Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17 Psalm 127 Hebrews 9:24-28 Mark 12:38-44
Yesterday the delegation of St. Peter’s had the privilege of participating in the 81st Diocesan Convention of the Diocese of Rochester. Diocesan conventions are one of the ways in which we connect to the very early church; our gatherings reach back to the first meetings of the apostles as we read about them in the book of Acts. In Acts, we remember that there was a division and a controversy, settled with a resolution “that seemed right to the Holy Spirit.” Our church conventions, while they take place in the present, are rooted in past history, in real events.
Yesterday we had no major controversies; we had a few discussions, some passionate viewpoints, and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. In each gathering place there were toys on the table; later, beach balls bounced through the delegation … even a giant Gumby visited for a moment or two. What was going on in Geneva? This was a meeting? An historic council?
What was going on, my friends, was JOY. That’s right, JOY. The toys, kazoos, and Gumby were to remind us not to take life, and ourselves, too seriously. We are called to remember that the heart of our life together is not about business meetings and agendas and resolutions. The heart of our life together is joy in the saving grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are called to practice with joy the knowledge and love and discipleship of Jesus Christ. In a light-hearted way, we were living into the diocesan theme of “joy in Christ as a way of life.”
Joy in Christ as a way of life.
Let’s look at joy in light of the journey upon which you and I have embarked. I received a call from St. Peter’s in the middle of a hurricane; we postponed in-depth conversation until the storm had passed. It was hard to think about serving God’s people in a new place when the immediate and urgent need was for water, power, and God’s mercy. Our journey together already includes another hurricane, a storm named Sandy that made a huge impact in parts of the country mostly unfamiliar with hurricane preparation and aftermath. So we have a history together already, of hurricanes, storms, … and God’s mercy. God calls us to live with joy through whatever it is that we face.
Our psalmist gives us a different idea; perhaps we are not so much on a journey, but that we are building a house. We are building a structure. The building of this house is not for the fainthearted, for it must be built in a very special way. From centuries ago, our psalmist’s message is true for us this day:
Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.
The Lord builds our house. The Lord established the church, are we are caretakers of that place. It is not just any house that we are building. In fact, we are not building a house of wood, or of bricks and mortar. We are building a house of faith. Jesus Christ our risen Lord and Savior is its cornerstone and its foundation. How appropriate that St. Peter’s, “on this rock I will build my house” St. Peter’s, is still today in this place a house of faith. We have a call on our lives and on our church.
We are building a house of faith, of discipleship and of radical hospitality, none of which are possible without our Lord. And from the Lord alone are we given joy in all things. ALL things. Storms. Hardship. New beginnings. In every day we are invited to a life of joy, and it is that house that we begin to build together today. Never before has this group of disciples in this time and place been gathered; this is holy time, a time of joy and for joy and for the presence of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So —
What is it that the Lord have us build? What will our house of faith and discipleship look like?
In what ways will we experience and express joy?
We ask God to build this house, the church. We are Christ’s hands and feet in this world, and we begin together today in a new way. We each and all have a part, tools that we bring to ministry.
I come to you as pastor, priest, and teacher; those are my ordination vows. Those same vows remind us that the Church is the family of God, the body of Christ, and the temple of the Holy Spirit. I commit myself to this trust and responsibility in this time and in this place.
We ask God to build this house.
I am looking forward to getting to know each and every one of you. I ask you, also, to be intentional in this process. Come by for coffee, conversation, prayer. Let’s take a walk, or sit in silence; or join in a meditation with paper and crayons or paper and scissors. Let’s experience together the presence and power and life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit. Let’s get to know one another. Let’s pray, study, agree, disagree, and pray again.
One of the things that drew me to St. Peter’s was this: no matter what brought people to worship here, you have all told me that you stay here because it is your family. We are family! That we are the family of and in God – do you realize what that means? We are that house that nothing can destroy, that is filled with joy that spills into the world in ways that we cannot even imagine. That joy will carry us through everything we face, for that abiding joy is of God – not the world – and nothing can take it away. The Rev. Marvin McMickle, President of Colgate Rochester Crozer Dvinity School reminded us yesterday that “what the world gives the world can quickly take away.” Because joy, that which is from God alone, never goes away. Joy is with us and within us in all things. We are family, beloved children of God, bound together by God and through our vows of baptism and our devotion to our Lord. You are already carrying out that love in your life together, as so many of you have already expressed. Thank you for inviting me to be part of your family in Christ. Thank you for embarking on the building of a new house today. Thank you, dear God, for filling the people of St. Peter’s with Your joy, that they may reach out and invite others to the house which You are building. Thank you, Lord, for giving us hands and feet and hearts that long for you. Thank you for claiming us always as Your beloved children. Thank you, precious Lord.
As we begin, let’s build that house!
Let’s experience joy in Christ as a way of life.
Always, to God be all honor, glory, and thanksgiving. Amen.