Category Archives: ALL

General Convention 7/10/18 Day 9

Yesterday was filled with debate, discussion, and voting on legislative resolutions to include:

Ethical investment Gun Manufacturers

A just Peace in the Holy Land

Pension Equity for Lay Employees

Inclusive Language Policies

Inclusion of Transgender People

Commend the Evangelism Charter

And many more …

Today, we work on the resolution to address prayer book revision, as amended by the House of Bishops, and the new Triennial Budget.

More updates to come.

Peace,

Fr. Eric

General Convention 7/9/18 Day 8

Monday 7/9/18 was a day filled with legislation matters for the House of Deputies. Resolution B012 “Marriage Rites for the Whole Church” was debated and discussed, and passed by HOD. Many other resolutions came to the floor. More information can be found here.

Today, we begin our deliberations in Joint Session (HOD and HOB) to discuss “Care of Creation,” which will inform and impact our legislation, related to our call to care for and be good stewards of God’s creation.

More updates later. Please keep your Deputation in your prayers.

Peace,

Fr. Eric +

GENERAL CONVENTION 7/6/18 DAY 5 (MORE COMMITTEE HEARINGS, HOUSE OF DEPUTIES LEGISLATIVE SESSION)

Yesterday was another busy and meeting filled day at General Convention. My day began early with a Legislative Committee meeting with the “Evangelism and Church Planting Committee.”  After much testimony, our committee completed its work and sent our resolutions to the Consent Agenda.  The resolutions we proposed are listed at the end of this blog.

In addition to committee work, we gathered as a Joint House (Bishops and Deputies) and listened to some of our sisters’ and brothers’ stories of racial prejudice and injustice.  We discussed as individual Deputations, our own responses to those stories, and how we might both in parish and diocese, respond and reconcile.

The afternoon legislative session focused on the resolution to revise the Prayer Book.  This legislation promises to be one that will garner much discussion, debate, and emotion.

Here is a link to today’s legislative calendar:  https://www.vbinder.net/calendars/11?house=hd&lang=en

On a personal note, I was unable to serve at the Military Chaplain booth yesterday, but I have it on my schedule for Sunday afternoon.  This morning, I have the joy of having breakfast with my dear seminary friend, The Rev. Christopher Caddell.  I have not seen Chris since we graduated from Sewanee in 2010.  Chris and his awesome family live about 20 minutes from Austin, TX, and I look forward to reconnecting with him.

Stay tuned for more updates as General Convention continues.

Peace, love, and blessings,

Fr. Eric+


Evangelism and Church Planting Committee Resolutions

A005: Continue a Church-Wide Network For Planting Churches—2018. Full text.

A006: Collect Demographic Data of Leadership. Full text.

A029: Commend the Evangelism Charter for the Church to All Episcopalians. Full text.

A030: Small Evangelism Grants. Full text.

A031: Evangelism Staff Officer. Full text.

A032: Congregational Redevelopment. Full text.

A081: An Episcopal Theology of Evangelism. Full text.

A082: Training For [Digital] Evangelists. Full text.

A196: Fund a Full Time Evangelism Officer. Full text.

General Convention Day 1 (Travel)

I arrived at the airport at around 7:30 AM, and my flight departed at 10:00 am. I traveled with two of my clergy colleagues Fr. Roy Tuff and Fr. Cesar Olivero)to Atlanta, then we met the rest of our delegation, and traveled on to Austin. We arrived at AUS at around 3:15pm central time, and we finally arrived at our hotel at about 5:00 pm.

We are going to have a nice dinner together tonight. Most of us will begin reviewing the agenda again, reviewing legislation again, catching up on emails, and trying to get some rest for the weeks ahead.

Registration and orientation begins tomorrow, and the “Church Planting and Evangelism Committee”, of which I am a member meets for its first meeting tomorrow afternoon.

Please keep the Bishop’s, Deputies, and Alternates of the delegation from the Diocese of Southwest Florida in your prayers.

More updates to come.

Peace, Fr. Eric+

SERMON – Pentecost 4B Proper 6-24-18, St Monica’s Naples, FL

Job 38:1-11; Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

The Boat:  A symbol of the Church

On mine and Terri’s cruise last year, it was pretty rough the first night of our voyage.  Even as a pilot, who never gets air sick, I have to say that I was a little queasy and nervous. Even so, I prayed that we were in a sturdy ship with an experienced crew, and interestingly, I was at peace.   Sometimes the seas of life are rough and we need that same kind of reassurance.   In today’s gospel reading, Jesus and his disciples are on a boat in a violent storm. The disciples are afraid and Jesus is asleep on a pillow.  The disciples are desperate, and with a cry of despair, which I bet many of us have prayed before, they said, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

Sometimes when we face terrible events, we cry out to God as if God may not be aware of our troubles, and we might say, “Do you not really care Lord?” Our faith may seem challenged in those moments, but I believe it is in those moments that there is a power beyond our imagine, which is available to us.  “Peace be still,” our Lord proclaims, and through these words, he reminds us that we often have a resilience to tap into that carries us through.  We can with confidence rely on God’s grace in our despair, and God gifts us with a community of faith, on which we can lean, when all around us seems to be beyond our ability to cope.

Bernard Baruch an early 20th century business and policy consultant and advisor to Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and a philanthropist said, “We did not all come over on the same ship, but we are all in the same boat.”  In other words, we all traverse this life from different histories, backgrounds, and experiences, but we are all in the same family of God, all of us, and we must all care for one another.  We are all in the same boat.

The church in our ancient history was symbolized as a rescue boat set about in the rough seas of life.  Some church’s architecture often resembles a boat. “For example, the area between a narthex and sanctuary was called the “nave.” This word comes from the Latin navis, or ship and was meant to portray the reality that the Church is a ship, protecting those inside it from the waves and buffets of the world.” (4) Several of our churches in the diocese of Southwest Florida have this type of architectural design, and when you sit in the pew, and gaze at the ceiling, it is as if you are looking at the hull of a boat.  We the church have a long history of being a rescue boat, protecting others from the seas of despair and injustice.

Rescue Boat or Cruise Ship

Carrying the symbolism a bit further the sea is often described as a place of despair, hopelessness, and death.  “ Old Testament creation is described in part as a great struggle between God and the sea. In fact, the sea is presented as a monster that only God s ineffable power can tame.” (3) In the ancient baptismal rites, full immersion in water was normative, and as the candidate walked into the pool, the water covered their head as a symbol of dying to our old self.  Rising out of the water was symbolic of being raised to new life.  As Paul writes, “We die to a death like his, so we might rise to a resurrection like his.”    So, the symbols of the church as a boat of rescue, and the violent sea as a symbol of death is pretty serious business for we Christians, and today’s gospel reading gives us the origin of that symbolism.  We have to be careful though that we not take this symbolism into the wrong direction.  The church is a rescue vessel, and it is not a seafaring cruise ship for the faint at heart.

I recently read a funny article by Mark Ralls, Senior Pastor with the First United Methodist Church in Hendersonville, N.C.  He comically compares how some churches act more like cruise ships rather than rescue boats. Pastor Ralls wrote “People on cruise ships are passengers, which is a very passive role.   People on cruise ships all pretty much do their own thing. People on cruise ships dine at separate tables.  People on cruise ships are entertained, because it does not take much courage to sign up for a cruise.” (5) Please hear me say this clearly, I know that St. Monica’s is no cruise ship as Ralls describes, because we are out there on the high seas trying to pull others into the boat of God’s grace.  Sometimes it is helpful to know what we are not, so we can clearly know what we truly are.  Don’t get me wrong, I love cruises and I enjoy the disengaged world of cruising.  There is nothing like being fully detached from the troubles of life, the internet, the news, and my phone, and living for a time in bliss, which cruising offers.  Nonetheless, you do understand the metaphor, and we all know the church was never meant to be a cruise ship, which disconnects us from what is going on in the tempestuous seas of life. We the Body of Christ are meant to be a life boat.

Church as a Respite on the Tempestuous Seas

“We did not all come over on the same ship, but we are all in the same boat.”  The church is supposed to be a rescue boat for all those dying and suffering and those who are without hope in those waters of death and despair.  We cannot merely be a closed-in ship in which, we huddle in the holds below staying dry and calm, or resting in our staterooms being comfortable and entertained.  We have to be out there on the decks of the ship hauling in those who are drowning.  To ALL of God’s people who are suffering injustice, oppression, abuse, neglect, and horrific suffering, Jesus says to his church, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  I worry that some Christians today are like the law expert in Luke’s rendition of the Good Samaritan parable who asked, “Who is my neighbor?” The law expert tried to minimize Jesus’ command, as if it allows some ideological boundaries that limit whom it is we are commanded to love and show mercy.

In the story I reference from Luke’s gospel, the Good Samaritan is the unlikely outsider, who showed heroic mercy to a dying man in a ditch, a beaten man who was passed over by two holy and devout men.  After telling the story, Jesus asked the law expert,  “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”  When others suffer, Jesus calls us to be bearers of mercy, love, grace, peace, and reconciliation, and to do likewise without walls, boundaries, or divisive criteria.

The church has a long history of speaking out for the least, lost, and lonely in this world.  Dietrich Bonheoffer, a well-known Lutheran pastor, stood in defiance against the atrocities of the holocaust by Nazi Germany, and was made a martyr for the cause of justice.  Bonheoffer is quoted as saying, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”  Bonheoffer stood boldly against such atrocities in the name of Jesus Christ, and suffered death because of his courage, and we are to do likewise.

The Church as Rescue Boat

We are not merely individuals who enter the rescue boat for our own benefit, and climb aboard to do our own thing.  We are bound together in common mission and  what we do in our individual ministries connects us to one another, and together connected to the mission of God and thus, connected to all humanity.  We do not function independently from one another, but everything we do has an impact on all of God’s creation. In the midst of all that is changing around us in this world, it is clear that we must advocate for our neighbor, to love our neighbor, and to invite all peoples into the boat.

At our baptism we made promises to God and to one another, about how we will love ALL people.  We committed to those baptismal promises, and we responded, “We will with God’s help.”  I invite you to consider again two of those promises we made, which are found on page 305 of the Book of Common Prayer.  First, “Will you seek and serve Christ in ALL persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”  Second, “Will you strive for justice and peace among ALL people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”   I pray in these days of incredible injustice, unprecedented intolerance, and unimaginable pain heaped upon God’s people, we all will have the courage to take a stand for ALL people.  My prayer is that with commitment, compassion, advocacy, and love for our neighbors, when the call to stand for injustice comes, and my friends that call is ringing loudly in our world today, I pray we can claim all of God’s children as our neighbors by saying, “I will with God’s help” and then, go and do likewise.  Please never forget, “We did not all come over on the same ship, but when it comes to loving our neighbor, caring for the least, lost, and lonely among us , and standing for justice for all, we are all in the same boat.”

REFERENCES

(1) http://leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com/2015/06/piety-and-panic.html

(2) King, Michael A. “Storm System.” The Christian Century, vol. 123, no. 12, 13 June 2006, p. 19.

(3) Callahan, Jim. “Weatherproof.” The Christian Century, vol. 117, no. 18, 07 June 2000, p. 643

(4) http://www.philipkosloski.com/how-the-church-is-portrayed-as-a-ship-in-theology-architecture/

(5) https://www.faithandleadership.com/mark-ralls-it’s-not-ship-it’s-boat

Listen to the Children

We the people …

Our founding fathers and mothers dreamed of a society where all could be free to pursue their dreams. The central idea of our young nation is grounded in a phrase, “we, the people.” As a constituent in a society based on what is best for the community as a whole, we as individuals sometimes may be called on to give up our own individual desires, needs, and wants, for what is best for the whole.

My mother used to tell me about her childhood during the Second World War. She, her family, and most Americans had to give up a lot of things, in order for our nation to be able to defend freedom and justice in Europe and the Pacific. Sugar, flour, meat, gasoline, and other products were rationed to civilians, so our troops overseas would have enough to sustain them in battle.

You see, when we are a society whose ideals are greater than any individual’s desires alone, we must sometimes make difficult decisions to do what is best for all. The debate before us now is about perceived rights to own and use certain self-defense tools, which have shown to threaten the security of the whole, and each of us as individuals. Do we as a nation of “WE, the people” merely hold onto these so-called self security objects merely to falsely satiate our own fears?

Yes, all of this debate is complex, but some parts of the solution are easy. I am no politician, but I am a father of a young woman who will one day teach in our classrooms. I want to be assured that she, and all children in this nation, will be able to go to school every single day without fear.

“We the people” have all seen the images on TV of brave children speaking out and being activists. “We the people” have heard from parents whose hearts are broken beyond repair. “We the people” also have heard the messages of our politicians. “We the people”, can no longer be silent. “We the people” must speak about this issue now, and “We the people” must act for change.

Our voices must join with the voices of those who have experienced incredible pain and anguish as a result of all of these tragedies. If we stand together as “We the people” and listen to the children, the path ahead will set the tone for how we live as a nation of brave and loving people, and not a society of fearful and divided individuals.

SERMON 11/15/16 St. George’s Bradenton PENTECOST 25B

paris

1 Samuel 1:4-20; Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25; Mark 13:1-8

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus is again in the temple of Jerusalem watching the ornate display of religious social engagement taking place. One of his disciples was so awestruck by the scene that he felt compelled to point out to Jesus the magnificence of all he saw. Jesus was not really impressed though, and in response he put it all in perspective. Jesus said, “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” I imagine when Jesus walked out of the temple that day with his followers; he was probably shaking his head. He must have been frustrated with the religious institution which on the outside, appeared to be devoted to God and God’s mission of restoration, justice, mercy, and reconciliation; yet on the inside it was a system that glorified injustice, oppression, and division.

Last week in Mark’s gospel, we heard Jesus admonish the religious leaders who savored flowing robes, greetings of respect, seats of honor, and questionable piety of long prayers. Jesus challenged their insincere offerings to God, which came not from a response to God’s grace, but obligatory donations, which came from a desire to appease and support a debase temple system. The temple on one hand raised up the false piety of people seeking self-aggrandizement, while at the same time, it perpetuated poverty, injustice, and oppression of poor widows.

No wonder Jesus said, “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” Jesus was offering a warning to religious institutions that claim piety to God and yet, function as self-serving social gatherings. Jesus was warning his disciples (both then and now) that we must not rest our hope on ourselves, or upon systems that stand in contrast to God’s mission. We must put our hope in the promises of God and the hope that God’s kingdom, a kingdom where justice abounds, oppression ends, mercy overflows, reconciliation happens, and the restoration of creation bursts forth. In other words, Jesus warns the Church that she must be a reflection of God’s kingdom, a messenger of hope to the world, and she must be that witness in all she does. The church must live as if Christ’s return is imminent and expectant.

In the first century Christian church, the people of God lived with an imminent expectation of Christ’s when the Kingdom of God would be inaugurated, the powers of evil and the failures of the religious systems would end, when judgment would happen, and creation would be restored. This “last days” expectation of the Church came on the heels of apocalyptic events (wars, famines, earthquakes, etc.) In other words, before the Kingdom could burst forth, the old had to pass away.

Today, we see end times imagery coming to life in pop culture. How many of you saw the movie “2012” a few years ago? It was the story of a family’s survival through the cataclysmic destruction of the world as a result of climate change. Television is on board with apocalyptic themes and can be found in such dramas as “The Walking Dead” on AMC. It is a story of human survival after a mysterious cataclysmic disease that systematically transforms the population into mere shells (zombies or remnant creatures) who exist on primal urges that destroy the human population.

In such dramas, whether the destruction came because of climate change or because of an unimaginable biohazard, the catastrophe changed life forever, and for all humankind. For the survivors in these dramas, they came to realize that what was, is no more, and what will be, has not yet emerged. For the survivors, those facing ultimate destruction, what spurs them on, what keeps them fighting and surviving, is hope of new life. Often times, life changes, and with major changes, we find ourselves in liminal places, where we become discomforted, but in places where we are called to action, where we are called to adapt, so that we might move to a new way of being.

Jesus alludes to this when he said, “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” Jesus’ warning about the temple’s destruction informed the disciples that the coming Kingdom of God was going turn everything upside down, and life as it was in their time, would never be the same. Jesus warns us of coming changes. He uses imagery of the wars, famines, and earthquakes, but he also compares the struggles associated with change, to that of the birth of a child.

The blessed event of new life emerging into the world happens through the life threatening, body changing, and agony of childbirth. On the other side of that event, life for the parents is never the same. New parents tenderly embrace new life in their arms and live in hope of a recreated relationship, a family, a new way of life; but they also must know that they will wrestle with raising a child in difficult times, with the challenges of bruised and scraped knees, challenging academics, and all the rest. There is a tension between the now, and the yet to come. The church and the world live in such times of tension as well.

Injustice, oppression, and war thrive in the world today. Turn on the television and you hear about wars and rumors of wars, terrorism and threats from pseudo nation states, the growing plague of homelessness and poverty, and the never-ending human evil of oppression. These social injustices are not merely somewhere over there, in some distant land. These evils, along with the imbalance of power, the inequitable distribution of abundant resources, and the lack of concern for each other can be found in our own neighborhoods. These evils that aim to thwart God’s kingdom, can be found in even subtle ways as well.

Let me give you an example. A small non-denominational church in my old home state was known for its local mission work. They had a great cold night shelter for the homeless, they provided food packs for local school kids, and they distributed knitted shawls for folks living in the local retirement village. Despite their commitment to local mission work, something was wrong on the inside of the community. One of the men living on the streets, to which the church served through their cold night shelter, came to church one Sunday and sat in the front pew. This happened every Sunday for about a month until one day, one of the members went to the pastor and complained that the man smelled, and was disrupting worship. The member asked the pastor, to ask the homeless to not come to church on Sunday. It may be hard to believe, but this is a true story my friends.

Like the temple system in first century Jerusalem, some of our faith communities today become distracted from God’s mission, and become a little too internally focused. Some churches begin making choices about what is important in the life of the faith community, choices that do not align with justice, dignity, hope, resurrection, self-giving love, and reconciliation. We need to make sure that in all things, we live as if Christ were coming back today, as if the Kingdom of God was imminent and expected. We must strive to challenge things in our community that stand in contrast to God’s Kingdom. We must remember, that God’s kingdom begins with us, and the mission the church has been given by God is becoming more and more difficult in the 21st century.

Did you know that there are more people in this country today who do not attend church, than there were just 20 years ago? Pew Research reports that 22.8% of the U.S. population claims no affiliation with a religious institution, and that number was only 8% back in 1988. The world around us is changing and that means, we must adapt, or face potential obliteration at worst, or irrelevance at best. This sounds hopeless, but only so, if we refused to adapt, fail to constantly evaluate our witness, and refuse to live in the hope of God’s promises. When all seems to point to despair, we must live in hope. We must focus on being the people of justice, mercy, reconciliation, and love in all we do, and in all ways, anticipating, expecting, and living as if Christ was returning today.

Let’s live in hope and anticipation despite ominous threats, for even if “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down,” it will not matter. Nothing shall deter us from God’s mission for which God has a church, and that mission is “to bring all people into unity with God and in each other in Christ.”

“So let’s do it—(let’s become) full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. Jesus always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do, but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:19-25, The Message)

REFERENCES

1 Anderson, Mary W. “Time’s Up.” Christian Century 120.22 (2003): 19-318. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 16 Nov. 2012.

2 McGrath, Alister E. “Christian Theology: An Introduction” Blackwell Publishing, 2007, Oxford, p. 475

3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hope

SERMON – Church of the Good Samaritan, Clearwater, FL 11/8/15

widowRuth 3:1-5; 4:13-17; Psalm 127; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

Are you familiar with the story of the “Widow’s Mite,” the one we heard in the gospel proclamation this morning? It is possible to miss the point of the story, if you merely see it as just another stewardship reading. You may totally miss what Jesus is trying to say, if you were to somehow read the widow’s story, without the backdrop of the cultural system in which, she made her sacrificial offering. We could miss the overarching narrative, if we overlook the fact that her story is inseparably connected to that of the scribes. Let’s explore what was really happening in the temple that day.

The temple system that existed in first century Palestine was one, which in some cases, propped up and sustained the wealthy and influential, while at the same time, exploited and manipulated the poor, outcast, and people on the fringe of society. In a recent article written by Theologian Otis Moss, he asserts, “The scribes did not seek this position (of power and influence), with the goal of becoming elite and ethically suspect clergy.”(1) It took time for their behaviors and attitudes to became transformed by Roman power and wealth.

Moss explains in his article what happened to those who were once deeply committed to the Law of Moses. He wrote, “A life committed to the community, culture and a creative encounter with God was quietly replaced by patronage.” (1) Moss tells us that the scribes’ “need for respect and the desire for special attention was a common activity demon­strated by politicians and military personal connected to the empire.” (1) The scribes’ principles had transformed from God’s principles, and the scribes lost sight of their purpose, their mission, and their obligation to God and their neighbor.

Now let’s examine how the widow fits into the story. Women in this society rarely owned land or were involved in commerce and thus, they had to rely on benefactors for support (husbands, elder sons, etc.) For a widow to be without a benefactor meant she was left homeless, without support, and had to rely on charity for the basics of life. Even so, in order to be a part of temple worship, everyone had to pay a temple tax. So, we have this poor widow trying to survive and yet, she must pay to participate in the temple system.

Theologian Scott Hoezee explains, “When Jesus saw a widow giving away the last two coins she had to rub together, he saw … a glaring example of how far off the beam the whole temple enterprise had gotten. This woman felt obligated to give away what little she had and although that revealed how earnest she was, it was an earnestness that had been manipulated. So when Jesus says, “That’s all she had to live on,” he said it with exasperation in his voice. She should not have done that. She should not have been told to do that.” (2)

In today’s gospel reading, the events Jesus observed inside the temple that day, the actions of the scribes and the widow, was not merely a lesson for us about how we should respond to stewardship drives, or even about how we should give to support the church. It is a lesson from the Master about how the values of the establishment, the culture, and possibly even the values of the church, often clash with the values of God. Sometimes even the church forgets that we are all in need of grace, those we seem to think are worthy, and those we may not. Let me give you an example.

In a small church in a location far from Southwest Florida, a disgruntled parishioner came to see the rector one day and the conversation went something like this, “Mother Johnson, I have been asked by several parishioners in the church to come tell you about this terrible problem in our parish that must be addressed, or several of us will leave the church.” “What can possibly be that wrong,” the priest asked. “It is that new family’s rowdy children who keep talking, crying, or moving around and disrupting our sacred worship time,” the parishioner exclaimed. Sadly the priest asked, “What would you have me do?” The disgruntled parishioner exclaimed, “Tell the parents that they must either quiet their children or leave the church.”

This may sound like an outrageous story, but would it surprise you, if I told you it is a true one? When we hear this story, although it is not reflective of this community, we can still learn something from it. We really need to ask the question, what value does our community of faith place on all of God’s people, people who just so happen not to fit our idea of good church folk?

I wonder, would the story be different if the same parishioner came to the priest to tell her that the mayor of the city or a council member was in worship that day, and the same parishioner was making it her personal ministry, to invite the mayor to join the church. “In Jesus’ time as today, worshipers were assigned worth according to what they could do for the temple.” (2) We see this type of human value assignment in our culture today. We often evaluate someone’s worth by the way the dress, the car they drive, or by the home in which, they live.

One of the questions with which, we in the church today must wrestle is, “Do we value the contribution of all of God’s people based on our mutual life in Christ, by virtue of our baptism, or do we value people differently because of a system that assigns worth based on other’s contributions (financial or otherwise). That is not God’s way. In the Kingdom of God, there are no divisions, no class distinctions, no levels of importance based on what we do, or give. We are all children of grace.

The story about the scribes and the widow is a story about how we perceive someone else’s usefulness, which can get in the way of others’ ability to experience God’s abundant grace. Grace is the gift from God that is unmerited, it cannot be earned, and it cannot be manipulated, but we often act as if that is how it works. We are somehow misguided in a belief that grace is really about something we do, but in reality God’s love for us is really all about what God does, with no exceptions and no distinctions. What we do is to respond to grace, not try and earn it.

“Everything we do in the Christian life—including giving to the offering plate—is an outflow and an overflow of that grace.”(2) Grace makes no distinctions between who we think is worthy of it and who we sometimes assume is not. All of God’s people, those who look nothing like those gathered here, the outcast, the poor, young folk, old folk, all of God’s folks are “given the freedom to be who we have become (as) new creatures in Christ.” (2) How we see one another, and how we see folks on the fringe of the community, will determine our faithfulness to God’s mission. We all are recipients of grace, inheritors who are called to share that grace with everyone, with whom we encounter.

The Book of Common Prayer describes the mission of the church as, “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”   The BCP further states, “The ministry of lay persons is “to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world.” I would like to encourage you to take notice of two things about our mission and ministry in the church: (1) Our mission is to ALL people (with no differences) and (2) We are called to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world. In other words, the church is to GO into the world, and serve as a reconciling community to ALL people.

I want to share with you one last story. “It was a beautiful Sunday morning. People were filling the church to its fullest capacity. At the end of the line stood an older man. His clothes were filthy and you could tell that he had not bathed in days. When he reached the door, the usher glared at the old man and said, “Uh, I’m sorry sir, but I’m afraid we can’t let you in. You will distract the congregation and we don’t allow anyone to disrupt our service. I’m afraid you’ll have to leave.” The old man hung down his head and walked back down the steps of the big brick church. He sat down near the edge of the churchyard and strained to listen through closed doors and windows.

A few minutes had passed by when all of a sudden a younger man came up and sat down near him. He asked the old man what he was doing. He answered, “I was going to go to church today, but they thought I was filthy and my clothes are old and worn, and they were afraid I would disrupt their service.

The old man noticed that the younger man had on dirty old clothes like his, a ragged beard, unkempt hair, dust on his hands and his feet, on which the old man noticed, were these really unusual scars. The older man looked into the younger man’s eyes and was captivated by his smile, which was unmistakably filled with a love so divine. The young man looked at the older man, and said with a sad look on his face, “don’t feel bad because they won’t let you in. I think you know who I am, and I’ve been trying to get into that same church for years, and they won’t let me in either.”

As the church continues her mission in the 21st century, it is so important for us to break down the walls of distinction that would separate us from those children of God, whom God has called us to love; those same sisters and brothers God loves. So, when we encounter in our daily lives, either people on the fringe of society, the outcast, the poor, the broken-hearted, the widow, the orphan; or likewise, when we encounter the privileged, socially astute, the scribes of 21st century America, our job is to love them, as Christ loved us (and all of creation), and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God.

 

REFERENCES

(1) Moss, Otis III. “Living By The Word: Reflections On The Lectionary [N 8, 2009].” The Christian Century 126.22 (2009): 20. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.

(2) http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-27b/?type=the_lectionary_gospel#sthash.4i1HgbqQ.dpuf