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Posted on Feb 25, 2018

Faithful Responses—sermon for 25 February 2018

Faithful Responses

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Photo Credit: fdecomite Flickr via Compfight cc

February 25, Second Sunday in Lent:

Psalm 22:22-30;
Genesis 17:1-7,15-16Romans 4:13-25Mark 8:31-38

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

 

A story is told that in the mid 1960s—during the years of dramatic escalation of the Vietnam war—that almost every night, in front of the White House, often alone, holding a candle, rain or shine, stood an elderly man named A. J. Muste. Muste was a Dutch Reformed minister who had been an activist for years—he was instrumental in organizing workers during the Lawrence textile strikes in 1919, and for decades had embraced pacifism and non-violent resistance. In his eighties, he took up this candle-light vigil in front of the White House. A reporter is supposed to have asked him once, “Do you really think you’re going to change the policies of this country by standing out here holding a candle?” To which Muste is said to have replied, “Oh I don’t do this to change the country. I do this so the country won’t change me.” Link

How do we respond faithfully to the Gospel?

How do we respond faithfully to all that goes on in the world?

We have two examples of very different responses today—Abraham and Peter.

Abraham is 99 years old, and God says, “walk before me, and be blameless and I will make you exceedingly numerous,” and Abraham does what? The text says he, “falls on his face.” Well, that’s one response. We presume that he does this because he’s in awe, or in worshipful adoration…and not because he tripped or had a stroke. This profoundly worshipful response is the one that we expect from Abraham…He’s the one who is generally silent, faithful, and goes along. But it’s not the only way that he responds to God.

In the verses that are not in our reading…he falls on his face again. This time, it’s because God explains that God will bless his wife Sarah, “and will give you a son by her…so that she shall give rise to nations; rulers of peoples shall issue from her.” And Abraham, the text says, “threw himself on his face and laughed.” So that’s another response. And just a couple of chapters earlier, when God makes a similar promise, Abraham’s response is a question, “How will I know?” A range of faithful responses.

Peter has a whole range of responses as well. Today’s is just one. Jesus begins teaching about what he has to do…what he has to give up…how he has to empty himself for the sake of reconciling all of creation with God, and Peter can’t get his head around it…it’s too far outside of what he expects the Messiah to be like and to do. His response is to take him aside and rebuke him, which leads to Jesus rebuking Peter as well. Is what Peter does a faithful response?

Before you answer that, consider the whole range of Peter’s responses to Jesus: He drops everything and follows Jesus, he jumps out of the boat tries to walk on water, he wants to build structures of Moses and Elijah, in one story he cuts off someone’s ear as they try to arrest Jesus, he also denies knowing him, runs away, sneaks a peek inside the tomb, but then locks himself in the upper room, gives up and decides to go back to fishing…and still with all that he is also given power to heal, to preach, to be a leader in the early Jesus movement. Peter also falls on his face…but it’s usually not because he’s throwing himself down in awed wonder at God, more often it’s because he trips and falls on his face. Are those all faithful responses? I think they are.

Both Abraham and Peter are faithful responders to the Gospel message…to the Good News that God is absolutely committed to being in relationship with us no matter how many times we fall on our faces or why. And what makes them faithful responders, is this—that no matter what the initial response is, they continue to be in relationship with God. They continue to seek after, and long to be changed by, God. If, after he had been rebuked Peter thought, “that’s it! I’m done.” And had walked off and we never heard from him again…that wouldn’t be faithful…If Abraham had laughed and turned around and spent the rest of his life ignoring God…dismissed it all as a complete fantasy? Not faithful. But because they both continue to be open…open to being surprised by God…open to being changed by God…open to the kind of transformation that only God can bring about…that makes all of their responses faithful.

In his letter to the Romans, a bit further on from the part we heard today, Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds—it’s one of my favorite verses—It might have been one of A.J. Muste’s favorites as well—“I’m not doing this to change the country. I’m doing this so the country doesn’t change me.” What are you doing? Or what do you need to do (or maybe not do) so that the country doesn’t change you? What are you doing (or not doing) so that God can be the one in charge of your transformation?

I look out at the world and I know there are so many absolutely vital, and important and pressing issues that we face—gun violence, systemic racism, and systemic sexism, addiction, immigration, consumerism, climate change…it goes on and on and on. And each and every one of them cries out for faithful responses. Each and everyone of them needs faithful people to show up and be part of effecting change…be part of making a difference for the good in all our lives.

I also know there are many, many different ways of responding faithfully to all of those issues. And just because someone doesn’t respond the way you would, (or the way you think they should) doesn’t mean it’s not faithful…What makes it faithful the continually turning back to God. Continuing to be in relationship with God. Continuing openness to being taught, and instructed, and changed by God into the people God needs us to be in this time and place.

If we can do that, then we will be better equipped, and better able to discuss and challenge, and resist, and pray, and march, and hold candles, and fall on our faces…As long as we continue to be in relationship with God, and one another. As long as we continue to be open to change, open to being corrected by one another, and transformed by God, then our responses will be faithful.

Maybe you don’t need to hold a candle in front of the White House…maybe you do…but this Lent, I encourage you to learn from Abraham and Peter, and take to heart, Paul’s admonition:

“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2).

May we all have the courage, and the strength, and the faith to do that.

Amen.

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Posted on Feb 18, 2018

Subtraction—sermon for 18 February 2018—Lent 1

Subtraction

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Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds Flickr via Compfight cc

February 18, First Sunday in Lent:

Psalm 25:1-9;
Genesis 9:8-171 Peter 3:18-22Mark 1:9-15

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

We’re still hearing voices.

That same voice that we heard on the first Sunday of Epiphany, the voice we heard last week…it echoes again today.

Noah hears it. Jesus hears it…(maybe we do too).

We’ll hear it once more at the end of Lent…Just as we’re about to enter Jerusalem in triumph. Just as it looks like everything is going to be great! Just before all our hopes get crushed, and we are left with nothing but that empty, black pit—the reality of our denial…our betrayal.

Jesus hears that voice and is immediately driven into the wilderness. From this wilderness he begins a journey—a journey he keeps beaconing us to accompany him on—and we do…a ways…but it’s hard…and we fall, and fail…Because the journey moves from this voice declaring “You are my Child, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased,”—it moves from being bathed in this glorious proclamation, to a voice in agony, crying from the cross, “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me!”

The journey moves from hearing God’s voice, and knowing God’s presence, to knowing only God’s silence…sensing only God’s absence. Of course, there’s more to the story than that…but confronting that absence is a crucial part…

Meister Eckhart, the 13th century German mystic, said: “God is not found in the soul by adding anything, but by a process of subtraction.” [Source]

God is not found by adding anything, but by subtracting.

That’s what this journey is…it’s a process of subtracting…of letting go…of clearing out what is not needed…and discovering, and holding onto the only thing that is needed.

We have to remember that this is also the journey God takes with us…this is God’s own journey. We heard the story today of how God established a covenant with Noah, and every living creature—(I think that’s really interesting—that early covenant is not just with us, but with every living thing). God establishes a covenant yet remains aloof…somewhat apart from all us creatures. God’s got that reminder in the sky (I think that’s really interesting too…apparently God needs reminders). But you know the rest of the story…and you know that remaining aloof doesn’t work out so well. So God, in Jesus, does something radical. God subtracts. God gives up…God empties…Describing this in a letter to the church at Philippi, Paul says “Though he was in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited but emptied himself,…taking human form…humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8).

Jesus emptied himself…God empties God’s self…even to the point of death…even to the point of non-existence…for us…for the sake of all of us creatures…because it’s out of that black pit of nothingness that Easter, and ultimate reconciliation, is birthed.

The spiritual journey is more about subtraction than addition.

There’s a pretty well known Zen story, about a student who goes to seek out a master.

The master invites the student in and offers tea. As the student talks about how excited they are about working with the master…and how influential the master has already been the students life…the master gets the tea pot and two cups…and the student goes on about all their studies, and accomplishments, and struggles…and the master begins pouring the tea…as the student talks the master fills the cup to the brim, and then keeps pouring, and the tea begins to overflow and pours down the sides of the cup and over the table and onto the floor…and the student—still talking—finally realizes what is happening and thinking the master may have lost it says, “Stop. What are you doing? You’re spilling it everywhere.” The master stops. Looks at the tea cup, and then at the student and says…”You are just like this tea cup…you’re already so full of all your own ideas…I can’t teach you anything until you empty your cup.”

The spiritual life is more about subtraction than addition…What do you need to do to empty your cup? What do you need to let go of? What do you need to clear out of your life?

In Lent, as in our whole spiritual life, we begin with that reminder that we and everyone (everything) else is a beloved child of God, and along the journey we shed or lose or deny or betray that belovedness…until we are aware only of God’s absence. God walks this path with us…picking us up when we fall, healing us, teaching us…and emptying God’s self out…for us…relinquishing all the power that God has until all that is left…all that remains…is love.

Amen.

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Posted on Feb 16, 2018

The Transfigured Life- sermon for February 11, 2018, Transfiguration Sunday

 

2 Kings 2:1-12

Psalm 50:1-6

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

Mark 9:2-9

 

 

Image from Visoki Decani Monestary, Serbia

 

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

Kathleen O’Donoghue, Family Minister

I have really appreciated Richard’s recent sermon series on belonging and the beloved community. He has been exploring how the very early church was formed, and how Paul communicated with these churches in the letters he wrote. We as 21st Century followers of Jesus read these epistles and often, at least I do, think “Why was this so hard for them to understand?”

Jesus walked with them as taught them. He explained over and over what was to happen to him and what they would need to do. They witnessed his miracles: the healings, the feedings, his words of grace and love to the sinners and to the broken.

It sounds pretty straight forward, right? I think we imagine we would be smarter or pay better attention or just listen more carefully than the disciples if Jesus were speaking with us.

Wouldn’t we understand his mysterious words about the kingdom of God and mustard seeds and lost sons, lost coins and lost sheep? A lot of things seemed to be lost in Jesus’ stories, now that I think of it.

If we were those disciples, we’d surely understand about him asking us to leave our families and our lives to follow him…that doesn’t seem too hard to understand.

So, let’s make believe, just for a moment or two, that we are one of those disciples in today’s gospel story. I’d like you to try, if you can, to actually picture yourself with Jesus that day. Walking up the side of the high mountain, listening to him as you always did. Picture this in your mind. Close your eyes if you need to. You and Jesus, walking up the mountain, listening to him talk about God’s Kingdom and how you will be part of it.

How do you feel? Are you confident? Excited? Are you scared? Are you thinking of going back down the hill? You are busy talking, listening, tired from the climb and then in Mark’s words, “he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.”

Uh…

How would you have experienced this? We can read the words that explain Jesus’ change in appearance but how in the world would you, if you were standing there, understand this? Jesus’ clothing shining dazzling white and Elijah and Moses there with him?

I’ve had more empathy for Peter recently. After trying to place myself directly into this gospel story, I totally understand why he was trying to DO SOMETHING. If you don’t understand something, just start being functional, right? He says awkwardly to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Mark adds, “He did not know what to say, for they were terrified”.

This, I imagine, was the reality of being a follower of Jesus. Moments of amazement and joy at the miracles and thoughts of a new kingdom where the last would the first, the meek would inherit the earth and those who were persecuted for the sake of righteousness would claim the kingdom of God; followed closely by intense times of confusion, jealously and terror of the unknown. Peter has experienced these two feelings at the same time before and here he is again. Wanting to be helpful, trying to care for the temporal needs of Jesus and much to his amazement Elijah and Moses but knowing somehow that something has changed. Something is different, something important has just happened here and although he doesn’t seem to recognize it, something has also begun to happen to Peter.

There is just no way one could, no way you could, no way I could, be the same after experiencing this.

Transfiguration is classically defined as:

a : a change in form or appearance : METAMORPHOSIS

b : an exalting, glorifying, or spiritual change

What I have wondered, what I have pondered and what I have imagined is: Who was actually changed in this experience? Was Jesus different after this encounter with the Holy? Mark says. ”Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

It appears that after this announcement, after Elijah and Moses left the scene, it is simply Jesus with them again. Did Jesus change or was he always God’s son, God’s beloved?

I would like to suggest that is was in fact the disciples with him that day that began to be transfigured or began their metamorphosis that day.

The time for being confused and terrified had to soon come to an end. As those who would have to carry on the ministry of Jesus to bring this new Kingdom of God to fruition as the Church, it was time to know to whom they were committing their lives, to whom they ALL belonged and that they now were also the beloved children of God.

There is just no way one could, no way you could, no way I could, be the same after experiencing this.

Transfiguration Sunday is right before Ash Wednesday and the church’s season of Lent because it marks a final turning point in this metamorphosis of the disciples. In the next weeks they will walk with Jesus on his journey toward Jerusalem and the cross. They will understand the peril they will face, that their own ends will not be any better than Jesus’. They will share in his passion, struggle to understand why they agreed to follow him in the first place, deny knowing him, and then try to be able to comprehend his resurrection and their part in this Good News that would be shared to the four ends of the earth.

Transfiguration

a : a change in form or appearance : METAMORPHOSIS

b : an exalting, glorifying, or spiritual change

It was them who were transfigured that day. A metamorphosis, a spiritual change. There was no going back, no being the same after experiencing this.

I wonder though, getting back to us, to you and to me and to that question I ask you a while ago now, if you were with Jesus that day, saw him with his clothes shining brighter than anyone could bleach them, standing with Elijah and Moses. What would you have done?

In what way would you begin to be transfigured, to begin a metamorphosis, to start to be spiritually changed? In what way have you already traveled with Jesus and changed so much that there is no turning back, no being the same after experiencing this?

Do you have an idea of how you might travel with Jesus during this season of Lent and to share in his Passion, to understand the highs and the lows of being a follower of Jesus today? Each of our lives is different. Not all are called to serve God in the same way but all who have seen the bright light of the North Star or the shining garments of God’s beloved are in fact called to follow that light and in fact to BECOME that light for others. I’d like to leave you with that thought today. Over these next weeks of Lent moving toward Holy Week and Easter, how will you personally reflect this Epiphany light in your world?

Start today, start where you can and remember… there will be no turning back, no being the same after experiencing this.

Amen.

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Posted on Feb 4, 2018

Seek. Tell. Celebrate. — sermon for 4 February 2018

Seek. Tell. Celebrate.

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Photo Credit: Looking Glass Flickr via Compfight cc

February 4, Fifth Sunday after Epiphany:

Psalm 147:1-12,21c;
Isaiah 40:21-311 Corinthians 9:16-23Mark 1:29-39

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

The season of Epiphany is winding down. A few weeks ago we were at the river, watching as Jesus is baptized and next week we’ll be on top of the mountain watching his transfiguration. And then we’ll be back in the wilderness of Lent…

And I’ve been reflecting on community and belonging. And baptism is a foundational part of that. It’s traditionally the beginning of our Christian journey. It’s at the font where we make the vows “to continue in the apostles teachings, in the fellowship, and in the prayers…” that’s a vow to be in community, to remain in community, as hard as that is. But being in communion with others is not only essential for our spiritual health, it’s absolutely vital for true belonging in authentic communities. We have to come together regularly to sing with, and shake hands with, and share bread and wine with people we might not get along with the rest of the week. Otherwise we continue to sort ourselves into factions, and wall ourselves into silos of loneliness.

Our baptismal vow, to be with, and stay in relationship with people who—really the only thing that truly binds them together is Christ—is foundational. It’s foundational to true belonging, which again, according to Brené Brown “doesn’t require you to change who you are, it requires you to be who you are.” “True belonging,” she says, “is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself (I’d add, ‘and God’) so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness.” [Braving the Wilderness, p. 40].
And I said last week, that sounds an awful lot like Evangelism, but not in the way we have historically thought about Evangelism. It’s a Greek loan word, you know, and it simply means “good news” or “glad tidings.” A fuller and more practical definition comes from the Presiding Bishop’s Evangelism Initiatives Team. It’s this: Evangelism means that, “We seek, name and celebrate Jesus’ loving presence in the stories of all people – then invite everyone to MORE.”

Seek. Name. Celebrate. And then Invite. Notice the order of that.

Another promise we make at baptism is “to seek and serve Christ in all persons.” Hear that? We seek…we seek and serve Christ, we seek, name, and celebrate Jesus’ presence.” Like true belonging, evangelisms is a spiritual practice of getting curious about our neighbors. Having the courage to be vulnerable enough to move beyond questions like: “where are you from? and what brought you here?” to questions like: “What are the principles that guide how you live your life?” “When have you felt really connected to something greater?” “When have you felt most alone?” “What kind of community do you dream of being a part of?” Having the courage to ask those deeper questions, and then listening…really listening for the answers.

We do an exercise like this periodically in the vestry where I ask: “Where have you seen God at work in the past month?” And then we practice simply listening to the responses. Try asking yourself that periodically, “Where have you seen God at work in the world?” and journal your answer. Or try asking it at dinner with your family. And then just listen to the answers. I guarantee it will be enlightening.

The practice of evangelism—of actively looking for God at work in the world—in people’s lives—is essential to building authentic communities. Because, if you go out looking for all the things that are wrong in the world…I guarantee you’ll find them…it’s not that hard. If you go out looking for all the signs and signals that say, “this is messed up;” or “you’re not good enough,” “you’re not smart enough,” or “here’s where everything went off the rails,” you’ll find them. Those messages are everywhere. But the reverse is also true. If you go out looking for signs that we are are all broken and beloved, that people are struggling, yes, but also living with whole-hearted courage, that even in a world filled with sickness and demons there is healing and hope… you’ll find those too. Negative messages are broadcast and streamed to us 24/7…it’s far too easy to find them. To see God, and grace, and goodness takes discipline…and work, and practice…but it is there. If we have the courage to look for it, and the eyes and ears to see and hear it.

“We seek, name, and celebrate Jesus’ loving presence in the stories of all people.” All people. Everyone has a story. Everyone has hopes and struggles. And we believe that everyone—without exception—is made in God’s image. We all live in a world, created by God, and permeated with the Divine, “in God we live and move and have our being,” (Acts 17:28). But we need to develop our ability and our capacity to SEE God acting in our lives…and it’s rarely going to be in big showy miracles…of course those happen, but we need to learn to be attentive to the slower, smaller—but much more frequent—moments of grace that happen daily.

We need to develop our ability and our capacity to SEE God acting in our lives and in the lives of others…and we need to develop our ability to TELL those stories… because, remember, true belonging requires that we show up.…and our baptismal vows require that we ”proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” In other words, show up and share your authentic self. Tell your story. Tell THE story.

The section of 1 Corinthians we heard today, has this famous passage, “To the Jews I became as a Jew…to the weak I became weak…I have become all things to all people.” Please don’t mishear this. Paul is not claiming to be a chameleon so that he can trick people into converting. He’s saying, “meet people where they are.” Listen to their stories…hear their stories, and tell your story—tell THE story—in terms they can understand.

“Seek, name and celebrate Jesus’ loving presence in the stories of all people – then invite everyone to MORE.”

We are all part of God’s Story—the story that begins with creation, and moves through, loss, heartache, suffering, sacrifice, and ends with redemption, salvation and ultimately reconciliation.
That’s our story…from the waters of creation and baptism, through the wildernesses of temptation and the subjugation, to the mountain tops of revelation and sacrifice, and back into the communities where God dwells with us.

One of the resources on Episcopal evangelism that I will share when I post this sermon ends with this.
“Practice telling the stories of God’s goodness in your life – journal them and practice with others. Then, ask people for their stories.”

We “are not selling Jesus or the church, nor are we in charge of whether anyone follows Jesus. That movement belongs to the Holy Spirit. Still, the more we’re in tune with the loving presence of Jesus, the more we’re experiencing the fullness of a loving, liberating and life-giving relationship with God, the more it wants to overflow. That overflow is evangelism.”

That overflow is how we build beloved communities of true belonging.
Amen.

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Posted on Jan 28, 2018

Many members, one body—sermon for 28 January, 2018

Many members, one body

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Photo Credit: ShanePix Flickr via Compfight cc

January 28, Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Psalm 111;
Deuteronomy 18:15-201 Corinthians 8:1-13Mark 1:21-28

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

For the past two weeks I’ve talked about community and true belonging, and how I hope All Saints can be a container for authentic community, and a place where people experience true belonging.

I quoted Peter Block, who reminds us that the word belonging has three interlaced meanings: membership, ownership, and in a deeper sense it reflects a longing to be. Authentic community is the container where this longing is fulfilled.

Then last week, I focused on true belonging. I’ll quote Brené Brown again to summarize. She reminds us that “True belonging is not passive. It’s not the belonging that comes with just joining a group. It’s not fitting in or pretending or selling out because it’s safer. [True belonging] is a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable, and learn how to be present with people without sacrificing who we are.” [Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness, p. 37]

I ended last week by reminding us that our deepest and truest identity is in Christ, and therefore we are free—no, we are called—to live into that freedom by becoming living examples of true belonging in a community of faith.

But it’s not easy. The church at Corinth was trying to live into this freedom, and today Paul cautions them: “take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to others.”
The desire for true belonging and authentic community can cause us to slip into factions. It happened in Corinth, and we see it happening in our world every day. Our freedom can become a stumbling block.
For the church in Corinth the stumbling blocks had to do with sexual morality, and when to take someone to court, dietary laws—what people could and couldn’t eat—the proper forms of spiritual expression, and beliefs about the resurrection.

For 21st century Christians our stumbling blocks have to do with…well…pretty much the same list.
But those are obvious, other things don’t always appear to be stumbling blocks, but nevertheless can get in our way.

Remember those Big Meaningful Words I mentioned two weeks ago. Mission. Stewardship. Formation. Evangelism. They can get in our way. Especially since their meanings have changed significantly in the past several decades.

Not that long ago, no one talked about Formation, instead we talked about Christian Education but what we really meant was Sunday School. Stewardship also wasn’t a thing because a Tithe was the expectation. Mission meant sending people to foreign lands, or the inner city, or to the rural poor, primarily for the purpose of Evangelism; and Evangelism—when it was linked with Mission generally meant translating and distributing bibles…otherwise it just meant advertising.

For a long time, the church treated these as separate activities…separate domains…which worked OK back in the post-war boom when there was plenty of resources to go around. But the world has changed and keeps changing, and it has felt—for a long time—like we’re being asked to do more and more with less and less, and when that happens those separate domains risk becoming competing factions in a zero sum game. And when that happens, we need to hear Paul bewailing “has Christ been divided?”

In Chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians, Paul uses a brilliant—and one of his favorite metaphors—the body.
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Cor. 12:12). So it is with us, our faith communities, and any authentic community of true belonging. “The foot can’t say, because I’m not a hand, I don’t belong.” Those involved primarily in Formation can’t say, because I’m not doing Mission I don’t belong. “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?” If the whole church were focused on Mission, where would Stewardship be? “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’.” The Mission Committee cannot say to the Property Committee, ‘I have no need of you.”

The body metaphor is brilliant because it reveals what true belonging really means…each of us bringing our full and discrete selves…our gifts and our doubts…our strengths and our brokenness…into a community…a body where difference is not merely tolerated or brushed aside, but recognized as vital and necessary.

It also helps us think how the parts are related to the whole and vise versa. Those Big Meaningful Words are even more full of meaning now. Stewardship means more than just what you give to the church; Stewardship requires us to be intentional about spending all our money and about using and managing every resource at our disposal…It’s responding faithfully to every gift God has given.

Formation is more than just Sunday School. Everything we do, not just in church, but out in the world, forms us…whether we’re aware of it or not…Christian formation is ongoing and lifelong because we need to be continually growing up as part of the body of Christ.

Mission is also everything we do. The Five Marks of Mission, is a very helpful set of statements about what mission really is. It’s how we frame the Annual Report. The heading of each section is one of the Marks of Mission which encompasses both Stewardship and Formation.

These more all encompassing definitions reflects our true belonging in Christ…because Christ claims all of our lives, not just the time we spend here.

So when you read the Annual Report (and I do hope you will take the time to read it), I hope that you see more than a listing of all the separate ministries we have and what they did last year…You should also see reflected all the symbiotic relationships between all the parts of our body…how worship and formation and stewardship and mission and property and personnel and programs are all distinct and all interconnected. And we need all the parts in order to continue having a healthy whole. And I know you will see in the report and hear at the meeting that this body is, by and large, quite healthy.

You may have also noticed that I haven’t mentioned Evangelism…That’s the one we’re most reluctant to talk about. Sadly, Evangelism still pretty much means advertising or marketing—which is something we don’t do well. Like all those other Big Meaningful Words, Evangelism could mean a whole lot more…it could mean Holy Listening…getting curious about one another and finding out what our hopes and dreams, our lived experiences, our disappointments really were. Evangelism could mean a practice or a set of practices that draws us closer to one another…closer to all those who share our building…closer to the other churches in the area…closer to those on the margins…It could be how true belonging comes about, because being intentional about those practices would would require us to be vulnerable…to get uncomfortable…to learn how to be present with people without sacrificing who we are. And if that sounds familiar, it should. It’s Brené Brown’s definition for true belonging. But I also think it’s a dynamite definition of evangelism. We can’t have true belonging or authentic community without it.

We’re called…to be continually forming ourselves in the likeness of Christ, to be engaged in carrying out Christ’s mission of healing and reconciliation, to be good and faithful stewards of all God’s gifts…and to be actively engaged in creating spaces of authentic community and true belonging, where we can share our joyful and painful—but always grace-filled—transformations…for the sake of the wider community…for the sake of the world.

Amen.

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