April 12, 2015
Rev. Dcn. David Justin Lynch
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Acts 4:32-35 / Psalm 118:2-4;13-15;22-24 / 1 John 5:1-6 / John 20:19-31
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.   

          {Sing, plainsong} “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”  I couldn’t have had a better set of scripture lessons on which to preach for our inaugural Mass today.  So many people have walked away from church, spirituality and religion overall because they don’t feel welcome.  Saint Cecilia Catholic Community is here to change that.  Here, all are welcome.

        {Sing, plainsong} “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” What a wonderful text for Divine Mercy Sunday! Too much of conventional, classic Christianity, catholic or otherwise, has been all about rejection other people, being holier-than-thou, anything but merciful. Christians have a bad name in the public mind because they’re seen as judgmental, rather than accepting.

            Starting a new church is not going to be easy. The demand for church as we know it is diminishing. The latest statistics the latest numbers from Pew Research Center, and other polling organizations for religion in the United States, peg the number of people not affiliated with any church at about twenty percent, and among those under thirty years of age  , it’s even higher, about thirty two percent. Agnosticism, that is people who aren’t sure about God’s existence, and atheism, people who don’t believe in God at all, are also on the rise. Overseas, particularly England, the picture is even less favorable, with over forty-four percent having no religion among the general population, and over two thirds of those under thirty years of age are non-churchgoers.

          {Sing, plainsong} “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” The world today outside the church is filled with more and more people like Thomas. Yet, rather than show mercy, ardent Christians are very tempted to pass judgment on, and reject, those who don’t to church. That’s called “triumphalism.”  It’s not uncommon to hear statements like, “you don’t go to church so you’re going to blazes.” But in today’s Gospel, that’s not how Jesus handled the situation.  Thomas wasn’t sure Jesus had risen. Thomas would only believe it if he could touch the crucifixion wounds of Jesus. The response of Jesus to Thomas, however, was one of love.  “Here are my wounds, see for yourself.” The Gospel doesn’t tell us whether Thomas actually touched those wounds, but it’s certainly possible. What did happen was that Jesus made Himself vulnerable, as we all must do if we are to truly love others. Jesus was merciful to Thomas. He showed Thomas His Divine Mercy.

         Jesus invites us in the Gospel to show the same Divine Mercy on those folks out there who aren’t part of our world at the altar. I can guarantee you, we’re not going to attract them to church if we behave like the stereotypical, judgmental Christians who turn off and turn away so many people from the church.  And even more distressing, is that some Christians, like Pope Francis, talk the talk of mercy, but don’t walk the walk. The fact is, Rome still officially bars divorced and remarried persons from Holy Communion, won’t let its priests marry, and won’t marry same sex partners. Here at Saint Cecilia’s, we’re going to walk the walk of mercy, as well as talk the talk.
        The fact is, the secular world is sometimes doing a better job of being merciful Christians than are Christians. In Denmark, where a very small percentage of people go to church or believe in God, there are four weeks of maternity leave before childbirth, fourteen weeks afterward for mothers, and parents of newborn children are assisted with well-baby nurse-practitioner visits in their homes. Contrast that with the conservative Christian politicians in this country, who pass anti-abortion laws, but slash human services programs. To truly celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday would be an anathema to them.  The lack of mercy in the American Christian community is most poignantly presented in the unholy alliance between conservative Christianity and capitalism. To their way of thinking, if you don’t work to support yourself, or you don’t have money, you should starve.  But as we heard in today’s lesson from Acts, the early Christians were anything but capitalists. They sold what they had and pooled their resources for the greater good of the community. That notion is totally antithetical to the idea of distributing goods and services in free market fashion based on one’s labor or one’s wealth.  What those early Christians thought about first was caring for the human needs of the community rather than personal accumulations of wealth. The dignity of the human person was paramount. But can you imagine the members of a wealthy church, somewhere like Christ Church, Greenwich Connecticut, or Saint James, La Jolla California, selling their homes, financial investments, and other material goods, and then turning over the proceeds to their church community, to be distributed on the basis of need rather than merit? We all know that’s not going to happen. That’s because the agenda of many of the wealthy people in this country is to enrich themselves by rejecting stone after stone so that none ever becomes the chief cornerstone. They do this by paying inadequate wages, opposing universal healthcare, and shredding the social safety net – how antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus can you possibly get? The message of Jesus, a message where the poor will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, where the hungry will be fed and the rich sent empty away, where the mighty will be put down from their seat and the lowly exalted, where the blind see, the lame walk, where the mercy will be shown the merciful, is not the world of the one percent who control the wealth of this country.  If Jesus were alive today preaching the same message he did two thousand years ago, the religious people among those wealth collectors would be the modern Sanhedrin, looking for any way they could to persuade today’s Pontius Pilates in secular government to crucify Him.

         {Sing, plainsong} “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” For Saint Cecilia Catholic Community, Christianity is about acceptance, not rejection. We’re going to be here for all the people who’ve been rejected by other churches. In starting Saint Cecilia’s, I’m reminded of Saint Anna’s Episcopal Church in New Orleans. One of the first things its pastor did to revive a dying church was to contact all the other pastors in the area, and ask them to send him all the people that they don’t like, all the troublemakers, all the misfits. That got him a flourishing congregation that fills the church. For him, the Gospel was not just words. It was an action. He did what Jesus did. Jesus dined with tax collectors, sinners, and even with Judas, the many who betrayed him.  Our job as Christians is to make rejects into cornerstones.  Our policy here at Saint Cecilia’s is, and will always be, that everyone will be welcome here to receive the sacraments, regardless of race, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, or any other immutable or arbitrary category.  In the words of the song from Oliver Twist,

           {Sing| Consider yourself at home
            Consider yourself one of the family.
         Again, {Sing Brubeck} “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” That’s from a jazz oratorio by Dave Brubeck, and the reason I remember it so well and internalized it was because it was sung to me rather than just spoken to me. Music has a way of penetrating the heart that the spoken word does not and cannot. That’s why here at Saint Cecilia’s, our norm will be to sing most of the service. At Saint Cecilia Catholic Community, we’re here to put out a message that penetrates to the heart, that all are welcome. It means belonging to one another in a lifestyle of action, to make the Kingdom of God a reality, here and now, in this world.

            {Sing, Brubeck} “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”  The concept of resurrection is a much broader term than resuscitation of a dead body. It means rising to a new form of life. It means coming into a new existence. 

        Consistent with life in the Risen Christ, Saint Cecilia Catholic Community is going to be a new form of ecclesiastical existence, a new way of life for a church.  It is going to be a musical community where all are welcome, where everyone will be welcome to sing, play their instruments, and compose music for the liturgy, with no auditions, mistakes and all. Sopranos, countertenors, tenors and basses, all are welcome. Keyboarders, trumpeters, guitarists, clarinetists, drummers, all welcome. We will be doing music of all periods and styles, from medieval plainsong to Victorian Protestant hymns to pieces written the same week as they will be heard in church for the first time. We will be a place where creative people will be at home.
       We are going to sing a new song unto the lord, a song to be sung on mountain heights, to exalt this Coachella valley, to make its rough places plain, and to build a highway for our God here in the Desert. In the words of the song by The Carpenters,
Sing, sing a song 

Sing out loud 
Sing out strong 
Sing of good things not bad 
Sing of happy not sad. 
Sing, sing a song 
Make it simple to last 
Your whole life long 
Don’t worry that it’s not 
Good enough for anyone 
Else to hear 
Just sing, sing a song. 

      I invite you to make that your vision of church. AMEN.