From the Rector

Eric Long colorBy the Rev. Eric Long

“Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi” ~ “Praying Shapes Believing”

Humans worship.  It’s as simple as that.
You and I are creatures who instinctively offer our devotion to some thing, or one, above and beyond ourselves.  We inevitably fill our need to be filled in some way.  Everyone worships something, even though it is often called by many alternative names: ideology, politics, almost any “ism” of which one could think, religion, even football at this time of year.  The need for transcendence is as basic to us as the need for love, because love is what worship ultimately is: the act of loving beyond yourself, and in turn, finding yourself loved beyond your own smallness.

Our friends at Second Presbyterian might here point us in the direction of the Westminster Shorter Catechism when it famously asks, “What is the chief end of man (and woman!)?”  The answer: “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.”  Now this seems a rather large claim to make — that nothing is as important in all of life as the worship we give to God.  But the Church makes this claim vigorously, knowing definition and meaning in life can be found no place quite so perfectly as in worship.  Which makes sense, because, after all, the God who formed you in his image might just have something of importance to say about the shape and structure of your life.

In worship we locate our truest selves because we are there located by the God who crafted us for relationship with him – and others through him.  For instance, I find I am endlessly being emerged into my most fundamental identity in baptism.  Those worshipful waters are forever insisting that I am named by and sealed as Christ’s own forever.  My identity, therefore, is not up for grabs. Nor is my life’s purpose and vocation: I am called to “seek and serve Christ in all persons,” and “respect the dignity of every human being.”  In worship, I engage in the most wonderfully counter-cultural activities imaginable, like getting on my knees in order to confess the hard realities about myself which I spend most of life trying to mask.  Yet by carving out this space in life, I find the courage to own up to the truth and get over myself enough to turn to Jesus for help and salvation.

None of this comes naturally.  It is not how any of us act without ritual practice.  It’s not just going to happen, in other words. Each bit of it must be learned and lived into through God’s grace.  On my own, I wish to serve myself and am as apt to give into evil as resist it.  When working out of my own resources, when I fall into sin, I am liable to stay put and wallow around in it for a while.  It is only in offering myself to the Maker and Creator of all life that I learn who and whose I am, on whom and what I am to rely, and where life’s meaning is ultimately found.  It is solely in adoration of the One beyond me that I best elbow my ego aside, embrace the other, and subsume my own little story into the expansive narrative that is the Kingdom of God.

Your mother always told you, “You are what you eat.”  But I tell you, “You are what you worship.”  You will become that to which you give your devotion and praise.  For this reason, Anglicans have always maintained the rule: “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi,” which simply means, “Praying Shapes Believing.”  You will become in belief what you give your prayerful heart to in worship.
Of course, there are many would-be deities out there wishing to gain your worship and thus bend the definition of your life.  They would gladly insist that you are nothing but a consumer, or a libido, or a part of a voting bloc, or a paycheck, or a dress size, or a party member, or any number of countless other lesser identities unworthy to own one as precious as you.  But God in Jesus rescues you from those lesser gods in your worship of him, and establishes you as rightly loved, embraced, called and sent forth.  You become what God in Jesus says you are: a light to the nations, salt for the earth.

So come this week and find yourself in worship.  Realize in praise, adoration and prayer that you are redeemed, sealed, gifted, called and, above all, living a life of infinite possibility and eternal purpose.
You know how I know?  Worship.

The rule of prayer determines the rule of belief.
You are what you worship.

See you Sunday,

Eric Long,
Rector

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From the Rector

Eric Long color

By the Rev. Eric Long

“It’s an age old question: the mountains or the beach?”

These were the very first words I ever spoke in a sermon at St. John’s.  Which probably perplexes those who heard me preach for the first time as your Rector on Sunday, August 24th, as undoubtedly you remember me saying no such thing.  Yet it is true.  Moments after my maiden walk into that (then) unfamiliar pulpit, I posed the question above to a mostly empty church, save the twelve faithful representatives of St. John’s who formed your Rector Discernment Committee.

As that committee’s name insists, the twenty-four hours we spent together were a whirlwind of discernment.  We had made great efforts beforehand to know one another through essays and resumes, parish and priest profiles, Skype and emails.  Yet it was finally time to meet and see if what looked good from far away could endure proximity.  The question on their minds was whether the Long family’s future was to stay put on the beaches of Florida or move to the mountains and walk into God’s future here with you.  For my part, I entered that pulpit wondering precisely the same thing.

Despite what you might assume was behind that introductory question, my juxtaposition of the mountains with the beach had nothing to do with personal preferences.  This was not about whether the members of that committee, or I, enjoyed one over the other.  In fact, I admitted that regarding that, we might just disagree – at least for the time being.  Instead, I noted that it generally seems to be a competition between these two locations for the place where people claim to hear God speak most clearly.

Of course, people in Iowa might take exception and note that flat, plain terrain does not deter a loquacious God.  “God speaks in all places, even the unadorned ones,” they would well remind.  Yet, it seems undeniable that somehow it simply seems easier for us to pay attention when the created order forcefully pushes awe to its rightful place in our consciousness.  Thus, the mountains and the beach overwhelmingly win out over strip malls and parking lots, as present as God surely is even there.

The calendar has turned a good bit since I first spoke those words and obviously the mountains won the match.  Yet as I look back, it is striking how little any of the discernment that brought us together, from either the St. John’s or Long family’s end, had to do with personal preferences.  The Discernment Committee, like your Vestry, couldn’t have cared less whether I was from Pensacola or Juno.  They singularly wanted God’s choice for their beloved church, no matter which corner of the world offered him or her up.  Likewise, as thrilled as I am that God called me to another breathtakingly beautiful place, it was solely the beauty of the people representing you, and the Spirit-enlivened community to which they introduced Shelley and me, that opened our ears to a call we neither sought nor expected.

God, of course, speaks everywhere, at all times and in all places. God does not get laryngitis once he hits the prairie.  Yet the fact that we most easily hear God’s voice in certain places and times says much about us.  Months spent doing the hard work of purposeful listening have undoubtedly taught your Vestry leaders and Discernment Committee members, as they indeed schooled me, how deafening the normal hubbub of life can be if intentionality is not added to the mix.  It is disquieting (excuse the pun) to note how difficult it is to hear the God who clearly has something to say, if we neglect to create space in life to do so.  Only willful, premeditated, active listening will provide the space necessary for the Author of Life to speak into yours.

No doubt, we are busy.  We are tempted to think life is just one thing after another with little new to be heard or said.  It is easy to believe the only voices we have time for are the most boisterous or pressing in this cacophonous world.  Yet when we take even a moment to be still, quiet, observant and present, we will distinguish another voice; indeed the only one that matters ultimately.

I would not trade a second of the time I spent actively listening these last months when my residence was still at the beach.  I look forward to hearing God anew in the mountains, calling us forward to the many tomorrows we will share together. Yet, if mindful, we can discover God’s voice is not confined to only majestic vistas, but is instead present everywhere, in all moments, forever, no matter what. If we but have ears to hear.

God has much to say.  God continues to speak.

Even in Iowa.

Listening with you,

Eric Long
Rector