Pentecost - Proper 26
Isaiah 1:10-18, Psalm 32:1-8, 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12, Luke 19:1-10
THE REV. JAMES M. L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. AMEN.
Earlier this week I was up at our Diocesan Camp, Camp Allen, for an annual gathering of clergy from all over the Diocese of Texas called “clergy conference.” I know – it sounds riveting, doesn’t it? A certain amount of clergy conference is dedicated to hearing news, updates, etc. from Bishop Doyle, the Bishop of our Diocese. The way this usually works is that all the clergy gather in a large room, and the Bishop addresses us.
One of the themes of the Bishop’s address this year was a concept he identified as “missional communities.” He talked about this concept, missional communities, for some time, and I will admit, I was up late the evening before, I probably had not yet had a second cup of coffee, and it was for these reasons (and possibly others) that I turned to the priest sitting next to me during the Bishop’s address and asked “Did Bishop Doyle just say he wants to take the Diocese of Texas into a missionary position?” The priest turned to me and said, “No, Jimmy, Bishop Doyle said he wants to take the Diocese of Texas into the missional community.”
I said “Oh…what is that?” Really – what is a missional community? That was the question I kept asking to myself and to others during my time at Camp Allen, and the answers I sought were revelatory, to say the least. I think a missional community begins this way, with this kind of question, and the question is this, and it is a big question, and one we need not answer now, but here it is. Do you believe that God is at work in the world?
That’s a very big question. Do we believe that God is living and active in the world around us? Another way of asking the question is this: is God at work in our community, our city, and our neighborhood? Or, do we believe that it is our responsibility to take God’s work in to the community, the city, our neighborhood? There’s a difference. If we believe that it is our responsibility to take the work of God into our communities, then that implies that God isn’t really doing anything. That implies that it is our responsibility to make God living and active in our community. I will admit to you this morning that idea depresses me, and I disagree with it.
I disagree because my answer to the question I posed moments ago – is God at work in the world, in our community, in our neighborhood – is absolutely yes! I believe that God is doing great and wonderful things up and down Heights Boulevard, throughout this neighborhood, this city, this state, this country, this world. I love that idea! That God is already at work in our midst and our job is not to think of what to do, or to invent something new, it is to just open our eyes and see what God is up to.
I think that’s what a missional community is – an intentional effort by a church to get outside of itself and join in the neighborhood and community and partner with others in the work that God is already doing. That is exciting to me. And there are many ways God is at work in this community, and there seem to be at least two that St. Andrew’s is discerning partnering with in a more substantial way. The first is the Heights Interfaith Food Pantry, which St. Andrew’s supports with the contribution of select items and volunteers time. Carissa and I are in an ongoing conversation about using a portion of remaining funds in her outreach budget to make an annual financial contribution to help support financially what God is doing at the Heights Food Pantry.
Here’s another one. Meals on Wheels in Houston approached me several months ago about St. Andrew’s being a “hub” in the Heights neighborhood for volunteers to pick up meals and distribute them to the neighborhood. One reason St. Andrew’s is geographically appealing to Meals on Wheels is that a number of the meals they distribute in the Heights go across the street to a Section 8 housing initiative called Heights Tower, which was founded by St. Andrew’s and a number of other Heights area churches in the 1970s. Recently Carissa hosted an meeting of Heights area clergy from all different churches to meet at St. Andrew’s to discuss this very question – what is God doing in your midst, and how can we join in the work?
What does all this have to do with stewardship? What does all this have to do with those pesky pledge cards that are in all the pews and were mailed to your homes earlier this month? Everything. Being missional in our thinking, looking outward, is simply good stewardship. It is what God is calling St. Andrew’s to, I believe. More importantly than that, it is what God is calling each of us to do. The number you may write, or have already written on your pledge card doesn’t matter. What matters is that you join in this good exciting work – that you pledge – for God is at work in the vineyard, calling us out – calling us to join.
Will you? AMEN.