Sermon for 26th October 2016: The Revd. J. Michael Povey at St. David’s Episcopal Church, South Yarmouth, MA.
Isaiah 2:2-4; Ephesians 2:13-22; Luke 10:1-9
** Cyfarchion yn enw yr Arglwydd Jesys
Greetings: first to Bishop Gates. Although I live and minister in Sarasota FL he is my Bishop. I am glad to be part of the Diocese of Massachusetts.
Bishop Gates and I first met when, in 1990, he became the Rector at Trinity Church in Ware, MA. He looked so young. I thought, “my goodness, we are now ordaining school boys!” He and I knew each other well enough, and we liked and respected each other.
The he was whisked away to Lake Forest, IL to serve with the Revd. George Councell. George (whom I’d also known in Western MA) subsequently became the Bishop of New Jersey. From Lake Forest our Bishop went to Cleveland, OH where his Bishop was Mark Hollingsworth – who had been the Archdeacon in Massachusetts.
Alan Gates had excellent mentors in Bishops Councell and Hollingsworth.
second to Becky Alden: Jonathan and Andrea Taylor and I know and very much care for her brother and sister Bill and Sharon Alden down in Sarasota. I had the distinct pleasure of baptizing her grand-niece Ione.
During the 1976 General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Minneapolis/St. Paul, the Presiding Bishop, the Rt. Revd. John Allin, rappelled from the highest beam of the Convention Centre, landed, cope and mitre intact, on the podium and announced in the gracious tones of a Southern Gentleman:
“Bishop and Deputies, I present our new Book of Common Prayer – Proposed”
Well, it didn’t happen quite like that (and I cannot do “southern”), but the 1976/79 Prayer Book was not a revision of the 1928 book. Indeed it was new.
It includes many Liturgies which were brand new for Episcopalians. One of them is a clunker: it bears the misleading title “Celebration of a New Ministry”. That title is inaccurate, because there is no new ministry. More about that in a while.
This Liturgy, which we are using today, is already dated, and even dangerous. It’s a very 1976 liturgy, from an era when authoritarian Rectors and Bishops were still very much in vogue.
It can convey the notion that “real” ministry is in the hands of the Rector. It’s as if we are saying “well, we have survived the interregnum during which we all ministered for the glory of God and the good of the congregation. Now we must hand it back to our Rector – bible, flask of water, stole, a book, a cruet of healing oil, keys, a book of canon law, bread, and a half gallon bottle of Gallo’s best red wine.
Andi will receive those artifacts and place them on a table. We might as well be putting them into a back pack for her to wear 24/7 as we say “It’s all yours Andi”.
You will notice that as these items are given to her, the liturgy does not provide any way for her to respond. It’s not even “take it or leave it”, or “take it and respond to us”, it’s “take it in silence”.
Dear brothers and sisters, handle this part of the service today in good heart and with gracious intention, knowing that my friend and sister in Christ the Revd. Andrea S. Taylor will be thinking (and maybe even saying) “thanks all the same, but it’s not mine, it’s ours”.
Fortunately Bishop Gates and Andi Taylor have modified the service for this evening’s celebration. In those good changes we give voice to shared ministry as we present tokens of service to other leaders in the congregation: Sonny (Church School); Don (Eucharistic Visitors); Maggie (Music); Bernice *Paper Pantry).
It’s ours because there is no new ministry. There is but one ministry; the mission and ministry of God. It is God’s ministry, it has always been that way, and this evening we are declaring with fear and with joy “whatever God is up to in the world we are determined to be part of it”.
God has not left us to guess and to speculate as to what that ministry involves. He has set out the blueprint in the Torah, in the words of the prophets, and most clearly for us in the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus calls that ministry “the Kingdom of God”, or the “Kingdom of Heaven”. Of course it is not our job to “build up the Kingdom of God”. It is not something we build; it is something which is already here. We are called to live fully into the Kingdom, just as Jesus did.
We pray about it every week: “your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven”.
In other words our primary task is NOT to get people ready for heaven. Rather it is to bring heaven to earth. We are called to be so heavenly minded that we can’t wait until we die to get to heaven, instead we begin to experience heavenly lives here on earth.
What does a heavenly life look like? It ain’t sitting around on clouds playing harps (boring!).
What does heavenly life look like? Here are three examples.
From the Torah - heavenly life is when we welcome the alien and the stranger. Hear this for instance from Leviticus: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God”. God’s ministry is to welcome the stranger.
We are against building walls to keep strangers out. As Ephesians puts it we are God’s business of breaking down dividing walls.
What if St. David’s created a ministry of hospitality to the aliens and strangers who are summer workers on the Cape. That would be heavenly.
From the Prophets – heavenly life is beating swords into ploughshares, and spears into pruning hooks.
What if St. David’s created a ministry for women who suffer violence AND their abusers turning violent relationships (swords and spears) into fruitful relationships, (ploughs and pruning hooks). That would be heavenly.
From Jesus of Nazareth - heavenly life is when we go from house to house uttering “Peace to this House” whether or not that peace is accepted.
Going from door to door is increasingly difficult in these paranoid days.
But what if St. David’s rented a booth or table at the Bass River Farmer’s Market to hand out free water, and to ask your guests “is there something you would like us to pray for?” You could call it “care and prayer”. That could be heavenly.
There is no new ministry. But there is a new Minister. She comes to you with her husband Jonathan and their sons Noah and Jacob - they support her and they challenge her.
The Revd. Andrea S. Taylor is your new Rector. That word means “ruler” and I know every well that Andi has no desire to rule you.
What Andi has done in Sarasota, and will do here is to be your Mentor, enabling the best in you so that: “whatever God is up to in the world you will be part of it”.
Andi and I have known each other for sixteen years, first in the Alewife Deanery of this Diocese, then for nine years as we shared in ministry in Sarasota.
Her mentoring will be deeply rooted in many gifts, of which I name three.
*Andi will be an un-anxious mentor when the days get tough, (and they will). For two and a half years when St. Boniface experienced strife and tension beyond all belief our sister helped us to hold the center. She was the one who always said “peace be to this house”.
*Andi preaches in an inviting style. She is not one whose sermons tell us how to think and what to do. Rather, her sermons welcome us into a conversation, one in which the Holy Spirit is “in charge”.
*Andi is a good and safe listener. You will be able to pour out your soul to her in the knowledge that she will weep when you are weeping, and rejoice in your joys.
The floor of St. David’s Cathedral in Wales is built on a slope. It rises fourteen feet from the West door to the Chancel.
If that were the case at this St. David’s, Andi would be the coach and mentor. As we climbed the steep slope to the Altar Andi would be saying “Come on, all together. You might not be able to do it alone, but we can”.
And at the end of service, Andi would say, “put on your roller skates or roller blades; push your walkers as fast as you can; take the brakes off your wheel chair”. Then woot, woot, woot, off we would go, racing down the slope and out through the west door, all the while singing with glee:
“Let us go forth into the world - rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit”.
Let us pray:
Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen
**Cyfarchion yn enw yr Arglwydd Jesys
** Welcome in the name of the Lord Jesus – in Welsh.
*St David’s hosts a “paper pantry” once a month. E.B.T. benefits (a.k.a. Food Stamps) cannot be used to purchase paper goods such as toilet paper, paper towels, napkins etc. The “paper pantry” provides such items to those who need them but cannot afford them.