SERMON FOR JUNE 22, 214
Pentecost 2, Proper 7
Nativity, Bloomfield Township
READINGS: Genesis 21:8-21
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
MAY THE WORDS OF OUR SACRED WRITINGS BE A LAMP UNTO OUR FEET, AND LEAD US ONTO PATHS OF JUSTICE, LOVE, AND MERCY. AMEN.
I invite you to turn to page 6 of our bulletin. Here we have listed everyone who is responsible for doing liturgy… liturgy, the work of the people. As I call your name, please stand as you are able. When I call it again, raise your hand for 2 or 3 seconds. (Go through each ministry necessary to do liturgy.)
It takes all these members of our community to prepare and carry out worship that is reverent, sacred, meaningful, moving, and inspiring. Remember, YOU the people are Nativity. The building is not Nativity. The grounds are not Nativity. YOU, the community of people, are Nativity. And many of you who never were involved in liturgy have been learning how to do liturgy, the work of the people. Liturgy, what we Episcopalians call worship. And you have been learning more and more about liturgy: why we do what we do when we do it. And I suggest that when God sees you doing liturgy, God smiles and says “It is good.” Just like last week when we read from Genesis that God looked out on all of Creation and “God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 4a.)
Last week, Pastor Michelle Meech emphasized what’s called The Great Commission. The Great Commission. The marching orders Jesus gave his disciples (and us) before he ascended to be with our Creator. Go. Make disciples. Baptize. Teach. Go out into the world. Make disciples of all nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Teach them my commands, my transforming ways.
The word “disciple” means “learner.” We can’t make disciples if we ourselves aren’t disciples. We can’t teach until we have first begun to learn… until we have first developed a deeper and more meaningful relationship with God… with Jesus. Discipleship is a journey. We learn to focus on trying to understand what Jesus is seeking to teach us and what we are to learn from it so that we can apply these things to our own lives and to the greater world in which we live. In discipleship, we pause and learn from Jesus who we are to be, what we are to say, and how we are to communicate with others.
As disciples, we are called to share what we have come to know about God and Jesus. It’s marvelous how God has given us Scripture, tradition, reason and experience to learn about God and Jesus. I’m always thrilled at the way the Episcopal Church urges us to use our reason and our experience. I have always loved that poster that says, “You don’t have to park your brain at the door when you enter here.”
How many of you sitting here feel you know more and are closer to God than you were five or ten years ago? Yes. That’s what I’m talking about. The Holy Spirit has been helping us to learn, to become disciples so that we can Go…Make Disciples…Baptize…and Teach.
Pastor Michelle pointed out last week that we are living in what is called the “post-Christiandom” age. For hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years, people were born in countries where Christianity was the state religion. This gave people a sense of belonging. The majority of people who settled this country were Christian before they ever came to the United States. At least the majority were Christian in name. Church buildings were built to accommodate each ethnic group and each Christian denomination. Church buildings were built in neighborhoods so people could walk to services. A tremendous church building boom took place after WWII during the late 40’s, the 50’s, and the early 60’s to accommodate people who were moving out of the cities and into the suburbs. People flocked to these church buildings.
When I was ten, my family moved from Detroit to what was then the Village of Allen Park. One of the biggest churches was Allen Park Presbyterian. That’s where the business and political leaders attended in order to be seen each week by the other movers and shakers who lived or did business in Allen Park. St. Frances Cabrini was the big Catholic church. Of course, these were pre-Vatican II days when that denomination taught it was a mortal sin to not go to Mass on Sunday. The fear of being dammed to hellfire may have been a contributing factor to its growth.
We now live in different times. People don’t come flocking to church. “Build it and they will come” no longer is operative. This country does not have a state religion. Generations of people have never been to a church service. These people don’t know The Story of Jesus. For them, Jesus is a cuss word. These are times similar to the early days of the church. Those were days when the followers of Jesus had to Go. Make disciples. Baptize. Teach.
And so, once again, Nativity finds itself on the cutting edge of something new, something we have to learn to do so that we can become more effective disciples. There is an old saying that “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Nativity is ready, and our teacher has appeared in the presence of Pastor Michelle Meech. Her presence is a gift from the Diocese. Her salary is paid by a grant given to the Diocese. Pastor Michelle is extremely well trained to walk with us on part of our journey as disciples. She has much to teach us. We have much to learn.
Last week, Pastor Michelle laid out a one-year process we can choose to follow in order to learn how to do church in this post-Christian age. It’s going to take some work. It’s going to take some reading. It’s going to take some meetings and gatherings. It’s a process for everyone in this faith community to participate in to the extent they are able… everyone! And it won’t be easy.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus warns his disciples that their lives will be difficult. Our families may not understand why we’re doing what we’re doing. They may not like we’re at church learning instead of sitting in front of the TV with them or available to help them out with babysitting as frequently as we’ve been. Friends may complain. They all might not like our changed priorities. They may not accept the transformation in our thinking and attitudes. Families and friends don’t like change. They act out and do everything they can to get things back as they were. They want homeostasis… no change.
Jesus and the early disciples were persecuted and oppressed by families, by religious authorities, by civil authorities. We probably won’t be beaten, jailed and martyred, but we’ll be misunderstood, perhaps even maligned. That’s the cross we’re called to be ready to carry.
Next week we’ll have a written schedule of what we are to do and read in the weeks leading up to Advent, which begins on the last Sunday in November. That will give us about 21 weeks to achieve our first goal. We will do every step of this journey prayerfully. As you all have learned, prayer is powerful. The Holy Spirit is powerful. Jesus is powerful. Our Creator is powerful. We will be blessed and guided and inspired. We have only to trust. We don’t have to worry about how all this is going to work out. Everything will unfold in God’s perfect timing. We will learn to trust… and trust… and trust. Amen.
The Rev. Diane E. Morgan
Resources used for this sermon:
Bartlett, David L. and Brown, Barbara Taylor, Editors. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 3. Townes, Emilie M. “ Matthew 10:24-39, Theological Perspective.” Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY. 2011.
Meech, Michelle. “The Great Commission.” Matthew 28:16-20. Trinity Sunday, June 15, 2014.