October 6, 2019

Pentecost – Proper 22

Lamentations 1: 1-6; Lamentations 3:19-26; 2 Timothy 1: 1-14; Luke 17: 5-10

The Rev. James M.L. Grace

Let us pray:

Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, like gentle rain upon the tender grass, and like showers upon the herb. For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! Deuteronomy 32: 1-3

In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

That prayer was from the book of Deuteronomy, and is attributed to Moses.  Rarely do I offer scripture back-to-back in a sermon, but will do so now, it is a verse we heard earlier in the service from the book of 2 Timothy, in which Paul says: “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”

            Two weeks ago, many of us who live in the Heights neighborhood noticed a dark column of smoke emerging from the Woodland Heights area.  Fire engines raced to the scene to discover that a historic Heights church, St. Mark’s Methodist, was tragically on fire.  While the fire was contained to their education building, the smoke damage affected a much larger area inside their church building.

               Because of the fire, several groups that regularly meet at St. Mark’s started reaching out to other congregations to see if they could hold their meetings elsewhere.  One of those groups, a Wednesday evening Alcoholics Anonymous group called St. Andrew’s, and asked if we had space for them.  We did, and they started meeting here last week. 

               I went to the very beginning of their first meeting here last week to welcome them – a group of over fifty people gathered in our parish hall.  The meeting began with a moment of silent reflection followed by a prayer, and during that moment of silence I heard someone whisper “God is here.”  After the prayer, I welcomed the group, and then left. 

               It struck me that for the few minutes I was in that room, how much it felt like church to me.  I guess that’s what happens when you get a group of drug addicts and alcoholics together talking about how God has saved them from the urge to drink or to use.   This church hosts meetings like that one five times a week.  And they are big groups. 

               I also realized that what we do here on a Sunday morning, is but one small part of what occurs in this building throughout the week.  Church happens here not just on Sunday mornings, but Monday – Friday with our other congregation – the one we call St. Andrew’s Episcopal School.  I am aware all the time when I observe how carefully and lovingly St. Andrew’s School teachers carefully minister to our learners, that there, too, church is going on. 

               Whether it is a group of men or women who faithfully meet weekly for Bible Study, a Sunday morning congregation, children and adults rehearsing at choir practice, volunteers distributing food to Meals on Wheels recipients, or a group of recovering addicts sharing their experience, strength, and hope with each other – all of it, is church. 

               So much happens here in this building, it is so inspiring to me – what happens here.  As the Apostle Paul says “I am not ashamed of the Gospel” in today’s reading from 2 Timothy, neither am I ashamed to talk with you all in the weeks ahead about what this church is doing, and what its needs are.  Starting next Sunday, St. Andrew’s will do what many other churches do in the Fall, and we will have our annual stewardship campaign, which means we will be asking everyone to make a financial pledge to the church for next year. 

               The theme of the campaign is  “Ponder Anew, what the Almighty Can Do,” which is a verse from hymn 390 in our Hymnal entitled “Praise to the Lord.”  This year’s campaign pledge goal is $625,000, a twenty percent increase over last year.  That goal is ambitious.  It is what former Bishop Claude Payne would call a “BHAG” a Big Hairy Audacious Goal.  Your Vestry and your Finance Committee believe it is an achievable, and sustainable goal.

               Why the 20% increase?  I will be sharing more about that in a series of upcoming sermons that explain our stewardship goals in much greater detail.  During the Stewardship season in Faith Matters, this is what we are talking about for the next five weeks.  I hope you come to those classes so you can learn about what has brought St. Andrew’s to this moment.  If you are on our church mailing list, will also receive one of these envelopes in your mailbox.  The temptation, now that you know what it looks like, will be to not open it!  Please open it, read it, pray about what your contribution will be to St. Andrew’s for 2020.

               Every year St. Andrew’s revenue line starts at zero dollars.  Our ministries and staff, are funded from all of our pledges.  The Vestry has approved a budget for next year that is ambitious, but it is a budget that is based upon the feedback of many of you and reflects much of what you all have been asking from this church for the last two years. 

               Today I will close with these words from 2 Timothy today, God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.  I am not ashamed – I am excited – to “Ponder Anew, what the Almighty Can Do.”  AMEN.