Sunday, 4 July 2010

A tale of Three Churches

I preached at 8:00 and 9:30 this morning at St. Margaret of Scotland Church. My sermon is posted below.  It "preached" better than it reads.

I had a splendid Independence Day lunch with St. Boniface Church parishioners Jack and Donna Chrisman, together with Muriel Quinn.   ( Jack is an exquisite cook, and the company was lovely.  Muriel is English and catches my under stated humour very easily!)

This evening saw me at a fine 4th July pot-luck picnic for members of All Angels by the Sea.

Just enough religion, and more than enough good food!

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Sermon for 4th July 2010
The Revd. J. Michael Povey at St. Margaret of Scotland Episcopal Church, Sarasota FL
Luke 10:1-20
“The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go”.   Those seventy were to be heralds of the mission of God, assuring people that the “Kingdom of God has come near you”.  God is calling us to be part of that mission. God is calling us to be ministers.
The seventy were to go in pairs.  This speaks of companionship in ministry.  It means that ministers are those who listen, not just those who talk.  It militates against the ministry of dangerous “lone rangers” who are in love with their own egos.
The seventy were to travel light – no purse, no bag, no sandals.  Good ministers are those who are not burdened by their devotion to things, but by their love of people.
They were told to stay in the homes which offered them hospitality, and not to wander from house to house seeking a better deal.  The best ministers are deeply content with who they are and what they have.
The seventy were told that sometimes they would not be well received.  But even then they were to proclaim that the Kingdom of God has come near.    Sometimes it is important for ministers to cut their losses and to move on.
The seventy were told that God’s judgment and God’s mercy are not the same human judgment and mercy. The foreign cities of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom will receive the mercy of God, whilst the local towns of Bethsaida, Chorazin and Capernaum will fall under God’s judgment. Those who share in the mission of God must free themselves of ethic or nationalistic pride.  (True patriotism is rooted in humility and gratitude, not in pride and chest-thumping).
Finally Jesus tells the seventy that there is more to ministry than spectacular success. Ministers do not crow about their triumphs.  But they are deeply and humbly joyful because their names are written in heaven
God is calling us to be a people of mission. It is a mission that should spring forth from our life at St. Margaret’s.
Do you like St. Margaret’s Church?  
Do you want this parish to grow?
Do you like it just as it is?

I am as certain as can be that we all like and care for St. Margaret’s Church.  It has a deep place in our affection. 
I am equally sure that we all want the parish to grow.  We know that the alternative to growth is slow death. We also know that we have a treasure which is worth sharing.
The answer to the third question is tricky.   For if we like St. Margaret’s just as it is, then we are forming a club for the like-minded, instead of being a people who share in God’s mission.  There is a stark choice.  As good as it gets here at St. Margaret’s (and of course in other parishes) we must be eager for things to change if we are working towards a dynamic and growing parish which understand that mission is more important than maintenance.
The mission of God, put simply, is to call all people into repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. 
If we are to share in that mission then we must repent of our grudging spirit towards others, and of our racial, nationalistic or religious pride which deems “others” as unworthy.  Naaman the Syrian was a an enemy of the people of Israel but Elisha did not treat him as unworthy -  he welcomes him as a sick man who needed healing.
We must also repent of our half hearted commitment to God. God is not a hobby to be enjoyed in our spare time.
If we are to share in God’s mission then we must practise forgiveness over and over again, until it becomes a way of life.  An unforgiving heart damages us deeply, and stunts our spiritual growth.  Old grudges cause calluses in our souls.  And we are to receive forgiveness on a daily basis as a renewing gift from the heart of God.  Offering forgiveness renews not only the person who is being forgiven, but also the one who is doing the forgiving.
If we are to share in God’s mission we are to seek reconciliation at every turn.  We may start by being reconciled to our own past failures.  We can continue by recognising that we have already been reconciled to God in Christ.  We persist by becoming agents of reconciliation where ever we encounter mistrust and hatred.
Repentance.  Forgiveness.  Reconciliation.  These will become the hallmarks of a parish which will grow in spiritual maturity, and will be a haven for all those in our communities who long for such a lifestyle. Just imagine if these words got out:  “St. Margaret’s is a place where you can be sure to encounter repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation”.  “No one holds grudges there”.  “The members are so very comfortable in their own skins; they are at peace with themselves”.  “You can trust people there”. “Those people at St. Margaret’s truly bear each other’s burdens”.
Those would be words about a congregation which is sharing in God’s mission!



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