January 15, 2012
The Annual Meeting takes place at noon this afternoon, in the parish
hall. I hope you'll stay or come back for it. My father-in-law likes
to say that they call it pot luck because there's a lot of luck
involved. No such fear today; your Vestry has prepared the dinner. As
has been our custom, my words to you during this time take the shape of a
reflection on the year behind us and the one before us.
When you talk to people inside and outside of St Christopher's, you
are equally likely to hear either of two pictures of our common life.
side will describe to you a place of faithful risk-taking and quiet
surprises for the Kingdom of God. These people will point to the
sixteen intentional outreach efforts of our parish this past year.
These people will tell you about the African Children's Choir concert,
which raised more than $2,000 for orphans in Uganda and across Africa at
the beginning of the year. They will tell you about the youth-led
evangelism effort on the Saturday before Easter and the way a boy with a
tuba unexpectedly showed up and dazzled the crowd of thirty or so of
our neighbors. They will tell you about the Taize service undertaken
this summer, the praise band that came together that same summer, the
series of outdoor movies hosted this summer for our neighbors. They'll talk about the
renewal of the Cursillo movement within our parish family, the hosting
of two ALPHA courses, and maybe most of all, they will tell you about
the dramatic transformation of our food pantry, as it has shifted from a
closet with a key to a host of leaders and relationships both with the
Corpus Christi Food Bank and the poor within and without our community.
People who describe this place this way will talk about the
importance of sharing God's love with our neighbors. They will talk
about being good neighbors, and striving to see our neighbors through
God's eyes. The people who describe this past year at St Christopher's
as a place of faithful risk-taking and quiet surprises for the Kingdom
of God will tell you about ending the year with more friends among our
neighbors than when they began. Whether among the Presbyterians, or the
Sea City folks, or in groups like the Portland Garden Club and Hannah's
House, new groups which spent time in our building this past year. And
of course, they'll talk about new friends down the street.
This is one picture you are likely to hear if you ask individuals inside and outside St Christopher's about the past year.
other picture you are likely to hear if you ask individuals inside and
outside St Christopher's about this past year is one of drift and
decline. These voices will tell you about the cumulative stress that
financial pressure and the loss of key families and other members have
placed on the parish family. They will talk about a pervading sense of
being adrift, lacking a focus, and the need for repair and direction.
People who describe the church this way will talk about deeply felt
losses. Some will suggest particular remedies; others will express
exasperation and a grief for the way things once were. In remembering
the way things once were, they will talk about the Scripture's call to
an intimate Christian community among the faithful and the Gospel's
imperative to reach out beyond ourselves in God's Name. Some will
remember times when we did these things better; others will remember
that what they see as struggles now are struggles our church has had
before and, indeed, has struggled to escape.
This is the second picture you are likely to hear if you ask
individuals inside and outside St Christopher's about the past year.
this, I guess, is the question: which picture is true? Which picture
tells the truth about us? Which picture accurately describes the past
year in our parish family?
I want to suggest - even insist - that the answer is "both."
And this sounds unhelpful, maybe, until we remember that great line
from our gospel this morning: Nathanael asking Philip why Philip is
excited about Jesus, he asks, "Can anything good come from Nazareth?"
The answer of course, is yes, something VERY GOOD has come from
Nazareth, but it is equally obvious from Nathanael's sarcasm that the
story of Nazareth is at least a story with two pictures, good and bad.
It's not a place he's experienced as a place of life or much excitement.
Philip, on the other hand, has just been asked to become a disciple
by the Savior of the world. He has found great life, much hope, and the
way to God made open in the person of Jesus. Given all this, I wonder
if Philip wasn't tempted to be angry with Nathanael. Tempted to say
something snarky like, "Yeah, well, takes one to know one." But he
doesn't. He's too excited. Maybe he recognizes the truth behind
Nathanael's sarcasm - the deep disappoint Nazareth has been. He laughs
it off. He answers Nathanael: Come and see.
Back to St Christopher's. Two co-existing pictures. One of
faithful risk-taking and quiet surprises for the Kingdom of God. One of
drift and decline. And they're both true, depending on who you talk
to. Philip or Nathanael.
Of course, that there are two stories to tell and that they're both
being told reveals the common ground that unites the hope of the one
story and the disappointment of the other story: everyone involved wants
the best for St Christopher’s; everyone involves wants St Christopher's
to be a strong, vibrant, living witness to Jesus. Nobody wants
anything less than the full flourishing of God's Kingdom and this
This may seem like an obvious point, but I pray that it becomes a
crucial point of charity with one another in the coming year. The
alternative to this charity is blame, and blame might feel good for a
moment, but it will not help us flourish. I assume you are here because
you want to be a part of God's flourishing God's Kingdom through the
people of St Christopher's. We all want St Christopher's to be a
strong, vibrant, living witness to Jesus.
So there are two stories, but one, shared heart. How then to move forward toward the future we all want?
2012, Larry and I are recommending to your Vestry and the congregation a
process that our bishops have just this past week recommended to us:
the plan is to begin 2012 with a series of home visits - a kind of every
member canvas, but without talking about money. The plan is for at
least two Vestry members and myself to attend each of these small
gatherings. The goal of these gatherings is to listen to you: your
disappointments, your hopes, and an important question the bishop
commended: what are you personally willing to contribute to the
spiritual health of our parish family? You will hear more concrete
details about these gatherings in weeks ahead.
As in all of life, we are learning as we go, and your Vestry and I
will need your patience along the way. We believe that this listening
process will help us identify with you the gifts that God has given us
to share God's love in and through this community in this time, and this
place, and this season.
God has given us unique gifts to share his love with one another and
others. In the newsletter you received this past week, I quoted the
theologian who said: "You are... because God wanted on like you." I
believe that the same thing is true of St Christopher's: "St
Christopher's is... because God wanted one like us."
The vision is already clear: to reach out to one another and our
neighbors with the love and gifts of God - all things for sharing. The
crucial moment before us as we begin 2012 is a taking stock, a taking
inventory, of the gifts we believe God has given us, each of us, and
committing with one another to a common plan, that we will develop
together, by which we reconnect to the joy that we knew when the Lord
first called us here, by which we reconnect to one another as a family
of two stories but one heart - we all want St Christopher's to be a
strong and vibrant witness of Jesus's love, and by which we reconnect to
our community - because we don't know exactly who Jesus meant when he
said to love our neighbors, but we're pretty sure he at least meant our
There will be some good news in the parish finances this year. Not
perfect news, but clear progress. The questions, therefore, of our
discernment are not about money, but about mission and, most of all,
identity. Larry likes to ask: If we receive a million dollars tomorrow,
how would it change who we are?
The questions before us that I am committed with your Senior Warden
to exploring and living with you are "How can we take together the next
step: to move from surviving to always thriving? What will this look
like? What do we enjoy and how can we share it?" And, finally, "what
are you personally willing to commit to this future?"
Two stories, one heart. Like Philip and Nathanael. I hope our
story's next chapter is like that of Philip and Nathanael. Philip was
excited because he had been made God's disciple. Nathanael was doubtful
because he knew too much about the past. They committed to walk the
road together. But neither of them had dreams big enough for the
goodness God had planned for them:
Jesus said: Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under
the fig tree? You will see greater things than these. Very truly, I
tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and
descending upon the Son of Man.
This is my prayer for St Christopher's: that we be a place where
heaven is opened, that all people may see and know the person and
presence of the risen Jesus.
God bless you, and may God be gracious, surprising, and unfailingly generous to all of us in his family at St Christopher's.