Friday, March 25, 2011

Final Sermon and Challenge to Trinity Episcopal Church, Wetumpka, Alabama

Epiphany 7, Feb. 20, 2011
No Love, No Nothing

O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Amen.

1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23: According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, & someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.

Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person.  For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written,

"He catches the wise in their craftiness," and again, "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile." So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether

Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future--
all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

Last week we reflected on the 13th century Russian Icon of the Trinity and its implications for Christian hospitality.  I would like to pick up today where we left off last Sunday.  I believe it is the church’s task to show hospitality to the world.  

“Welcome one anothe just as Christ has welcomed you,” St. Paul exhorts us (Rm 15:7).  We must welcome one another with the same mercy and unconditional acceptance that we have received.  This is our timeless mission, to invite All people to feast on the infinite generosity of God.

          An African-American spiritual sings of sitting at the Welcome Table: “I’m gonna sit at the welcome table. I gonna sit at the welcome table one of these days, hallelujah!  All God’s children gonna sit together…one of these days.”  Springing from the vision of God’s inclusive grace in Christ, this old spiritual invites us to radical hospitality.  
The Altar of this church—and of all churches—is the welcome table, where the bread of life is shared and where all are meant to find the unconditional welcome of God.’

          “A Chinese blessing/curse states: May you live in interesting times.” Certainly the world and America and the Episcopal Church have received both the blessing and the curse of this statement in the past few years:  9/11 and global terrorism, wars and rumors of wars, Katrina, the Haitian earthquake, severe economic swings and a Great Recession, and, of course, the on-going debate aboutsexual ethics in th Episcopal Church, in fact in all churches.  Interesting times, indeed.”

Through all of these challenges and changes in our lives and in our church, we, at our best, have kept our focus on worship and mission.  It has not been easy, but we have largely kept our balance and maintained “the unity of Spirit in the bond of peace that joins us together.”

During these years together we have strengthened our Sunday School Program for all ages, we have brought together one of the best youth groups in the diocese and hosted a Happening Weekend for High School youth.  We have staffed Summer Camp and lead Christmas Conference.  We have built a New Nave and Sanctuary and we have grown by 25%. 

Unfortunately, the financing of our ministry has remained static and our outreach ministry both locally and through our giving to the diocese has been reduced.  One of my prayers for Trinity is that your giving will grow in proportion to your commitment to our Lord’s ministry and that outreach ministry will grow to 25% and more of your time and money.  It was Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple who said that “the church is the only organization in the world that exists primarily for those who are not members. It is important for us to remember that at Trinity,  the Gospel has been preached, lives have been transformed by the love of Christ, and God has been joyfully worshipped and faithfully served.

Looking to the future, I believe that Trinity is well positioned to take in stride the diversity of our wonderful Episcopal Church.  Change is inevitable and being in communion is always far more important than being in agreement about everything.  We will inevitably have different views on issues such as committed same sex relationships.  We will not always be in step with one another.  This is the nature of the church.  As the old hymn states, “there’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea.”

Another one of my prayers for Trinity is that in these often fractious times we must not succumb to the seduction of polarization that seems to be the standard of our day.  At the Welcome Table of our Christian faith there is room for different points of view as expressed in our creeds and prayer book.  It is my hope that Trinity will continue to be a place of welcome for “all sorts and conditions of people in God’s varied family and a beacon of unity in the midst of diversity and of balance in an age of extremism.  God needs all of us together.

          Even though hospitality is natural for we southerners, we know that Gospel Hospitality is much more radical, even than our Southern Hospitality.  Jesus’ hospitality extended not just to his friends but to the sinners and outcasts of his day.  He shared table fellowship with those on the margins and those considered unrighteous.  He spoke about the feasts of God’s kingdom where everyone was welcome.  Remember the Wedding at Cana and the Prodigal Son, and the wedding guests from the highways and byways.  Jesus said, “love your enemies,” as well as “love one another”(which sometimes can be more difficult than loving our enemies!). 

On the cross we beheld his life-transforming love as he stretched out his loving arms to all, even those who crucified and rejected him.  The cross is God’s ultimate hospitality, a saving embrace of mercy and loving kindness to the whole world.  Perhaps Desmond Tutu, retired Archbishop of South Africa said it best:

There is a movement at the heart of things to reverse the awful centrifugal force of alienation, brokenness, division, hostility and disharmony.  God has set in motion a centripetal process, a moving toward the Center, towards unity, harmony, goodness, peace and justice; one that removes barriers.  Jesus says, ‘when I am lifted up from the earth I will draw everyone to myself; as he hangs from his cross with out-flung arms, thrown out to clasp all, everyone and everything in a cosmic embrace; so that everyone, everything belongs.  None is an outsider, all are insiders, and all belong in one family, God’s family, the human family.

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