation to his family and neighbors. He applied the ancient text to his own present circumstance, in much the same way that you and I need to take our Catholic tradition and reinterpret it for our lives in the here and now. It’s not about taking everything uncritically from the past and just accepting it. It’s about sifting it through the sieve of our experience, testing, praying, weighing, considering, and then keeping what is of value and releasing the rest.
One final observation on the reading: Jesus was faithful in helping others to worship. Jesus stood up and read, allowing others to hear the Word of God proclaimed to them. At that time there were actually seven readers on Sabbath, the first a priest, the second a Levite, and the other five members of that synagogue. The Gospels record several stories of Jesus speaking at other synagogues, but it is only here, in Nazareth, where he actually reads. It is here, in Nazareth, where he has been a faithful member for many years, that Jesus reads one of the lessons from the prophets. Each of us can assist others in their worship, too. We can sign up to read the readings on Sunday, we can help prepare food or refreshments for after Mass, we can help make newcomers feel welcome by extending our smiles and friendship to them.
You might say to yourself, “Well, I am only one person, what can I do?” or “This is such a small parish, what can we do?” There is a lot we can do, and our impact is already being felt in the lives of the clients of the ATF who have come to depend on our donations of food to the emergency pantry. It’s our faithfulness in donating that is changing individual lives every month. Without that faithfulness, our witness would be weak, our convictions only half-believed. Yes, we are a small parish, but we have big hearts. Each of our donations of time and resources is apparently small, much like the weight of a single snowflake. Yet, when we are mindful of our abundance and really commit to something, we add our gifts to those of others. A single snowflake seems insignificant, but accumulated snow that can bring down large trees or completely transform the landscape.
Faithfulness, then, is our regular consistency, our long term commitment to God through this parish that will make our walk with God more authentic. It will carve out a future path for HR. When we are mindful of the abundance with which God surrounds us at every moment, what else can we do but humbly respond to all that God is with all that we are?