The other text for the day is the Annual Meeting. Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
“Come to him a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
No, that passage wasn’t in our readings today. It’s from First Peter, one of the New Testament Epistles. It has been the source of our stewardship focus for this year—living stones.
When we asked the ministry leaders to write for the Annual Report we asked them to reflect on this metaphor of living stones: how do their endeavors provide support for the structure of our interconnected community? And I hope you’ve had a chance to read through their responses, and gotten a sense of all the incredible things that go on here week after week.
But, let’s take a step back. What does it mean to be a living stone? It’s a paradoxical image. For me a living stone brings up images of permanence combined with change—think of mountains being pushed up over eons—mesas being eroded into the stunning sculptures of the southwest, or canyon lands.…Living stones reveal beauty in the mundane (think of how stones often change when they get wet and the colors come alive)… Living stones are symbols of strength, courage, and hope… To be a living stone is to embrace both the guaranteed uncertainty and the undeniable promise of change…to discover both fortitude and flexibility within us…to be crafted by God’s loving hands into an irreplaceable piece of the divine mosaic.
Week by week here we strive to be, and to become, living stones. Finding strength within us, and with our community of fellow travelers. We become living stones as we support one another, challenge one another, learn from, laugh with, and sometimes cry with one another. When we agree and when we disagree. When we make mistakes, learn, and forgive. When we worship, pray, rest, and go…as we do all of that, God forms us into living stones…a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, and provides us with gifts that are to be used for the common good.
In last week’s epistle, St. Paul talked about the Spirit manifesting in each one of us—giving gifts—for the common good, and today he expands on this and talks about how these gifts become differentiated for different purposes—like the cells in the body divide and become different organs. “The body does not consist of one member but of many.” Hands, feet, eyes, ears, etc. every part necessary and vital to the health and well-being of the whole. Whether you use Paul’s metaphor of muscle, and bone, and organs—or Peter’s metaphor of living stones—the source and the outcome is the same. The gifts offered and received are for the building up of God’s dream of a whole, reconciled, and redeemed creation. The cells of the body differentiate for different functions for the benefit of the whole…the materials of our building —the gray, rough-hewn granite of our foundation, the carefully carved stone of our walls, pressure-bearing keystones, elegantly carved decorative stones, gravel for cement and mortar, slate and rubber for the roofs, wood for walls and floors, lath and plaster, glass, metal for plumbing and reinforcement, for wiring and framing, plastic, and various kinds of cloth…water and electricity flowing in and out…grass and soil and plants…all necessary to support the common purpose of sustaining the vitality of God’s mission here on the corner of Beacon and Dean. And each one of us…a cell…a stone…part of the larger living breathing whole…the body of Christ.
We are given gifts for the common good. We are gifts to be given for the common good. In the sermon last week, I talked about discerning gifts, the gifts we are, and the gifts that we have been given for the common good. I encouraged you to think and pray about the gifts that you have. The gifts that are being called out and called for at this time in the life of our parish, and in the life of the world. Gifts of wisdom and wonder, fortitude and reverence, gifts of listening and speaking, of advocacy, and leadership, and companionship, gifts of time and talent, in other words, in addition to the wonderful, and generous gifts of financial resources that you provide.
This will be my sixth annual meeting as your rector. We’ve been together for five years. And I can’t imagine anywhere else I would want to be. I love this place, and I love all of you, and I look forward to many, many more years together. We’ve been through a great deal of transition in the past five years. Those of you who have been here a decade or more are acutely aware of how much has changed in these few short years. Those who been here not as long have a different lived experience of All Saints. We must remember the wisdom of Paul, that there are a variety of experiences and gifts and abilities here but it is the same God who activates all of them. We need to continue to honor and be attentive to the differences we bring…In the coming year we will continue to lift up those things we most value (liturgy, and music, and families, and outreach), and we will also need to pay attention to things that enliven and challenge us. We must be attentive to what is new and emerging in our midst—Listening for the movement of the Spirit directing our way and lighting our path. The question before all of us in 2019 is: What will the next five to ten years be like? As we settle in to—what I very much anticipate will be—the heart of my years of ministry here…what are we being called into now? What gifts are being given…what living stones are being added…for the common good?
Some questions to ponder as we look ahead to this year: What are you looking for…or longing for…in this community? How do you envision your place in this community? What are your gifts…your needs…your yearnings? What role do you envision All Saints playing in the wider community…of Brookline, and Boston…the Diocese of Massachusetts…the wider world? And what would you be willing to offer…what would you be willing to commit to…what would you be willing to risk…to see that happen? To see God’s dream become just a little bit more real?
Because none of this happens without faith…and risk. In the Gospel today Jesus makes an incredibly bold move. He picks up the scroll of Isaiah and reads that incredible promise, that the poor receive good news, the captives are released, the blind see, and the oppressed go free. It’s words they have all heard before, but then he says, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled…and you were here to see it.” It’s a bold move…a huge risk. Next week these same people will try to run him out of town because of it, and by the middle of April they will be screaming for his execution. But as you think about, and pray about, and discuss these questions with one another…keep this image in your minds. Because, we follow a bold, courageous God who is willing—always—to take bold steps to stand up for the vulnerable…to give a voice to the voiceless…to generously lavish gifts upon us so that we can do the same…We follow a God who feeds us, and guides us, and desires us to be a stronger, more supple body…who is always seeking to strengthen us and mold us into a limber and lasting spiritual house, a holy priesthood…so that we can go and bring that same love to the world.