Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

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    Jun 30, 2019

    3rd Sunday after Pentecost

    Preacher: The Rev. Sarah Carver

    Series: Year C: 2019-2020

    Category: Pentecost

    Detail:

    Well, it has been a while since I’ve been up here preaching—its been a couple of months, in fact. But, I have a good excuse. On Mother’s Day I ended up going to Cone hospital with a blood clot in my leg and, more seriously, in my right lung. I spent three days there and another nearly three weeks trying to get back to something like normal. Even now, well over six weeks out, I still have a long way to go until I’m back to normal. There is nothing I can do but take it easy and wait for these clots to dissolve—the treatment is mainly rest and blood thinners. So, things take longer for me to do, there are some things I still can’t do, and I certainly don’t get as much crammed into a day as I used to. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Yet in the middle of all this, I’ve been intentional on practicing gratitude. And, there has been a lot to be thankful for—I’ve had good care from my doctors, nurses, family and friends, and an amazing expression of care and support from this congregation. I have often quipped that this was a church that loved its clergy and you do…deeply. I have been grateful for your food, the cards, the check-ins, and perhaps most of all, your patience and understanding as I recover.

                In fact, I’ve often thought of this church as a community that has shown a lot of love for many folks both in our community and to those who are part of our bigger community. Through the various ministries such as those under pastoral care or through those that have been birthed here such as the Barnabas Network, The Mustard Seed Clinic, or Prayers in the Park, you have shown love to friends and complete strangers alike. That is something I continue to give thanks for—your ability to minister. Several of you have commented to me how grateful you are for the clergy here and while we are pretty awesome, we are also grateful for you. None of what happens here can happen without an empowered and able laity. As I see it, my most important job is to nurture and support the ministry of the church—and that means supporting all you non-ordained types, you priests of the church not by ordination but through baptism. Dare I say that it is your ministry that really matters.

                I am mindful that I am preaching on the first Sunday after our long-time Rector, Tim has retired. And after years of his leadership this time of transition may see many of you feeling grief, apprehension, or uncertainty about what comes next. But you also may be feeling excited, thrilled at the opportunity to do something new, wondering where God is calling you as a church to go next. Take a deep breath and know that you can feel all of these things—remembering that endings are also new beginnings. It is a time to give thanks, and a time to ask what is next for us—to ask: what are we doing? What is God calling us into now?

                Now, the church’s call has always been the same. Put simply, the church is called to follow Jesus. It’s a simple invitation that has often been misunderstood or even rejected. In Luke’s gospel today we see a number of people trying to follow Jesus but not quite understanding what that really takes. First there’s James and John, who don’t understand at all that Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem will end in his death. They ask Jesus if they can basically BBQ the Samaritans who refuse to receive Jesus.  Jesus, of course, sternly rebukes them—violence has no place in Jesus’ ministry—or theirs. Then we see a number of others who want to follow Jesus but have obstacles in their way, obstacles that to Jesus mean they cannot follow him. Now, some commentators acknowledge that there might be a bit of hyperbole happening here, but the point is clear—discipleship comes first above all things. The call Jesus is always extending to “come follow me” is simple, but requires the fullness of our selves, body mind and spirit to commit to living out the example Christ has lived for us.

                The late Verna Dozier in her book The Dream of God: A Call To Return, has a lot to say about church and discipleship. She is unflinching in her critique that the church has mostly failed to follow Jesus. Caught up in being just like all the other corrupt and violent kingdoms of the world, Dozier argues that the Church has said no to God’s dream of (and here she quotes Howard Thurman) “a friendly world of friendly folk beneath a friendly sky…” Afraid to really trust God, and rejecting both the freedom and risk that comes with discipleship, Dozier reflects on how the Church has grounded its existence in the certainty and status of the institution, rather than on the community of people who are bold in their commitment to live into the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed. Rather than being the compassionate and radically inclusive community that recognizes that God is now here with us, and that we are free to love God and one another, the Church has become an exclusive community, one that burns the heretics, rejects the poor, and assigns power only to those who are ordained, while awaiting the Kingdom of God, blind to the fact that it is already here, it just needs to embrace it and let go of all the rest.

                Dozier’s book is nuanced and beautiful even in its indictment. And it is not a book of condemnation, but of hope. Dozier was a fierce critic of clericalism, the idea that clergy were of more value to the church and that ministry be carried out mostly by the clergy—lay ministry was somehow less. Her understanding is that ministry belongs to all people of the church and perhaps most to those who are not ordained. She valued the ministry of the laity because it is the laity that has the freedom to be out there in the world, not locked into the church bubble. She writes:

     

    The people of God are called to a possibility other than the kingdoms of the world. They must be ambassadors…in every part of life. They witness to another way that governments can relate to one another, that money can be earned and spent, that doctors and care-givers and engineers and lawyers and teachers can serve their constituencies, that wordsmiths and musicians and artists and philosophers can give us new visions of the human condition. This is the ministry of the laity.

     

    That is your ministry, to be out there in the world, living as Christ did and proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is here through your love for one another, through practicing justice, through being holy men and women as teachers, mothers, fathers, lawyers, doctors, relators—whatever it is that God has called you to. Do it as followers of Christ, be the church. The institution’s role, according to Dozier, is to support you in that.

                So, as we look toward the future, tell us where God is calling us. This is a congregation full of men and women of prayer, of conviction, gifted in so many wonderful and diverse ways. This is a congregation full of love, who isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of institution. So tell us, where is God calling this church, where and how are we being called to follow Jesus? Amen.