Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
October 30, 2016
Topic: Then and Now
Scripture Lessons (RCL)
In 1999 the Episcopal Church Foundation wrote a report called ‘The Zacchaeus Project’. Here is what they wrote in their introduction to the report:
“About 2,000 years ago in the city of Jericho, a short man named Zacchaeus climbed up in a sycamore tree so that he could get a clear view of Jesus. What motivated Zacchaeus to climb that tree? Being short, he had become accustomed to having to work for a clear view when there was a crowd. But there were other factors. His search for a vantage point may have been a longing – a search for change and a different and better perspective for his life. With this view, an astonishing new possibility arose. He saw Jesus. That perspective became life-giving.
Something similar may be said for the Episcopal Church. The Zacchaeus Project, like its namesake, has been a search for what it means to be Episcopalian and how this Church actually works at the grassroots where its foundation lies.”
I offer to you that this same search is what yours and my ministry together has been in this place for the last 14.33 years. We have worked, and planned, and sacrificed, and contributed, and worried, and prayed over what it means to walk the walk of being real, live, followers of Jesus Christ in this world, and how this parish church actually can be the resource to support that life.
On the table here I have stacked my collection of the service bulletins for every service we have held together while I have served as your deacon, and your vicar, and your rector, and your friend and colleague.
My first Sunday here was July 7, 2002. That was 744 Sundays ago. In my sermon at that first service I said;
“I admire you because you have been engaged in the work of being theologians. Really!! Did you know that? In the 11th century, Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury wrote that theology is “faith seeking understanding”. You are certainly people of faith…. Our faith cannot be a rote, fixed faith, but one that is dynamic and challenged and changing as we integrate new experiences in our lives. Theologians seek to understand God. So what form does “seeking understanding” take?
Gary Gunderson in his book, “Deeply Woven Roots”, Charles Gerkins, in his book “An Introduction to Pastoral Care”, and Daniel Migliore in his book on Christian Theology, all define important attributes of faith communities. Here is my shortened list from these sources of what is most important to a thriving faith community.
Study Scripture and our Jewish – Christian tradition.
Be engaged in prayer for each other and the needs of others.
Be engaged in service to each other and to anyone with need.
Be engaged in critical reflection of the community’s faith and practice.
Study, prayer, service and critical reflection: these describe ways of our seeking understanding of God and God’s will. How well do you think the activities of this community reflect those attributes?”
And so here you and I are, all these years later, reflecting on the Sunday worship, Bible studies, Sunday School lessons, eight years of preschool classes, clothing and food drives, donations to the Sudan and Tanzania, presents and gift baskets to children through SMUM; backpacks and gift bags to families of inmates through Get on the Bus, donations to local homeless, home and hospital visits, healing prayers, lighted candles, baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and funerals; children dressed up like Mary and Joseph at La Posada, children costumed as cows and sheep and donkeys and angels at the Children’s Christmas Pageant, and adults dressed up as apostles and saints; and as soldiers, and as Christ in agony on his way to the cross.
How have we done? More to the point, how else could we better live out our Christian tradition, and practice how to pray, how to serve, and how to pass it forward to the next generation? And now, I think our own generation needs this information and this life choice at least as much as the next generation needs it. The change we all enter into today is an opportunity to look at how to do these things even better.
I am so very proud of the community we have become, the faith we have shared, the trust we have risked, the lives we have made better, the difference we have made.
Paul said to the church in Thessalonica, “We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith.”
Like Paul, I boast of you everywhere I go. We have worked hard together to gain a better vision of Jesus, and we have seen him, and he has invited us to come and be with him, and that ‘going out on a limb’ together has transformed us, hasn’t it?
So keep your eyes on Jesus; be ready to take up his invitations to bring him home with you; and keep tweaking the ways to be the family of God. I am sad of my leave-taking today. I am hopeful for time of semi-retirement. I am happy over what we have done here together. I am very confident that our Lord has amazing plans for the future for this community. And I’ll be watching with pride.
Blessings and love to you.