Proper 21b 2015: It is time again for joy

“It is time again for joy.”

We recently passed the tenth anniversary of a devastating storm named Katrina. Some of us know well is destructive path. We remember better a storm named Hurricane Sandy; we are approaching the third anniversary of its devastation. Think for a minute about the many storms you have weathered in your own life. For those storms, what anniversary is this? Maybe your storm is named hurricane Sandy, the anniversary #3. You have repairs to make, rebuilding to do. Maybe your storm is named cancer; the death of a loved one; financial worries; a particular betrayal; we all have at least one memorable storm in our life. What is the name of your storm? If you haven’t already, try giving your storm a name, that we might deal with it in an intentional way. It’s hard to ignore a storm that is surrounding us when we have recognized it and given it a name. Recovery, even rebuilding appropriately follows every storm. Debris is cleared; structures are put back up in new ways; life, though changed, resumes.

When life begins again – in a new way – something else, more subtle, returns. In a Christ-following, God-believing gathering of the faithful, something else is called to appear. We name it joy. Joy not only makes an appearance but abides with us if not during, then certainly after, every storm. We are called to find joy.

I am going to be bold and call St. Peter’s recent storm “financial woe.” Say it with me: “financial woe.” Now we’ve named it. We have as a community met this storm before. I may not know the history exactly, but here it is, in summary:
One time we met the storm of financial woe and recovered from it by selling some property to Episcopal Senior Life communities. Look at the recovery! More than forty eight more people now have a home in which they can be assisted with their living needs. An equal number of families have safe, affordable housing. The recovery from this storm is so strong that people are waiting to take advantage of what is offered; they are finding recovery from their own storms. St. Peter’s found financial help and recovered, as well. Thanks be to God!

Another storm named “financial woe” hit St. Peter’s and was faced head-on by the establishment of a day care facility. Many parishioners worked hard on this recovery and rebuilding effort. It was a successful recovery. In fact, while the day care is no longer here, the community called St. Peter’s is still standing. Its building is still here, too.

The storm of financial woe was then addressed via a renter named PRALID. St. Peter’s provided a home for a recovery program that, in turn, assisted with its own rebuilding. St. Peter’s is still standing.

Further recovery efforts continue to happen. I came here amidst the next – and seemingly ongoing – storm of “financial woe” and a recovery effort called the “Congregational Development Grant.” Yet at the very first Finance meeting held during my tenure, the Finance Committee talked about what would happen if more money did not come in, and how might I feel, in kindness and generosity, about being a part-time rector. The storm, it seems, continues. We have a solution.

The solution is not for me to be your part-time rector. Building and maintaining a sacramental community is not a part-time job. We have a sacramental community of faith right here. I have been called to be your pastor, priest, and teacher, and I am committed to that call in this time and place. Being part-time is not a matter of my kindness or generosity; being a priest is my vocation, call, and is the source of my livelihood. Together we will continue to seek spiritual growth and financial stability. Together we are weathering this storm.

The solution, friends is this. It is time to return to joy. The rector who conducted church services on the very beach that swallowed the building of a church ten years ago was faithful when he said: “the church is still standing.” To the backdrop of ocean waves, he celebrated. To the backdrop of ocean waves, the congregation stood and shared body and blood. And he said: “It’s time for joy. We are Christians” and we are all about joy. We have our own waves at St. Peter’s. The church is still standing. The building is, too. And to us I say: “It is time for joy.”

Just a bit about finances and joy. In 2012, the vestry of St. Peter’s forecast a financial deficit of about $7000. At the end of the year, we had paid all of our bills and had money left over. It’s time for joy.

The same thing happened in 2013. In spite of a bigger forecasted deficit, we paid all of our bills and had budget money to spare. The church is still standing. The building is, too. And 2013 was a difficult year: your priest conducted six funerals, three of them in this space and in a timeframe of four weeks. With that grief, do you remember what a holy time that was? We prayed, sang, and remembered our refrain of “alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” We sent new saints to eternal life. You (we) fed everyone who came into this place with prayer and physical food, spiritual food, and eternal life. It was a time of joy. It is time again for joy.

What happened in 2014? Fewer people came to church; not many fewer, but we have said farewell to some of our saints through aging, death, moving away, cultural pressure, changes. We are a bit smaller than we once were. The storm named “financial woe” still made its presence known. We paid all of our bills anyway. We dipped into a little bit of our savings to do so, but the storm did not wash us away. It is time for joy.

Joy does not come without our involvement, our efforts, and I do not mean our worry. We can, as Bishop Singh informed us, delegate our worry to the Finance Committee and to the vestry. One of the highlights of the Bishop’s visit with St. Peter’s was the joy that Prince felt, the definite lack of hand-wringing, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the form of hope and joy. This is a place filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Remember that joy.

Joy requires our active involvement. Joy, not surface happiness, means seeking it every day. Joy means spending time individually and corporately with God in all of God’s forms. Prayer. Study. Worship. Self-examination. Time in a garden, with your family. Joy means responding to what God has given us, to each of us. Joy is about a relationship with God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Ask God what God would have you do in all things. Then do that.

Joy comes from transformation. Here’s what can happen. Instead of, for example, feeling burdened by being asked to provide coffee hour, what if your heart asked you to provide your friends and family with a bit of food and drink? What a joy to be able to gather with the people you call friends, with whom you have just shared the very body and blood of Christ! Welcome one another into your church home. Serve a bit of food and drink. Ask each other, “how was your week?” Meet someone new. This IS the body of Christ.

Think about all of the things that we do. Altar Guild work could be considered washing dishes and cleaning towels. Altar Guild tasks are transformed by the joy of caretaking those things that carry Christ’s body and blood. It is no longer work, but the profound giving to others of the presence of Jesus, of being in the presence of Jesus, in handling precious body and blood. It is filled with a response to, and a response of, joy.

Everything that we do in the church is done with Jesus the risen Christ at our center. It is transformative work. It requires every one of us to live into that which we are called to do. Wrestle with God. Ask God the hard questions of your life. Respond. Along the way, talk with one another. Call upon your priest, who is asking those questions and walking with you as your spiritual leader every step of the way. This is holy community, transformed and transformative.

The vestry has recommitted itself to living in joy, to delegate worry to those who are called to deal with exactly that. The underlying work will continue. The vestry, through the work of others and with all of us, practiced joy in a special celebration on September 13th. We tried something new, gathered in worship and study. We had spiritual food and drink, holy education, and familial food and drink. We did do all of those things in a joyful celebration. We already do those things well. What a wonderful celebration!

Friends and family, my brothers and sisters, I am talking about the fullness and breadth of stewardship – of our lives, of our church, of our building, of ourselves. We bring all that we are and all that we have into everything that we do. That “S” word called stewardship is that call that we were given in the book of Genesis, to be caretakers of God’s creation.

Respond in joy. It is time to conquer our storms, whatever they are called, with the deep and abiding joy of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen! Alleluia!

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