June 9th, 2019 Pentecost YR C

Year C, Pentecost

June 9, 2019

The Reverend Dr. Brent Was

“All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.”

A blessed Pentecost to you!  Pentecost is the day we conclude our Eastertide observances. The Christ-event reached its near-term finale in coming of the Holy Spirit as Jesus promised at the Ascension. That’s today’s commemoration, the Spirit arriving in the collective hearts of those gathered disciples, forming them into One Body, the Body of Christ, the Church.  That moment, and the 2000 years of tradition and history that followed has led us, here, right here to this very place, to this very moment.

Back at Easter I talked about our vocation as human beings being image-bearers of God.  As image-bearers, we reflect the Glory of God in the world.   We do that by fulfilling God’s will, doing God’s work in the world, making real the Kingdom, the Commonwealth of God, and we reflect that glory back to the Creator: we worship.  In that, in fulfilling our vocation and receiving the God’s grace, we are saved.

We must always remember that ours is a loving God, full of grace and power.  So when we talk about being saved, we are not talking about being saved from. Hell and damnation are not our fate. Believing in God to avoid punishment in the afterlife (or earn reward) is not what Christianity is actually about. No.  When we talk about being saved, we are talking about what we are saved for.

What are we saved for?  We can ask the same question about our walk through love and forgiveness the past three weeks.  What are we forgiven for?  So we don’t feel bad about ourselves?  OK, but to what end?  Human happiness is not an end.  It can be a sign that we are on the right path, happiness.  God doesn’t demand that holiness be a grind, though the stories of Jesus and the saints don’t usually involve a lot of laughter.  What are we forgiven for?  What are we saved for?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot this past year. Why am I doing this?  Why am I organizing us to do this work on this place together?  Why are we gathered here in this place as the Body of Christ to begin with?

A lot of that thinking has been with a shovel or a paint brush in my hand.  We’ve had a lot going on around here the past 12 months.  Some of it planned; some of it not.  We’re working on a grant application to pay for the second phase of our improvements, the porch and finishing the parking lot resurface.  In the application we catalogued what we’ve done so far:

  • Combined the office and nursery and reoccupied the reception area.
  • Painted the main level and stairwell.
  • Create an entrance sequence – Gate, path, front 1/3 of the parking lot was resurfaced, sign is ordered, lighting goes in next Monday
  • Back patio was completely redone, and we built an awning there and in the village
  • We have the yurt for classroom space and goodness knows what else.
  • The sound system
  • The playground is coming!
  • And it wasn’t in the plans, but I remember something about mice and men… we took advantage of a lousy situation and are not only taking care of this 50 year old building, fixing some things that needed fixing, but we are rebuilding a much better basement.

Most of the work so far has been paid for by the generosity of those who came before us.  A lot of you have swung a hammer, dipped a paint brush, heaved a shovel, or smeared some mud, and everyone has the opportunity to contribute to our basement campaign today.  Many have, thank you.  We’re close. We’ll collect the pledges and checks at the offering and tally it up for the picnic.  Thank you for all your work and support.

But that is just bricks and mortar (or asphalt and yurt panels).  Our community has had a big year of changes, too. We now have a parish administrator. With Tina’s expertise, initiative, and motivation, we have gotten some things done that I have wanted done for a long time, like the bulletin redesign (that was my idea), and networking the copier (her idea, you have no idea how much better everything works).  There’s a new wi-fi network, a new website, new Tune Up format, new liturgical planning software.  We have a completely new database and finance software package just coming on line now that will make this place hum!  Mostly though, in Tina I have someone I can work with collaboratively in the administration of this lively and growing parish.  She is making my job so much easier (well harder, but makes me do a better job).  She deserves your appreciation and thanks as she is making this place better.

We launched Stephen Ministry this year.  That is a really big deal.  The amount of work that John Morse has done to organize this, and the work of the individual Stephen Ministers…  it is stunning.  You don’t hear much from them, which is how it is supposed to be once they are at their quiet, loving, caring work amongst us.  But believe me, care is being given and received.  Love is flowing.  This parish is being tended in ways that it has never been tended before.

Any great leap forward is our Hospitality Committee!!!  An actual functioning group that cares for us through the ministry of hospitality.  We have not had anything like that since the Women of Resurrection (rightfully) got sick of doing everyone’s dishes what 10, 12 years ago?  The dish washing club kept it together admirably for a long time, but Debbie, Stevie, Neal, Annie, Betsy, Sue and Mark are taking care of us and this place in a desperately needed way.

Our Children’s ministry continues to deepen and thrive.  Our amazing teachers have been uber-flexible: Hilary has the older kids in the hallway, Marsha and Aria adjusted to a new room configuration, and Doris has had to endure a close up view to the underside of my desk as the elementary kids use my office for a classroom.  We’re going camping again.  They collected 1,000 items for Egan.  The Choristers had a fantastic season.  We’re planning a youth confirmation class for next year.  They are learning and growing in Christ.

Our leadership is also thriving.  Melissa and Jack and the whole vestry are doing great work as leaders, getting a grasp on how to be at the center of this community.  We have a strategic plan in the works, new by-laws, vestry will take over the annual campaign, I no longer head Hospitality Village (thank you Robbie!)… We are well into our multi-year transition from the old way of being a pastoral sized parish to a new way of being a program sized parish, which has everything to do with how we are organized, how information flows, how decisions are made and by whom.

And now the architect has given us some tempting visions of a covered porch. Imagine this place if we had a place we could all comfortably gather week after week notsqueezed under the loft?  Not in each other’s way, accessible to people of every physical ability? That would be really great.  Our architecture has always been a little in the way of community here, and a new porch would go a long way to solve that problem.

It has been a fantastic year for this community.  Things are coming together.  Business is being taken care of on multiple fronts.  The question is, for what?

All this work, all this investment in people and systems and the building, what is it for?  Like what we are being forgiven for, being saved for…  what are we doing all of this for?  Ok in part it saved us from a sewer backup and a flood, but why even did we need to be saved from that?   The church, with a big or small c is not an end.  The investment in this place, physical, pastoral, spiritual, what is it for?

I am pretty serious when it comes to doing what is right, the principal behind things, the moral value.  That’s what keeps me up at night.  And yes, there is lots more we could be doing, and we could be doing it in oh so many different ways, but in the end, all this work we are doing, God willing and the basement don’t flood again, I think that this all will help us fulfill our vocation as image-bearers of God right here, right now.

How? How will all of this work help us fulfill our vocation, make real the commonwealth of God?  Well, our missional work will be improved by the improvements. The new patio and awning has already made Egan better.  The coming porch will provide more overhead cover.  Basement version 2.0 will provide a better and larger place to sleep, certainly a better place to clean up after people sleep.  Oh, and plumbing that works.  That is mission critical.

Building attracts people, too.  Growth is not an end, but more people means more workers in the vineyard, more resources with which to do that work.  More folks for 2ndSunday Breakfast, ShelterWeek, Home Starter Kits, Hospitality Village, Egan.  Our mission will be enhanced by these improvements.

The Church does not exist for itself or for its own sake.  It is also not simply a charitable organization, though a lot of heavy lifting with the least of these is traditional the property of the church.  We have a mission of caritas, meaning love of humankind, charity in the largest sense.  We do exist to do that, caritas, but as Jesus quoted to the Tempter, “We do not live by bread alone.” Our spiritual work here together as mission critical as anything else we do.

Making this place beautiful is part of that work.  That is an Anglican virtue, beauty.  As in all good things, there is a sinful side.  It is easy to get carried away with the fun and excitement of choosing paint colors or which fake wood grain flooring planks will look best in which light.  Aesthetics matter, absolutely, but they matter in how they enable us to bear God’s image in the world, to do the work we have been given to do, to reflect glory back to the creator.  Something being beautiful can be the sign of an end, of God.  The Holy is invariably beautiful, and Just and True and Good. But beauty for its own sake is at the very least not necessary or helpful.  But being beautiful, which this place is becoming more so, will help shine the beauty of the creation in to the world in a spirit-purposed way.

Another key charism is the formation of our children.  The yurt will give our youth a place, truly, in this church. Them growing closer to God and each other is an end of the church.  Similarly, more people coming, growth… the missional help, helps, and though numbers themselves don’t matter, more bums in the pews means more people hearing the Word, meaning more people being exposed to the love of God in Christ with the Holy Spirit, and with that, God alone knows what can happen.  Evangelism, spreading the Good News, that, as squeamish as it makes some, is an end, “…proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all the nations…”  All of these improvements, life a noticeable sign, and a welcoming entrance, a serviceable parking lot, people, more of them will feel and be welcomed.  (And will be able to find us, on line and on Hilyard). The growth that very well may come will certainly help us pray together in a more concentrated, more faithful, more spirited way, and that is an end of the church.

So is care given and care received.  For some, receiving comfort is your vocation in this moment or at this point in your life. Maybe you are serving God by giving others the opportunity to serve God via you.  For others it is being healed for something in particular, to get well enough to return to the pitch.

The systems stuff, the new database and accounting systems, new bulletin formats, Tina’s administrative role going way beyond the secretarial role we were accustomed to, the copier that now works as it is supposed to… that all enables us collectively to organize ourselves and our resources to do the work we have been given to do, to love and serve God and God’s people, to bear God’s image in the world.  And of course none of it, worship or learning, caring, being cared for, serving neighbors, proclaiming forgiveness can or should be done without coffee and cookies within reach.  The hospitality committee, like the Stephen Ministers and the Altar Guild and the Choir lead and tend our spirits that we each may grow closer and closer to God and realize our own holy vocations.

It is Pentecost.  Two-thousand years ago the Holy Spirit descended upon our spiritual ancestors. Dreams have been dreamed.  Visions have been envisioned.  Prophesies have been prophesized.   And we here are doing our little part in the great big Body of Christ.  This is a very good time for Resurrection. It is good to be here with you, together.  May our eyes always be on the prize that is Jesus Christ.  It is for Him, and for His love and forgiveness that we are here.  AMEN