Good morning, everyone, and Happy Annual Meeting Sunday! It’s amazing to see this packed house, and it’s an honor to speak here today, on my last day as your co-warden.
This is my first time giving a sermon, and if I’ve learned anything here about sermons, it’s that you can’t go wrong using some good metaphors. However, I have zero water-borne experience to draw on, so kayaking metaphors are off the table. I know, I know. So sad.
Instead, I hope you’ll indulge me as I use the Theatre as my frame for today. Some of you may know that a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was an actor in New York. While I never made it to BroadWay, I had amazing, life-altering experiences, and I walked away with a habit of applying that theater perspective to other parts of my life, seeing where those acting experiences had something to teach me.
It doesn’t require a huge leap of imagination to think of what we do here every Sunday as a play. We have fancy costumes, musical accompaniment, singing, lights, and sound – and we have our roles and our lines. The celebrant is the lead, preacher the co-star, supporting roles go to the readers, and the rest of us have been cast as a Greek chorus. To be fair, this is really more of a staged reading each week than a full production, because we get to keep the script right in our hands. We don’t even have to memorize our lines!
And yet, because we say the liturgy each week, we do start to memorize the lines, don’t we? We recite many of the same words every single Sunday. And when it comes to our shared lines, the parts we say as a chorus, lately I’ve been thinking about the Nicene Creed.
Now think about it for a second – how many times do you think you’ve read or sung those words? Dozens? Hundreds? I estimated I’ve said the Creed between 400 and 500 times. That’s a lot of performances, my friends. And just like most theater, it’s completely unpaid!
I have to confess, with all that repetition, there are some Sundays I go through the motions and speak the Creed through muscle memory. I’m in a safe space to say that, right? I mean, we say these same words all. The. Time. Most of us could probably recite them in our sleep. You fall into a rhythm, it takes over, and before you know it we’re looking forward to the resurrection and the life of the world to come. Amen.
And sometimes – not every time, but sometimes – I feel guilty about going on auto-pilot like that. Here I am professing, out loud, in front of God and everyone, that I believe all these things to be true, and lots of times I’m only half conscious of what I’m saying. Or I’m digging peanut butter pretzels out of a backpack to keep a toddler happy. And if I am engaged, the thoughts might go like this: do I really believe every bit of this? Jesus is one being with the Father? What does that even mean? Do I remember from confirmation class what a “catholic and apostalic church” is? [Mouths: “No”] And the big one: resurrection? Is that belief really coming from the heart today?
I’ve had this experience before. One of my acting gigs was a 9-month run of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, meaning I went onstage as Lysander about 200 times. I knew that show backwards and forwards, and by roughly performance #37, things had gone stale. I did my best to feel it, to really believe the anguish each night of the course of true love never running smooth, but to be honest, it was usually pretty forced. Fulfilling an obligation.
It would take a conscious effort to get out of that rut and back into the moment. And I found that the most reliable way to reconnect with the text was quite simple: listen more. Focus on my co-stars, catch how their line readings were a little different that night, and respond to that. This echoed what I’d heard before from choir directors: Don’t just listen to your own singing and whether you’re getting your notes and words right – really listen to your fellow singers. That’s how you can make the tiny adjustments to get your harmonies to tighten and blend, and bring the song alive, singing as one voice.
Lately, I’ve been playing around with this during the Creed, speaking it and at the same time listening to everyone around me. How we blend. How the tones vary. When we are in sync or not. Even how this space physically reacts to our collective reading. There are amazing acoustics here, and when there are enough voices together, the walls and the pews literally vibrate.
Speaking while listening has also reminded me of something else important: it’s not all about me. If I’m not feeling it that day – someone else here is. If I’m having my doubts, it’s okay – someone else is believing deeply, fully. We truly are a chorus. These lines were meant to be spoken in a collective voice that we are raising together to God.
This is the crucial moment for us to both reconnect with what we individually believe while at the same time hearing, feeling our collective voice. It’s been more than 10 months since Bonnie announced she was a candidate for Bishop of Michigan. 10 months… We’ve all been through, or more likely are still going through, our personal stages of grief. I bet it’ll hit me again today, in our first Annual Meeting in 27 years without her. There’s not going to be a rousing, passionate Rector Address today. No standing ovation for Bonnie. That’s hard to swallow, and it’s scary.
But y’all… it’s also exciting. It’s thrilling. We have this rare moment to step back and imagine and dream and hope about our future together. We don’t know what that’s going to look and feel like. We haven’t written those lines yet. But we do know it’s going to be a group effort, each one of us contributing our part, as various members of the cast and crew.
So now… how do we write this script? And as we do, how will we deliver the lines that we’re about to create? If you’ll indulge me in just one more theater metaphor, I would encourage us to perform in the months to come following the stage directions that I believe we can find in the service booklet. I think it’s right there before the Lord’s Prayer. “And now as our Savior Christ has taught us, we are BOLD to say.”
We need a lot of bold speaking and praying in the months to come. To be fair, some times are easier than others to be bold, when we know our cues and when to jump in. The lead-in to the Lord’s Prayer helps us confidently hit that “Our Father” altogether. But what about the post-Communion prayer…. The hymn ends, we stand and the Celebrant says “let us pray.” And there’s that pause… you know what I’m talking about? There’s no set rhythm. We don’t whose cue it is, or how long to wait. And in the past: we’d wait for Bonnie. We’d follow her lead. She’d be about the only one to get a full “Eternal God” in, while the rest of us sprinkle in with “… God.”
Today, we follow Andrew. Andrew, you have a lovely voice. You have stepped up big time and led us boldly and been such a blessing to this church. I honestly don’t know where we’d be without you. And yet… I still expect to hear Bonnie’s voice and to follow her lead. But she’s in Michigan now. And we are here. Waiting to find our own rhythm. Our own cadence. Waiting to see who’s going to be bold enough to speak first.
Dear friends, let us speak boldly together. This is one way we can fulfill Bonnie’s parting call to us: speaking boldly is one way for us to risk, and risk, and risk again. Let us trust that God and Christ and the Spirit are with us when we speak, and when we listen. Let us trust that our voices will blend into a new, beautiful harmony. And let us take the time to step outside ourselves and feel the strength that we have when we profess what we believe together. On any given day you may be moved or uninspired, tired or excited, faithful or questioning. By speaking boldly together, we will be demonstrating how much we support, encourage, and love one another in this place, no matter what’s to come.
There is something beautiful that we have built here together. While I don’t always know how deeply I’m believing that Creed, I believe in us. In this place. In what God has moved us to do and become. Because we are an artfully cast Chorus. We are vibrant, vulnerable, real. And I know we will continue to be inspired and transformed by the amazing, mysterious power of the Spirit when we come together and collectively, graciously, boldly say: “We believe.” Amen.