In the movie, Field of Dreams, an Iowa corn farmer (Kevin Kostner), hears a voice and interprets it as being directed to build a baseball diamond in his corn field, and just as the voice promised, the famous Chicago White Sox Team of 1919 (coined the Black Sox team, including Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Iowa corn farmer’s father) all came together in a field of dreams.
Ray Kinsilla, the Iowa corn farmer, shocked his family, his neighbors and his community by mowing down a big chunk of his cornfield. Everyone, including his wife tried to discourage him and to talk him out of what they considered was shear madness. Every time he decided that maybe everyone was right and this was an idiots errand, he had a special sign to encourage him that if you build it he will come. He had no idea what this meant.
If you saw the movie, you would agree that this definitely looked like a wild dream that appeared hopeless. But, in the end, the ball park was filled with the famous Chicago Black Sox baseball team, led by none other than Shoeless Joe Jackson. And, spectators came swarming in to see this field of dreams. If you build it they will come.
In our first reading today in Kings we see that Elijah was not afraid of Baal or his prophets. He believed God and His faithfulness, even in the face of adversity. For Elijah the phrase if you build it, he will come, meant an altar, and when he built it God came. Elijah and all the people around saw the coming of the Spirit in power and glory. Later Elijah seems to have lost his fearlessness.
That often happens after great victories and celebrations. We are riding high, and then we fear about the questions that follow. That’s why in the church we are instructed to encourage one another why the day dawn comes, and daylight is again restored to the troubled soul.
Paul lets the Galatians know that He is listening to the voice that is telling him what to do. This is Paul’s if you build it he will come voice from heaven. He was not following a human voice but was empowered and driven by the voice of the Holy Spirit, and his dream was to see a unified inclusive church, a church that accepts all regardless of sexual orientation.
We also see this in the Gospel passage in Luke. Jesus restores a wild possessed man that the community had long ago given up on. Jesus sees the unique person of this man. He sees deeper than just a person tormented by demons. He sees a man in his right mind, a healthy person with dreams and plans to be recast from the village wild man into a missionary commissioned to bring the love of Jesus to his country, a paradox that should give the readers pause. If you build it, they will come.
What is your field of dreams? I have a field of dreams concerning St. Alban’s Episcopal Church. In the past decade almost all churches have seen a decline in church attendance. This includes Protestant, Roman Catholic, Evangelical and Independent Churches. The only churches that have experienced numerical gain have been churches that teach and practice transformational change through an on-going interaction with the Spirit.
Episcopal Churches have been slow to respond to the challenge. It’s not easy to put a finger on why that is. I’m sure there are many reasons, but a few stick out in my mind.
- The Episcopal Church has a proud and glorious history. We value our traditions and ways of doing church. The ancient traditions and methods we cherish, (myself included) can also be the things that hold us back.
- Local churches are not intended to be museums where we show off our wares and trinkets. Neither is our liturgy intended to be nostalgic.
- Faith as the Apostle Paul says in Romans is to be active and lively, not staid and inflexible. The Living Word is intended to be interactive with and within us, as we are joined together by the Spirit that builds the Body of Christ.
My mission based on the voice I hear, if you build it he will come, is to see St. Alban’s participate in this transforming power of the Holy Spirit. I might add that I do not think spirituality and goofiness are synonymous. Goofy belongs in a Mickey Mouse cartoon, not the church.
I do believe that there are tens of thousands of people in the neighborhoods of El Cajon that are hungry and thirsty for a spiritual experience that is meaningful and transformative. The Bible is full of this kind of transformative interaction principles, and we are encouraged by the writers of the New Testament to build ourselves up in the Spirit, to practice our faith in our daily affairs, to live our faith experientially, and not just hang our dogma on a wall or on a website.
I love the Bible. The Bible is a pointer that points us to the Living Word. I am not a literalist. I do not believe the Bible is inerrant, but it does contain everything necessary for salvation. I do value higher criticism and know that we cannot bury our head in the sand and call that faith. Scientific evidence and Biblical scholarship continues to keep our faith informed and updated.
I also believe in the transformative power of the Living Word, the God that scripture points us to. God desires a healthy, respectable, wise and vibrant Episcopal Church in El Cajon, a safe place, an accepting place, a place to find comfort, healing encouragement, and motivation. St. Alban’s is a place to live out our faith experientially, personally and in community, a place to experience the power of the resurrected Christ in our life.
If you build it, they will come….