26 September, 2021 – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 21B
The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
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 Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
Us. And them.
It’s the oldest story in the world.
It’s certainly a story I’ve heard over and over and over. In many different forms…in many different languages. The protagonists and antagonists are often different…but the story structure is always the same. There’s us…and there’s them.
There’s one version that goes like this: there’s us, and there’s them, and there’s an insurmountable barrier of some kind…a wall usually…could be a fence…the point is, it’s hard to get over…and one group (sometimes it’s us, sometimes it’s them…depends on who is telling the story)…one group tries to get over the insurmountable obstacle, but they can’t because every time one of them climbs a little higher…the rest pulls them back down. And so it goes…on and on…one or two rising up only to be yanked down by the rest…and this is because (the moral goes) this group is super competitive… individualistic…selfish…and believes that only I deserve to get to the top.
The other group (again, sometimes it’s us, sometimes it’s them) approaches the insurmountable obstacle completely differently. They help one another…They provide footholds for those above them, and reach down to those below…lifting them up. When a few make it to the top, they don’t crow in triumph and push the rest off…they reach back down and help others get to the top as well…Soon, everyone has conquered this insurmountable obstacle together. Meanwhile the other group is still clawing at one another and no one ever makes it over the wall.
Have you heard that story? Have you ever lived that story?
“Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, but they were’t with us so we yanked them down off the wall.”
And I imagine Jesus doing one of those famous Jean-Luc Picard face palms before saying. “Why? Why do you insist on putting stumbling blocks in front of everyone. In case I haven’t made this clear…You can’t do this by yourself…” No one can. We need each other to accomplish anything. We have to help each other…so that everyone gets over all of these insurmountable obstacles.
The wardens (Brad and Kari) and I have been handwriting notes on the annual stewardship letters that will go out this week. The Stewardship Committee this year has chosen Celebrate Community and Connection as our theme. In the coming weeks you’ll receive not only this letter, wonderfully composed by the Stewardship Committee, you’ll also hear brief testimonials from several parishioners, and this year you’ll also be getting short weekly email reminders—with infographics focused on the many, many things we have been able to continue even through the pandemic…the online small groups that continued to meet, the property projects we completed, the amazing generosity for outreach to the unhoused and food insecure we’ve been able to do, the new family ministry projects, and of course the worship that has sustained us through it all.
As I’ve been writing my notes on the letters, and reflecting on how much each of you gives and contributes so that all of us can reach higher than we ever could by ourselves—I’ve been—at times—a bit overwhelmed by how true this Gospel message is—We CANNOT do this alone…We need one another to accomplish God’s purpose…Nothing happens here because of a single person. Everything, from the Breakfast Club downstairs, to the choir in the music room…the Altar Guild in the sacristy, the ushers welcoming people, social hour hosts, the committees and vestry and officers, the meals made for MANNA, bags of groceries for St. Stephens and the food pantry, the people who oversee all of our facility use, and all of the groups that meet here…recovery groups…choirs…orchestras…the people who tend the lawn and gardens, who keep the whole place clean and beautifully tended, the hundreds and hundreds of volunteer hours that go into every aspect of life and work here, and the paid staff who support and coordinate it all…we need all of them… We need everyone to help all of us over the many, many obstacles that we face in our world.
The generosity of this parish is nothing short of awe-inspiring. That’s always been true, but in the past 18 months, so many of you have stepped up and given generously…and I’m sure in some cases sacrificially…to support all of us in furthering God’s ongoing mission. You have done this not only with financial giving but gifts of time and talent as well. I cannot say “thank you” enough.
I also know that we are not perfect. Far from it…we are as imperfect as everyone else…but perfection isn’t the point. The point is to not put obstacles in each other’s path…to strive—individually and as a community—to lift each other up…to help each other over all the blocks in our path…over every obstacles we face together.
As you begin to prayerfully consider your financial commitment for 2022—as you see the letters and emails that come in…take some time to reflect on all that has been done for the sake of our community and the sake of the Gospel. Reflect on how we have changed and grown in past 18 months, and imagine where we can be, with God’s guidance, 18 months from now…on where God is calling us…with expanded ministries to children and youth…an ever-growing online presence…a deepened commitment to the work of justice and dismantling racism…to feeding the hungry…and then join me in making a pledge that celebrates our community and that strengths our connections, and that will lift all of us up. Amen.