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Practice Makes Beautiful

Let us pray: 

    “Make your service of love a beautiful thing
    Want nothing else and be not afraid! 
    Make your service of love a beautiful thing, 1  Amen

Something I say to my daughter, Isabella is anything worth doing requires practice.  And practice does NOT make perfect—practice makes beautiful.   

This is at the very core of why church matters beloved because we all need to practice. And what are we practicing?   We are practicing love and integrity.  We are practicing growing into the full stature of Christ.   

This is the gym of our souls where we practice eternal holy habits.   That’s our work.  That is what is lasting.    That’s at the heart of the good news today beloved—integrity in our testimony—our words will gain our souls. 

Jesus is inviting us to hold fast to what truly matters—the beauty of our space where we dwell is secondary to the beauty of our souls and practice of being Christ followers.   There is a price to following Christ.  Presiding Bishop Michael Curry says it best when he says, “The truth will set you free but it will also set you up.” The price of our faith is integrity and being holding fast to the reality of speaking the truth in love, of being accountable for our actions and our words.  


Benedict of Nursia in his powerful Rule of Life invites us to practice custody of the tongue.  Our words matter deeply.   

And as theologian and priest Samuel Wells writes, “"disciples are called to belong to an accountable community that stays close to Jesus.” 

Every year as we come to this portion of our trip around the sun I marvel and prepare my heart to be astounded by the beauty of the Word made flesh. Words matter because we live in the reality and practice of being part of the word made flesh.  The Holy Spirit gives us the right words to say.  Our words integrity and character have a permanence to them that lasts longer than our buildings.   We create our legacy by how we choose to speak and be in the world.   Our words matter for once they are out there, we cannot take them back.  We can build each other up or we can tear each other down.  

Our culture loves to sling mud at our neighbors.  Our culture invites us into ugly practices rather than beauty.   Our culture invites us to call other people names—crazy, stupid… you get the idea.  Our culture loves blame and shuns accountability.   We live this daily.     But that is not what we practice.   

Our practice is about beauty not about blame.  If you have any doubt of that, I invite you to reread Isaiah’s stunning vision again of the world that God envisions: a new world where foes such as wolf and lamb eat together.   A world where we humans choose to build each other up instead of tear each other down.  That is the vision, that is the stunning beauty of God, that is the practice that leads us to the full stature of Christ.  

So how do we practice making our service of love beautiful?  How do we gain our souls?   How does the Holy Spirit invite us to testify-- to use our words? 

I love the poet Rumi—who wrote, “Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates: 

        Is it true? 
        Is it kind? 
        Is it necessary? 

I yearn to read mark learn and inwardly digest this practice from our Muslim cousins! 

This beautiful Christ practice of ours is onerous because the impermanent nature of all things in our world gives us fear.   We see it everywhere: our news fans the flames of anxiety, things we love—institutions and empires crumble change or die.   We want to lash out with fear and pass the hot potato of blame.  Blame is so much easier than accountability.   Blame is like a drug—it’s a quick fix but it only diminishes our capacity for relationship and accountability. 

  The challenging reality beloved of being the body of Christ together is bigger than any building, institution, or empire.  We put our whole trust in Christ who is vulnerable and goes to the cross.   

Episcopalian and Author Brene Brown wrote this her practice of going to church: 
“I went to church thinking it would be like an epidural that it would take the pain away… but church isn’t like an epidural; it’s like a midwife… I thought faith would say, I’ll take away the pain and discomfort.  But what it ended up saying was, ‘I’ll sit with you in it.”      

That’s the cost of faith—we sit in the pain of all that passes away in our temporal world while we cling to the eternal— vulnerable love.   

We practice love by holding our words and actions carefully because they create our legacy.   We practice being fully human at Ascension and the practice of tending relationships and words carefully.    We take care not to sling mud at each other or call one another names because name-calling diminishes our baptismal covenant that calls us to respect the dignity of every human being.  

These past few weeks beloved, I introduced the Vestry and staff to a series of practices that I call, the ten best practices for church communities to follow.  I’ve used these practices in every church that I have served.  They were the model we used in the Diocese of Olympia and our leadership will be modeling these practices for us as well.   I have placed copies of these practices as an insert into your bulletin today.    I invite you to take them into your beautiful practice too so that as a community we can be a place of safety, accountability, and  place of beautiful practice.  

Beloved, anything worth doing requires practice and practice makes beautiful.  



*Here are the best practices that I named in the sermon: 

10 Best Practices for keeping a Christ-following community 

1.     If you have a problem with me, come to me (privately).

2.     If I have a problem with you, I will come to you (privately).

3.     If someone has a problem with me and comes to you, send them to me.  (I’ll do the same for you)

4.     If someone consistently will not come to me, say, “Let’s go to George together.  I am sure she will see us about this.”  (I will do the same for you.)

5.     Be careful how you interpret me—I’d rather do that.  On matters that are unclear, do not feel pressured to interpret my feelings or thoughts.  It is easy to misinterpret intentions.  

6.     I will be careful how I interpret you.

7.     If it’s confidential, don’t tell.  If you or anyone comes to me in confidence, I won’t tell unless a) the person is going to harm himself/herself, b) the person is going to physically harm someone else, c) a child has been physically or sexually abused.  I expect the same from you.

8.     I do not read unsigned letters or notes.

9.     I do not manipulate; I will not be manipulated; do not let others manipulate you.  Do not let others manipulate me through you.  I will not preach “at you.”  I will leave conviction to the Holy Spirit (she does it better anyway!)

10.     When in doubt, just say it.  The only dumb questions are those that don’t get asked.  Our relationships with one another, at the end of the day, are the most important things so if you have a concern, pray, and then (if led) speak up.  If I can answer it without misrepresenting something, someone, or breaking a confidence, I will.