Monday, September 14, 2009

Welcome to fall!

Well, I certainly didn't intend to just drop the blog for the entire summer, but that's obviously what happened! Not only did I relax and read a lot, we traveled and in spite of the heat and drought had a wonderful summer. We're enduring recovery of my hero's recent foot surgery and he's not having the easiest time of it -- but it will be over in the not too distant future. Here below is the Rally Day sermon for our mission in the 'burb. Time to step up to the plate and hit some home runs out of the ball park. Hey, it is September, and the playoffs are close, football is taking over the airwaves! (Patricia, mentioned in the sermon, is our wonderful Director of Congregational Development.)

A little over a week ago, I went to the installation of Morgan Allen as the new rector of Church of the Good Shepherd. It was a beautiful service with Bishop Andy Doyle as celebrant. My dear friend, Dr. Roger Paynter of First Baptist was the preacher. Roger spoke to Morgan, and to all of us who are ministers, that our job is not simply to be pastors, but to also be prophets. Now many people believe that word “prophet” means someone who sees into the future, like a fortune-teller. That’s not the Biblical definition. What the prophets in the Bible, and prophets today do, is speak the truth in love. It is a job that isn't as easy as being a pastor -- someone who cares for and shepherds the congregation. Rather, Roger was telling us that it is important to speak out the truth of what we see in our congregations, and in the world. To not only love and care for our people, but also to challenge our people to grow in their love of the Lord – to help our members become stronger, more spirit-filled Christians, rejoicing in doing the work of God.
In our Old Testament reading for today, we hear words of prophecy. Wisdom cries out to the people, “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?” The writer of Proverbs is telling the people that it is time to wake up and pay attention, that it is way past time for the people to turn from being caught up in the world, and time to focus on the truth to be gleaned from immersing themselves in holiness.
Peter was the “rock” upon whom Jesus built his church – the #1 disciple, right? And yet, in today’s Gospel, Jesus has no hesitation in saying to him, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." Jesus is prophesying, telling the truth to his premiere disciple, calling Peter to face his lack of understanding, to see how his view of life was caught up in the mundane, the worldly, rather than striving to see with a spiritual, God-focused heart.
We have a few people here at St. Paul’s who are obviously in love with God and his church. They actively embrace whatever opportunity is offered to learn more about God, and they join in study and conversation. They devote energy to making this community a family. They have never stopped seeking a deeper relationship with God.
And there are those here who have yet to hear the intensity and recognize the importance of God’s call. There are some of us who may see themselves in the words of this poem by Wilbur Rees:
I would like to buy three dollars worth of God, please.
I would like to buy just a little of the Lord.
Not enough to explode my soul and disturb my sleep.
Not enough to take control of my life.
I want just enough to equal a cup of warm milk.
Just enough to ease some of the pain from my guilt.

I would like to buy three dollars worth of God, please.
I would like to find a love that is pocket-sized.
I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man, or pick beets with a migrant. Not enough to change my heart.
I can only stand just enough to take to church when I have time.
Just enough to equal a snooze in the sunshine.
I want ecstasy, not transformation.
I want the warmth of the womb, but not a new birth.

I would like to purchase a pound of the eternal in a paper sack.
If it doesn’t work, I would like to get my money back.
I would like to buy three dollars worth of God, please.
I would like to hide some for a rainy day.
Not enough for people to see a change in me.
Not enough to impose any responsibility.
Just enough to make folks think I am ok.
Could I just get three dollars worth of God, please?”

I speak frequently of the Holy Spirit setting hearts on fire – the transforming power that comes from being in love with God. Have you ever personally experienced it? Perhaps the flame burns brightly in your heart. Or has the flame now become a barely smoldering coal, or even gone cold? If you take a coal from the fire and set it on the edge of the hearth, the flame quickly dies down and the coal quits burning. Yet the coals in the midst of the fire will continue to burn brightly, because they feed each other. It is that same experience in the church. Yes, corporate worship is important, this altar is where we come to be fed, both spiritually and physically, it is where we praise and worship our Lord. But also important is our time together in study and group prayer, in sharing our lives, in getting to know one another intimately, becoming true family. Our Lord is calling us to build a close-knit community here, one that spends quality time together, interacting with one another as well as worshipping together. A community that rejoices in working together to bring hope to the world around us.
In the next few weeks, we are going to offer and encourage, challenge and inspire each and every one of us, of all ages, to come together and build up the fire of the Holy Spirit in this place. I have mentioned our audio Bible challenge over the past couple of weeks. We will begin listening to the New Testament next Sunday, the 20th, when every member will be given their free CD of the New Testament. In addition, Patricia and I have spent many hours praying for guidance for ways to bring us closer to one another and to God, to hear God’s vision for St. Paul’s. Patricia, please come up here and tell the people about some ideas we’ve had that we believe God is calling us to do.
(Patricia’s time, in which she spoke beautifully of storytelling, teaching/mentoring, outreach, pastoral care, and a social dinner gathering that the Episcopal Church calls Foyers. These will be continuing areas of study and activity. She also explained again our wonderful new program called "Faith Comes by Hearing" in which we all have CDs to listen to the New Testament, 28 minutes a day for 40 days. We will finish the NT just in time for Advent. We also welcomed the input of all members into a discernment process for other things we could do together to build the church.)

Closing Prayer:
Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, Bless us we pray. Send down upon this place the fire of your Holy Spirit. Break open our hearts, Lord; that we may be filled with your love. Hold us in your hand, Lord, and blow upon us the wind of your Spirit, that the light of your love will become a raging fire that will set this community ablaze. In the name of your Son Jesus we pray, Amen.