Pentecost – Proper 24
Jeremiah 31: 27-34; Psalm 119: 97-104; 2 Timothy 3: 14 – 4:5; Luke 18: 1-8
The Rev. James M.L. Grace
Let us pray. May only your word be preached, O God, may only your words be heard. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
Other than the heat, the swarms of gnats and wasps, it was a lovely place. I am describing a part of Big Bend National Park out in West Texas, where I spent part of last week on retreat with some other clergy friends of mine. After a day of hiking in the West Texas desert, when it was time to set up camp, and enjoy a beautiful sunset, that’s when all those gnats and wasps arrived.
The gnats were an annoyance, but the wasps were a bit scary, particularly because one of my colleagues was allergic to wasps. So allergic, in fact, he brought an epi pen with him in case he was stung and went into anaphylactic shock. He did not volunteer this important information until there were about four wasps on his arms and some swarming around his legs, so his timing wasn’t great. And neither was his packing, as he said the epi pen which he brought just might have expired. It was when he began explaining to me how to send an “SOS” message on his portable GPS that I started to have reservations about this trip.
But, the sun set, and with its setting, the gnats and the wasps eventually found their way elsewhere. The cool desert breeze returned, and the soft moon and gentle stars appeared in the deep blue sky. We were fine. Recalling that experience last week leads me to these words we hear in 2 Timothy this morning, where the author compels young Timothy, to be “persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable.”
On my trip last week, I wore a bracelet, made of pipe cleaner and a few beads with letters on them which spell out the word “hope.” I made it in Rhythms of Grace as one of our activities during that service, and I have worn it for several weeks as a reminder to carry hope with me no matter where I am. No matter if the present moment is a favorable one, like right now, or an unfavorable one, like last week out in the desert with all those swarming insects.
The way I try to persevere in all situations, good and bad, is through prayer. I keep a prayer list, and many of your names are on it, and I do my best to pray that daily. But prayer is more than that – for me in my prayers, I somehow find a way to connect with God and that connection with God offers me hope, so that whether the time is favorable or unfavorable loses its importance, because what becomes most important to me, when I am praying faithfully and regularly, is being grounded with God, with having a real relationship with Christ. That’s what matters, that’s what gives me hope, ultimately.
The focus in 2 Timothy on persevering through favorable or unfavorable moments in life is also true for this church, at this moment. It is not a secret that we are in our annual stewardship campaign, in which all of us are asked to prayerfully consider our financial commitment to St. Andrew’s for next year. For many of us, an annual stewardship campaign might count as one of those “unfavorable” moments for which we are called to persevere through. I am guilty of feeling that way, at times.
I said from this pulpit two weeks ago that I would use the next few sermons to unpack a bit about our stewardship this year and explain why this campaign is asking more from all of us. And so, I want to take a few minutes to talk about why this year’s pledge goal is significantly higher than in years past. The reason is because of feedback I and other leaders in the church have received from many of you about an overall desire to see current ministries grow and new ones develop. Ministries take people to lead them, and in a church of this size, it is more common for ministries to be staff led rather than volunteer led. Don’t misunderstand me, there are plenty of volunteer ministries in the church, and there will always be. That said, your Vestry has called for three additional staff positions for 2020 so that current, and new ministries can grow: they are, in this order, bringing our Director of Music and Organist to a full-time position, hiring a youth minister, and acquiring additional needed support in the office.
Over the coming weeks, I am going to talk about these in reverse order, beginning today with support in the office. Admittedly, a conversation about needed office support staff does not make for a riveting sermon, I get that. But you all also need to know that while we have a full-time parish administrator, there is much she is not able to do because the work demand has grown substantially in the last few years. Our parish treasurer is a volunteer and is currently spending 6-10 hours a week pro bono on church work, but it is not enough time to complete all that needs to be done, because he has a full-time job. We need additional, paid office support. Because this person will be dealing with confidential and private information like social security numbers, compensation amounts, insurance and HR needs, it’s not appropriate to designate this position as a parish volunteer opportunity.
Now I am the first to admit that this position is not glamorous in the way that a full-time Director of Music and Organist or a youth minister might be, but the Vestry, your Finance Committee, and I believe this staff support is critical to establishing a strong foundation to support our current ministries as they grow and new ones as the emerge. In following weeks, I will speak more about the full-time Director of Music and Youth Minister roles.
Whether the moment is favorable or unfavorable – the need is great. I believe tt is a favorable time to be at St. Andrew’s. I believe it is favorable to Ponder Anew, What the Almighty Can Do. AMEN.