Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21
2 Thess 2:1-5, 13-17
The temple had been destroyed about 50 years ago, and with the new ruler of the land, we are allowed to return home. Our exile is over (at least for the time being). We return to Jerusalem and start to rebuild the temple. We quit this work when our enemies threaten us lawyers frustrate our work of rebuilding (ivpress.com). In the book of Haggai are recorded words of hope:
…take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, 5according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear.
In other words, get back to work. Rebuild. My spirit lives within you. Do not fear. In fact, take courage.
We will do well to remember those words, to take them to heart, in this time and place.
We have rebuilding to do. Our physical building needs ongoing maintenance; one thing after another needs to be repaired, as physical things do. A tree has fallen, batteries need to be changed, the floor needs work, there are wasps in the sacristy; these things happen. They are necessary parts of ownership of a physical structure. They require chain saws and floor sweepers and mechanical parts and a spray or two of bug killer and a dustpan.
We have further rebuilding to do in this congregation. We remember that that our diocesan mission is to grow spiritually, numerically, and in missional leadership. Notice what comes first: to grow spiritually.
How do we do that?
Do not fear. Take courage. Keep building. God is with us. What does that mean? Let’s break it down in some specific ways.
· Pray daily. It will change your life. Rather, daily prayer will put you in a posture to be available to God so that God can not only change you, but transform you. We Christians are people of transformation.
· Not only pray daily, but also give thanks in all things. Give thanks. Give thanks in a time that might feel fallow. A fallow field is resting, deep within the earth, getting ready to grow again. Honor those times. It is in those times that God is at work, even making dirt ready to support life. Give thanks.
· Give to the church.
o Financially, sit down and work on a budget with your family. Give a percentage of your earnings to the church, and work toward the tithe, that’s right, toward 10%. Do not fear. Do not fret about 10% of what, before taxes or after taxes, start with 1% or 2% or 10% of something. Think about our gospel today: the parable about seven brothers dying and marrying this woman, and then whose husband is she when they all end up in heaven. Stop fretting about earthly things.
o Give of our first fruits. In other words, write your first check of the month to St. Peter’s or to a charity of your choice that you included in your budget. Give first, not last. This discipline, too, will gradually change your life.
o Give of your time. Pray about how you might help. It can be something as simple as cleaning the shelves of the refrigerator, sweeping up the flies from around the altar. We all have something that we can do. Build. Have courage.
· Pray again.
· Talk to one another.
o Who do we talk to? We’re going to practice that in just a minute. I’ll come back to that.
o What do we talk about? Talk about what you love: your kids, your grandkids, your favorite books, movies, hobbies, interests, pets, the things that simply fill your time and the things that fill you with joy. Did you hear that? We move our conversation from everyday life to those things that give us life, deep down.
· Our presiding bishop told us yesterday to notice where your heart sings. The growth of this parish will be found in those things that make our hearts sing, those things that give us joy. What is that for YOU? Talk about those things: cooking? We can feed people. Reading? We can read to kids after school. Camping? I’ll bet that there are a lot of kids who have never been camping. Shopping? Oh, the things that we can provide to those who have nothing … what makes your heart sing?
· Come to church. Check out the post on Facebook from this week that pointed out what happens when you are not with us. Here are a few of the itmes:
o The body of the congregation is incomplete
o Your voice is not heard in the worship and singing of the saints
o You cannot actively serve those who may need your gifts. We need your gifts.
o You set an example to our youth that it’s okay to miss church.
o You make it easier to miss the next week and the next and the next…
o You miss the opportunity to share your struggles with the saints of God. We miss the opportunity to know how to pray for you.
o And so forth.
Further numerical growth will happen when we find what it is that makes our heart sing. Yes, I said “further.” St. Peter’s is, in fact, growing. Congregations in the Diocese of Rochester that have received congregational development grants have grown in Sunday attendance an average of 2% over three years. We already have that beat. We have several new families here, people who have come in the past two years. It is time for us to look with hope at the present and into the future.
Back to finding what makes our hearts sing. How can we not share those things about which we are passionate? If we love something – ice cream, even – we tell others where to find our favorite kind. When we love this community, we do not want to hold it in secret, but to bring our favorite people to spend time with us here. We share our passions. What makes your heart sing? What makes our hearts sing together? Where is more of that needed? Go there. Do that. Build new life.
I encourage us/you to take hold and take charge of the mission of this church. “We offer compassion and courage to serve the needs and hopes of the world around us.” What is your part in that compassion, courage, serving of needs? I have taken vows to be pastor, priest, and teacher. We have prayed together these words:
We pray that Catherine may be to us an effective example in word and action, in love and patience, and in holiness of life. Grant that we, with her, may serve you now, and always rejoice in your glory.
You have my prayer and my promise to continue in this work, that we might together be in those places in which God can transform us.
When the presiding bishop began her address to the convention yesterday, she brought us greetings from Episcopalians everywhere. I bring you those same greetings: greetings to you in Christ from the diocese of Rochester, all the dioceses of NY, from Honduras, France, Asia, Haiti, Panama, Alaska … and the rest of the United States. The Most Rev. Schori named more places, but you get the point. We Episcopalians, and Anglicans, and Christians, live throughout the world. We are united in a common vow, that of our baptism. When Jesus was baptized, he came up out of the Jordan river and the Word of God thundered in the heavens: this is my beloved child and with you I am well-pleased. We are the beloved children of God, each and every one of us. Together we form beloved community, and beloved community is our gift to, and our task in, the world. Being beloved is how we are Christians in the world. We pray for this kind of life at least every week, in a very common prayer: your kingdom come on earth, oh Lord, as it is in heaven. Being beloved and taking that reality into the world is the beginning of abundant life. Your kingdom come. Your will be done.
Abundant life begins, ends, and has its foundation in prayer. We will continue to study and to practice prayer together.
The words of Haggai, the words from our presiding bishop and the words from the convention of this diocese – above all, the words from our Lord, are words of hope. We have the eternal promise that God is always with us. Do not be afraid. Stretch. Build. Sing. Go and be love.
Now, that communication, what do we talk about thing? Let’s practice right now. Please stand, as you choose and are able. Repeat after me: You are beloved child of God with whom God is well-pleased. Now turn to the person on one side of you. If you are comfortable doing so, take this person’s hand. Say the words:
You are a beloved child of God with whom God is well-pleased.
Still okay? Drop hands and change roles.
How did that feel? Let’s take that love, that unimaginable belovedness, beyond these walls. St. Peter’s needs you that the world might know abundant life.
Let us pray.
Gracious Lord, we praise you. Guide us to find our mission in a broken, violent, and chaotic world. Help us not to run from building and rebuilding, but to return home and to build in Your glory. Help us to remember that you told us that we have nothing to fear. Inspire us and give us courage to get back to work in building your kingdom on earth, starting here at St. Peter’s. Love us, equip us, enlighten us, and set our hearts on fire. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.