6-24-16--Proper 8C

Readings for Proper 8C

Why does it matter that we are here?

As I enter my last six weeks at St. Luke’s, I’ve been thinking a lot about my first few months here.  I remember a leader who had taken on a lot during the last transition commenting to me that during that year they were “Doing everything we could just to keep the doors open.”  Well you all did that—and then some. During the year between Mother Joan’s last Sunday and my first Sunday you welcomed new parishioners.  You re-painted the building.  You began a practice of praying for several parish families each week in turn.  You enjoyed the loving care of a wonderful transition priest and began to hope and believe in the future.

The future is on people’s minds a lot right now—what will happen to St. Luke’s now that Amy is leaving?  There is not as much of a question of whether the doors will stay open—that was a question asked during the last transition.  We’re more secure of survival now; we’ve shifted the question.  The question I have heard is people asking is, “Will we be able to continue the mission and ministry God has given us here in Hollister with Amy gone?”

In order to begin to think about that, we need to understand a little better what that mission and ministry is.  Why does it matter that St. Luke’s is here?  Take a moment to answer that in your own mind—first, for yourself.  Why does it matter to you that St. Luke’s is here?  Why do you take time out of your weekend to get up early and do this very counter-cultural thing of coming to church?  What difference does it make?   ***

Secondly, answer the question for our community. *** What difference does it make to the community of Hollister that on the corner of Monterey and 7th there is a 113-year-old redwood chapel that houses the worship life of an Episcopal congregation?  What difference does our presence here make, as the only denomination or congregation in town that has expressed its complete and unqualified acceptance of LGBT people?  What difference does it make in an intensely divided country that this church welcomes people of all political persuasions and draws us into community and deep relationship with one another?   What difference does it make that we have helped to found 2 of the counties largest non-profits—the Food Bank and the Domestic Violence Shelter, and are bringing a broad-based organizing movement to the county that has the potential to hold our leaders accountable to the common good?  That we have run for 5 years an after-school tutoring program with phenomenal success rates, and have started Hollister’s only formal bilingual preschool?  That 15 small children hear every week here that they are loved and precious to God.  That the grown-ups hear this message too, and some of them even believe it.

One person who heard this message, and believed it, and who it made a big difference to has given me permission to share her story.  About five years ago this woman was diagnosed and truly suffering with an incurable illness.  She had a good friend who was attending St. Luke’s, and her friend, after getting her permission, asked if I would be willing to go and see her.  I made an appointment and went over and spent a couple of hours, and in the course of that conversation, she was in such a place of brokenness that I was able to simply look her in the eye and say, “God loves you.”  And she believed me.  A couple of years later she posted a long note on Facebook, saying that since that day her life has never been the same.  She feels God’s presence with her on a daily basis, and God’s love gets her through—while she’ll always have her condition, the presence of God in her life makes it bearable.  She has said that if she hadn’t found God at that particular moment in her life, she probably would have taken her life.

Clearly it matters that St. Luke’s is here.  It matters to you; it matters to this community—it mattered a great deal five years ago to a friend of a parishioner.  And in the last 8 years we’ve moved the conversation—it’s no longer about survival; its about mission.  Its no longer about if St. Luke’s will be here, but why.  Will the mission and ministry continue?  That’s up to you.

Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem—he is going to fulfill his purpose, to speak truth to power, to suffer and die, and to rise again for the redemption of the world.  He’s declared his mission.  He receives different reactions to that mission—rejection, retaliation, hesitation.  And because of the single-mindedness of his focus—his march toward Jerusalem—what would normally be really reasonable questions and requests—like, where are we going to sleep?  And let me say good-bye to my family, or let me first attend my father’s funeral—Jesus has no time for these things.  His mission is clear, immediate, urgent, kind of an emergency—and he’s asking his followers for not part of their hearts, minds, lives, but for all.

In the Old Testament reading there is a literal passing of the mantle—the prophet Elijah takes his cloak (the old-fashioned word for cloak is mantle) and throws it over Elisha, whom God has chosen as his successor.  Elisha responds by literally destroying his former way of life—he slaughters the oxen he used to plow his fields, he boils them on a fire fueled by his plows and equipment, and feeds them to the people.  Then he goes and follows Elijah, and learns to become a prophet.

God may not be calling you to abandon your home or burn down your business this morning.  But God is calling you to something.  St. Luke’s is here because you, and generations of people before you, have been faithful in this place. Faithful to the call to worship, and to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God here in Hollister and beyond.  St. Luke’s will continue its mission because you and people like you continue to be faithful.  Faithful in coming to worship, not just because you need to but because this community needs you.  Faithful in working, as there is much to do in this time of transition, no one person can do everything, and everyone can do something.  Faithful in praying for this community—remembering that it is God and God alone who can and will help you not only to survive this transition, but thrive more and more in the mission and ministry to which God calls you.  And faithful in giving, according to your means, of your financial resources.  Our money is a powerful symbol of our lives, and our livelihood, and giving it back to God not only helps pay the bills, keep the lights on and fund ministry here is Hollister and far beyond, but it reminds us of something that is absolutely vital to our spiritual health—that all that we have and all that we are belongs to God, and not to us.

I commend the Second Mile pledge form to you as a tool for thinking about how God might be calling you.  Speak up, step forward, look for ways, small or large, that you can be a part of the new thing God is doing here.  It is an exciting time for St. Luke’s.  I am so incredibly overjoyed, blessed and grateful for the quality of leadership on the vestry right now, and how a number of people who are relatively new to the congregation, and some who have been here a long time, are stepping up and taking on tremendous amounts of initiative and leadership not just for the maintenance, but for the growth of the mission of St. Luke’s.  This mission belongs to all of you—new-timer, old-timer, weekly and occasional attenders, young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor—it is Jesus’ mission in Hollister and it is yours. 

As we are all called, no matter where we are, to be instruments of God’s peace in a world that is hurting so very much, please join in on page 833 of your Book of Common Prayer in the Prayer of St. Francis.

 

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is

hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where

there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where

there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where

there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to

be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand;

to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is

in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we

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are born to eternal life. Amen.

 

Sermon C. 2016 The Rev. Amy Denney Zuniga

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