6-5-16--Proper 4C--New Call Announcement

Readings for this Sunday's Sermon (transferred from previous week)

Yesterday I was in downtown San Jose for an ordination, and I had a couple of hours to kill beforehand.  I walked out of Trinity Cathedral, which is right next to a park; there were a lot of homeless people and others in the park. Immediately my defenses went up—this is a fairly typical human reaction, I think.  Then something happened.  I glanced at a man across the street, and all of my ego and defenses dropped away in an instant, and I really saw him—I saw his preciousness, how beautiful he was, with the features of his face framed by his beard and hair—he ought to have been in a photograph or a painting!  Then I looked to my right and saw another man limping along the street, and had the same reactions—and again, as I saw two sanitation workers pushing a large garbage can across the street.  The gift of being in a different place, by God’s grace, was allowing me to really see these people, to see them in some way as God sees them—sees each human being, as infinitely precious, infinitely beloved of God. 

 

And then I went into Starbucks, and that was full of people—it would have been overwhelming, and my keen God-sight faded.  But another man, who seemed fairly well-put together, recognized my collar for what it was, and asked if I was a minister (this rarely happens, people usually seem to think a clerical collar on a woman is a fashion statement!).  After some initial conversation, it came out that this man, who had advanced degrees from Princeton, was also without a permanent address, having just come out of a rehabilitation program, was waiting for his disability check to come in so he could buy a bus ticket.  I was able to pray with him, and help him to see that God could use all that he had been through, to help others on their path.

 

Think about that moment—you’ve had it, with someone you love.  That moment when you glimpse for a few seconds their infinite preciousness.  You are almost overwhelmed by your love for them.  Now take that feeling to the Nth degree—that is how precious each and every human being is to God!

 

I’d like to take a step back and think with you about how our gospel story today would have sounded to the original hearers of Luke’s gospel.  The centurion, think of him as, say, a captain in the Roman army.  The Palestine of Jesus’ day was occupied territory—the Romans were the occupiers and oppressors of the Jewish people.  Look at the great lengths the Jewish leaders go to to justify to Jesus why he should help this man—“He’s a good Roman,” they seem to be telling them, “He’s not like the others.”  But about 40 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, in CE 70, in response to Jewish uprisings, the Romans marched on Jerusalem and utterly destroyed the temple, and it has never been rebuilt to this day.  To the hearers of Luke’s gospel, this man who Jesus helped is not just the occupier, but the attacker, the enemy. How could Jesus have performed a healing for him, much less commended him?! 

 

And if he’s not out—who is?  If he’s not on God’s you-know-what list—who is??  We all have that person, that list—so think of that person, for you, being helped and commended by Jesus.  Or, as a nation for the US today it would be as if we’d heard that Jesus had healed and commended someone associated with Al Qaeda.  If God’s love and grace and forgiveness, and healing through Jesus extends even to this them—is there anyone whom it cannot reach?  God in Jesus is breaking down every kind of barrier—not even the rich, powerful, the oppressor, occupiers, attackers are out.

 

St. Luke’s is a place where people are truly seen.  Where people are allowed to be who they are; where we can simply be human together.  A fueling station from which we can go out into the world breaking down every kind of barrier.  This kind of love is something that you, St. Luke’s, have to offer.   It is fairly rare in the religious landscape—to find a place where God’s love, healing, grace, and forgiveness are offered, truly without cost.  Where there is no pre-condition upon entry, we don’t ask that you sign here or change this or believe that, you are simply welcome.  And you show in your lives the gentle transformation of the love that has found you.   People need this kind of love very much.  Like the Centurion, they might not come to you directly, you might hear about them, they might send emissaries, you might have to go out to meet them and then be stopped in your tracks.  Notice that in the gospel story today Jesus never even meets the Centurion face-to-face!  And he doesn’t command him to follow him, he is simply amazed at his faith.  The people in this community in need of this good news of God’s love, who are affected by the love that flows out of this place, might become Episcopal followers of Jesus or they might not.  You may or may not even realize that you are making a difference in their lives.  But they will encounter that love, the healing, life-saving love of God in Christ Jesus, that love that they find through you because you love them, you accept them, you do not ask them to be something they are not.  And whether or not they come and fill up the pews of this sanctuary, as Jesus was amazed and learned from the Centurion, so you will learn and be changed by them.

 

I have some news to share this morning.  I told you three weeks ago that I have been in a process of discernment about God’s next call for me, and that I had my name in a process with another congregation.  They did call me, and I accepted their call, and so July 31 will be my last Sunday at St. Luke’s—we have two more months together.  In August Vince and the kids and I will move to St. Helena in the Napa Valley, where I will become Rector of Grace Episcopal Church.

 

As I’ve shared this news over the last couple days with your vestry, the question whick keeps coming up is, “Is it a bigger church?”  Yes, Grace is a larger church than St. Luke’s.  But more importantly, this is the next step on my journey—it offers new challenges and different opportunities in ministry that I’m excited about.  I don’t see this as climbing the church version of the “corporate ladder”—that’s not my approach to ministry.  But it is a call. I’m 100% confident and convicted that if God has a new call for me, God has a new call for St. Luke’s as well.  And I’m really excited for you, to learn what that new call is, who God brings here and what the next steps on your journey are.

 

I want you to know that I love you, and I will always love you, and hold St. Luke’s in my heart and in my prayers even when I am no longer your priest.  I am deeply grateful to you for helping make me the priest that I am, for forming passions in me around welcoming absolutely everyone, and building bridges across every kind of difference, that I will take with me on my journey. I am grateful to you personally, for your love and support of me and my family. 

 

And most of all I want you to know that I believe in you.  God has done great things through St. Luke’s, God is doing great things through St. Luke’s, and God will do even more great things through St. Luke’s.  I am so excited for you for what’s in store.  Whatever this next mountain is that you have to climb as a family of faith, you can do it—you’ve got this!

 

That doesn’t mean there’s no room to be sad.  For me lately grief and joy have become two sides of a coin that flips back and forth on an hourly basis.  I find the most beautiful moments in nature are when darkness and light co-mingle, like at dusk and dawn, or when the sun-beams break through a storm.  Those transitional moments are holy times.  And so is this.

 

We have time—we have two months—to laugh and cry, to celebrate and to grieve, to look back on what’s been done and left undone, and to look forward with anticipation towards the new thing that God will do at St. Luke’s.  Because trust me, God isn’t done with this church yet.

 

I’d like to take the opportunity now to hear what you have to say, what you’re thinking and what you’re feeling, whether positive or negative, and do my best to answer any questions that you have.  Really—you can say anything that you need to.  This is holy time and space, and it is yours.

 

***

 

Please pray with me on page 831 of the Book of Common Prayer prayer number 54, for those we love:

 

Almighty God, we entrust all who are dear to us to thy

never-failing care and love, for this life and the life to come,

knowing that thou art doing for them better things than we

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can desire or pray for; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

 

 

Sermon C. 2016 The Rev. Amy Denney Zuniga

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