I drove Izzie up to Millinocket on Wednesday afternoon, so I could drive down to Diocesan Convention and have her there for the Sunday service. It is over three hours driving each way and I wasn't willing to drive home from Convention Saturday night and have to leave at 5:30 in the morning to celebrate. I will let Izzie tell you about her experiences. Convention was great. It was nice having most everybody in the same place rather than having to drive from all over town. The food was good. And, even though there were 17 resolutions, we managed to get through them all and ended up finishing on time. It is wonderful having our work bracketed by the Liturgy of the Word, at the beginning and the Liturgy of the Table at the end.
My sermon at St. Andrew's, Millinocket October 24, 2010. A congregation I served as an interim a while back.
|Me and the Jr. Warden, Feast of St. Andrew 2006. We were piped into the church that morning.|
Psalm 84 which has the verse "How lovely is your dwelling place, oh Lord of Hosts" was, I think, written with St. Andrew's in mind. You have no idea how many people I have told of your beautiful church and it is so nice to be back with you. It doesn't seem as though it's been over three years since I've celebrated at your altar. God has blessed you with Fr. Bob's ministry among you for this time.
At convention, the bishop spoke about how we needed to change to thrive as church. Notice I said thrive, not survive. In the Press Herald this morning a columnist said Mainer's were not good at adaptive change, they preferred evolutionary change. I know You have survived many things, from your priest’s sudden death, to the impacts on your numbers with the mill closures, and now with your current priest’s decision to leave at the end of the year. Surviving is good, but thriving is better. That's what adaptive change is about.
So how do we move from surviving to thriving. A lot of it has to do with blessings. The blessings we receive from God and one another and the blessings we give to others.
The Pharisee in today's gospel is acting in a way that curses rather than blesses. He says: "God, I thank you that I am not like other people, thieves, rogues, adulterers or even like this tax collector." what a way to pray to God! And its not just God who hears. People who look down their noses at others for whatever reason make the recipient of their scorn feel badly. That's what curses do. Sometimes the people scorned feel so bad, like the rash of young people bullied so relentlessly they took their own lives.
Most of the time though even though our curses may seem milder, they can hurt just as much. Like the mother who tells her daughter, "it's a good thing you're bright, because you certainly aren't pretty." Or the uncle who thinks teasing is funny, but it often makes the nephew feel inadequate. I think it is when we cannot accept ourselves for who we truly are, that we lay our own imperfections on others. The tax collector knew who he was and offered himself to God, just as he was. He knew that God's mercy is wider than the sea and that God welcomes all of us sinners.
So how do we move from the way of curses to the way of blessing? There is some help in the title of convention. It was: "there’s a wideness in God's mercy." That is a blessing for all of us! And all of us need blessings; from a mother's first kiss on her baby's cheek, to the holding of the hand of an aging parent on their dying day. We humans thrive with blessings. Sure, some of them are formal ones that pronounce God's blessing on a newly married couple, or on all of you as you leave this place on a Sunday morning, but we are called as Christians to bless each other on our way, every day, and in lots of tiny and not so tiny ways.
I wrote some notes during the bishops address at convention that might help St Andrew’s as you think about your future in ways that could bless you, and your town of Millinocket and I recommend that you take home a copy of his address to read and discuss.
- Preserve mission not church—church is more than buildings it is the people and if we are not a mission oriented church we will not thrive. Our mission to the local community and to the greater world is necessary to thrive. It is a blessing.
- Need to collaborate and share—many churches in Maine are declining in attendance and creative ways of collaboration and sharing will need to be thought through and tried. Imagine sharing as a blessing rather than a burden.
- Ministry sites for a regional church—not every church needs to do every thing. Giving to the church through the things you are passionate about is a blessing.
- Move from mine to ours—imagine viewing ministry done here as part of the greater ministry of the Diocese of Maine. What a blessing that could be.
- Adapt while maintaining episcopal way of worship—the “we’ve always done it that way” mentality doesn’t help adaptive change. Creative ways of worship, while keeping to the prayerbook are not mutually exclusive, they are blessings.
- Priest should be into Christian formation and education, rather than administration—imagine what blessings to individual congregations would come out of that thought. More people with an understanding of what it means to be an Episcopalian and a Christian means more people for the mission of the church.
- Mutual ministers of the good news rather than consumers— In the hymn, “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,” it states if our love were but more faithful we would take him at his word and God’s blessings would spread out into a world that sorely needs blessings.
- Beacons of love in a hurting world—that’s a phrase I just loved. Again in the hymn it tells us that God's justice is kind, in fact it “is most wonderfully kind.” A blessing from God to us and from us to the world. Becoming beacons of love in the midst of injustice, hate, distrust and fear is part of our mission.
So take a copy of the bishop’s address, read it, discuss it, because what is in there is important to St. Andrew’s and to its future.
I am closing with the blessing used at the end of convention Eucharist.
Life is short,
And we do not have much time
to gladden the hearts of those who make the journey with us.
So.....be swift to love, and make haste to be kind.
And the blessing of God,
who made us,
who loves us,
who travels with us
be with you now and forever.