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Sermon November 14, 2021

Sermon delivered by the Rev. Cristina Rathbone

Mark 13:1-8

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

Over the past weeks we’ve heard moving testimonies from members of the congregation about what they are grateful to Grace church for – and about how they have made that gratitude manifest through gifts of treasure certainly, but also through gifts of time and talents and energy and desire. We began ages ago it feels like, with Laura speaking about her work at Gideon’s Garden on St. Francis day – remember? Then George spoke about Books and Bread, Men’s Group, Third Sunday sSuppers and the Movie Group; Monique spoke about her incredible work with Tuesday’s Child and what that meant and means to her; Lee told us a little about her ministry among us not only as our lead musician, but also as the chairperson of the profile committee which led – directly – to one of the most extraordinary parish profiles I have ever read; and – just last week – Meredith spoke about reading holy scripture among us (which she will do again as soon as we get zoom up and running), and also about learning, over and over again, what it can mean to step up and speak out in a community where everyone’s gift and everyone’s voice and is not only welcomed, but also heard – and genuinely valued.

They were powerful testimonies, every one, and the fact of them – and of the whole stewardship campaign this year – combine to form one of things I am grateful to Grace for. It’s the only stewardship campaign I’ve ever seen, for example, that has never once mentioned money!  Money is important, of course it is – and all of you know that because, honestly, who among us who has lived for a few years doesn’t? But it is important only as a means to something, not as an end in itself. And, at Grace, money serves primarily as a means to more connection with more people, from more backgrounds, in more places, with more needs than ever before.  And I give thanks for this too – hugely and every day.

The truth is that we are ahead of the game, because we have no building to repair, or invest in, or  worry about. So money at Grace can and is used primarily as a means to help heal the world that is no less shaken by violence and greed and anguish – or even by wars and rumors of wars – than it was when Jesus was alive. This seems to me to be both essential and foundational. Because of course it is not our gathering here every Sunday to worship alone that makes us a faithful Christian community, but also our work of love in the world through Gideon’s garden and the Lee Food Pantry and the other groups and agencies we help to support who are doing God’s work in their own way. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself. Together these form the most important commandment Jesus tells us – remember? And so – together – loving God and loving our neighbors make us faithful. 

How do you find faithfulness through this beloved community? And what are you grateful for?  I have a few more things to say, but as we wrap up this year’s stewardship campaign I’d first like to hear from you – we all would, I’m sure.  What is it about Grace that brings you more deeply into the abundant life of God? What do you give thanks for? And why?

The People Speak. Then:

You know, at our Diocesan convention last week, Bishop Doug called on us all to repair, rebuild and reimagine the church — and he wasn’t talking about buildings! In fact, he said that while this was the theme for the year it was also true that it has been the theme since the Church began…and that the process of repairing and rebuilding and reimagining what our Christian communities can be will likely never end.  This makes sense to me.  The Spirit blows where she will, and change is the only constant, and  – even given all the beautiful things and words and deeds and prayers we’ve heard about today and in the weeks that have led up to today – it is true too that the world around us still remains riven by grotesque inequalities, and stained by racism, and addicted to practices that are set to destroy our planet. The world needs love. and the world needs healing, and the world needs justice and peace and care, and no one group of people – however faithful – can bring what is needed to the table. We need God – of course, always and everywhere we need the holding and sustaining power of God – but/and…we also need each other. 

For this reason Bp. Doug urged us last week to follow our beloved teacher Jesus out into the world and to work arm in arm with all people of good will in order to bring healing and peace and equity and justice and belonging and health to all of God’s people – and to creation itself of course.  

He didn’t specify precisely how this should be done because he is a wise man and he knows that every context is different. He did trace, however, three common denominators that seemed to him to be essential for this process of repair, rebuilding and reimagining to take root. Do you want to know what they are?  

They are: 

1)Asking questions, rather than providing answers – just the way Jesus did.  Asking questions.  Wanting to know.  Wanting to learn.  Wanting to hear.

2) Collaborating with others both within and outside the traditional boundaries of the church instead of going it alone; working in partnership together, across differences of all kinds towards a common goal that benefits the whole

3)Seeking the truth of God not in churches only, but also in the neighborhoods around them. “Finding God in the neighborhood” he called this – and here’s what he said about it:  “We get discouraged about declining church attendance. And we do need to pay attention to that. But the Spirit is not confined to the Church. God is still out there being God. We ask: “Where are the young people?” I know where they are….” They are – in our neighborhoods! And this, of course, is true….And it is because Grace has already embarked on this extraordinary adventure of faith and becoming – here on Sundays and in the neighborhoods the rest of the week – that I am, finally, most grateful to be here among you. 

Grace is a place, and a people, where our Bishop’s urging sounds neither foreign nor entirely new. So while I know it is a difficult time, a time of upheaval and crisis and exhaustion, I am grateful beyond belief to be here with you as, together, we face into it all, giving of ourselves –our time, our passion, our desire and our treasure — to make a difference in our own lives, and in the lives of others. 

We are – every one of us – different. We have our own preferences, of course, and also our own skills and desires and talents and strengths. And thank God for this. Thank God because if we are to have even a chance of becoming who we were birthed to be, we are all needed – every single one of us and more. And most of all, of course, I give thanks to God that with God and in God and through God we all of us become so much more than the sum of our parts….