Sirach 15: 15-20; Psalm 119:1-8; 1 Corinthians 3: 1-9, Matthew 5:21-37
THE REV. JAMES M. L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
I want to draw a comparison between two events that occurred last week: the Super Bowl, and the annual gathering of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, called Diocesan Council. The first, the Super Bowl, is a national event –arguably one of the largest televised events in the country, if not the world. Like any other NFL the Super Bowl consists of four quarters, each of which are fifteen minutes in length. So if you exclude Lady Gaga rappelling from the ceiling of NRG Stadium, there are sixty minutes of game play time. People who watch football know that the length of the game is actually much longer.
If you factor in all the timeouts, coaches challenges, and commercial breaks, the Super Bowl is really closer to a three and a half hour event. But here’s what’s interesting. A friend of mine who is a television reporter for a local news station here in Houston reminded me Sunday night while we were watching the Super Bowl (and thinking Atlanta was going to win) that in any NFL game, there is really only, on average, about twelve minutes of actual gameplay – where players are running, passing, scoring touchdown. The rest of time is absorbed with huddles and time between plays. Twelve minutes for a game that lasts about three and half hours.
What does this have to do with Diocesan Council? For those unfamiliar, Diocesan Council is an annual gathering of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas mandated by our church policies and procedures. So we gather, and there are receptions, exhibits, lots of people talking, there’s a worship service. And there is also a business meeting that goes on and on.
I don’t have any data to support this claim, but it certainly felt like there were about eleven, maybe twelve minutes out of the whole three day affair that would quantify as “work.” Out of the two events which I have just described, I prefer the Super Bowl. At least it’s over sooner.
It’s interesting to me that we expand the time of our annual gatherings or events, be they football games or regional meetings, from the amount necessary. I wonder why we do this. One answer I keep coming back to is that as human beings, we have this need, hardwired into our DNA, to belong. We have a need, all of us, to feel connected to each other. Perhaps this need for connection is so strong that we are willing to put up with the superfluous for the sake of belonging.
This is certainly true of the church, and I would be remiss if I did not also honestly acknowledge how much extra time surrounds what we do here. But is that a bad thing? I would argue that it isn’t, because our time here, whether in worship, or in the Parish Hall at Coffee Time, or at the Heights Interfaith Food Pantry feeding the hungry, or the Spiritual Book Club discussing an author’s work – all of that time spent helps to build community. That’s why we had a Parish Retreat last weekend at Camp Allen – only two of the hours in the retreat were dedicated to any kind of program – the rest was casual to spend time together and to get to know one another better. Because without community, what are we?
In his letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul writes about his frustration regarding a church community that is falling apart. The church in Corinth people didn’t know one another, they were jealous of each other, and they fought with each other, and most upsetting to Paul was that when people at this church were baptized, they didn’t claim allegiance to Christ but rather to the person who baptized them. This church was a giant mess. So Paul reminds them, it doesn’t matter who baptized you, it is God who gives you growth. The final remark we hear from Paul today on the conflict and division in the Corinthian church is this: “We are God’s servants, working together, you are God’s field, God’s building.”
In other words, Paul is saying that in the grand scheme of things, what divides pales in comparison to what unites you. All are God’s children. All are God’s field and God’s building. Each person is a member of God’s community Christians call heaven.
This church is 116 years old. There have been times when it has been divided and contentious like the church in Corinth. There have been times when it has been unified. There have been times in history of this church where members have gathered to ask the question “What is God calling us to do?” We find ourselves at one of those moments now, thanks to the work of a group of parishioners and Vestry members, we have called a consultant to help us answer, together, that question – what is God calling St. Andrew’s to do.
Next Saturday, February 18, all of you are invited to attend a Visioning Event beginning at 8:30 AM. This is your opportunity to offer your voice, input, or opinion on the first step of creating a long range plan for our parish community that will focus our ministry together over the coming years. What is your hope for the church five years from now? Expanded outreach? A vitalized youth group? New restrooms? New services to reach those in our community who don’t have a spiritual home? Whatever your dreams are for this church, it is time to share them.
I have asked each member of our Vestry to invite three parishioners to this Visioning Event on Saturday. You might also here from me. We are reaching out to you because your voice matters. We are reaching out to you because all of us are God’s servants, as Paul says, working together. And this church, it is God’s field, it is God’s building.
I promise that our time on Saturday will be well spent, and there will be much more than eleven or twelve minutes of quantifiable work. We will be busy because the question of what God is calling us to do is the question we must ask of our church and of our selves. AMEN.