The Rev. Henry Penner asks us to reflect on our time of transition in the sermon he preached at the 5pm service on Saturday, February 8, 2014. It’s appropriate and timely for us to reflect on what Henry says:
Gospel reading: Matthew 5:13-20
Matthew quotes Jesus saying that we are the light of the world. And as we think about how to re-imagine the Episcopal church – our Episcopal church- we could take a page from Matthew’s text and hold it up for all of us to see.
He says, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
We at St. Martin’s have been through a process of deciding what the nature of our light might be. Who is to see it? For whom do we light the lamp? What do we want others to see in our light?
Part of what we are doing is just what our presiding bishop is talking about when she asks us to re-imagine our role as Christians and as Episcopalians. It is part of what Fr. Mike has guided us through for the past several months as we discover who we are.
So I thought we might examine the prayer we are praying each week as we ask for guidance through our time of transition. What are we praying for? And what do we expect to change – or not to change – as we are guided by the Holy Spirit into new territory?
I want to look at what we pray in some detail and I ask you to consider what your reaction to each part might be if our prayers were answered. So please take a look at the Prayer During A Time of Transition we see each Sunday in our service leaflet and follow along.
God of love, in this interim time, we pray for our parish family, that we may be genuine in our self-reflection, tireless in our commitment, patient in our discernment, loving in our communion, open in our search, imaginative about our future, and daring in our faith. As we enter into this new era with excitement and even some anxiety, we recall your deep compassion, presence, and abounding love. We thank you for the gifts, talents, and skills with which you have blessed us. We thank you for the experiences that have brought us to this moment. Be with us a s we move forward, rejoicing with you and supporting one another. All this we pray, empowered by the love of Jesus Christ. Amen.
First we appeal to the God of love. Is this how we see God? Is the love always the warm and fuzzy kind, or is this sometimes a parent’s love that may be tough to take? How many times did our loving parents or others in our lives show that love in a way that seemed harsh at the time? Demanding and challenging – challenging us to do the right thing no matter how much we did not want to do it at the time? Or how much effort it took to meet the challenge?
We pray for our parish family – just who is that? Everyone who shows up on Sunday? Their families? Their friends? The folks who visit one or two times? Those we adopt through our mission and outreach activities? Think about how wide you want the circle to be – can it be as wide as your imagination makes it?
So after we take in all (or some) of our parish (which in Louisiana of course is the whole county), we ask for help in being genuine in our self reflection. Now I mean really genuine. Don’t just reflect on what you think everyone else wants to hear. Remember this is just between you and God at this level. So if you are genuinely set on a small, close-knit and select group of people to worship with each Sunday, say so. If you want to open our doors to any and all people, and bus in several hundred each Sunday, say that too. Don’t be afraid to dream big because there are ways to make that happen. And remember – God loves the one type as much as the other. You just want to be genuine in how you look at yourself.
We ask to be tireless in our commitment and patient in our discernment. Well. I especially need help with these requests. I get tired. I get impatient. I get grumpy. I wonder why everyone doesn’t think like I do – why everyone doesn’t think my ideas are the best ones. Well, I need a big dose of humility to work with these things -so I kind of underline these for myself as areas I need special help with.
Not a bad idea, by the way, to draw a line under the parts of this prayer that are most meaningful – most full of hope – or even look most impossible to you.
I think next we can – most of us – agree that we are loving in our communion. I don’t just mean the Eucharist we share at this table together each Sunday – but the “common union” we experience as we paint the walls in the parish hall, serve at the worship times, offer our songs of praise and thanksgiving, make coffee and get donuts for everyone, trim the grass and bushes around us, or fund the repairs to the air conditioning system. As we send shoes and coats to the homeless. I see too much of this love in our parish family not to give it very high marks, indeed.
Are we being open in our search? It is a process – we are not really there yet – so it is a good thing to think about now. We are asking God to guide us without prejudice to new leadership and new ways of “imagining” ourselves. We may need to turn loose of some older prejudices to do this in the right way – and that always means we need help to do it – God’s help. So I remember that little phrase in the Baptismal presentation – “I will, with God’s help.”
So that we will be imaginative about our future, we are having small parish meetings along the way to examine our mission statement, our vision statement, and our core beliefs. It is in these meetings that we see lots of imagination from lots of people, so it is important to go to them as often as you can to get a good dose of that imagination. Some of it just might rub off on you.
What about “daring” in our faith? Hmmmm. That sounds like we might be asking for guidance in what our faith really is. We are blessed with so much from our parish family and our worship together. We have a feeling of belonging; a feeling of being in a safe place; a comfort in the liturgy that we come to know so well. Also a chance to talk to others who have their own version of faith, and a respect for the opinions of others – and of our own opinions. A chance to serve and be overwhelmed with the feeling of blessedness we get from that service.
All this should make us “daring” as we explore our own faith. Because as Fr. Mike reminds us at the Eucharist – Jesus invites us all who have much faith and those who have little, and those who want more.
In this prayer we admit we are a little excited and a little anxious about all this inward examination. Do not be anxious. God is leading us, and therein lies the way to salvation. And it is the way to this transition – because as we say here – our God is a God of deep compassion, always present with us – and of abounding love. How can we not trust that we are being led down the right path? We are being blessed in this endeavor – we cannot fail if we trust in God.
And so we are thankful for those blessings. We acknowledge the gifts we have been given – the talents and skills – not just our own but of all those around us. And the more people who participate in this process of transition – the more blessings we must count.
Are we thankful for the experiences that have brought us to this moment? Of course we are – but some of them have been easier to recognize as blessing than others. I want us to give thanks for the blessings we remember – but I also want us to examine the experiences we may not have recognized as blessings. Was it a blessing that our old church burned down many years ago? I think we can look at our history as a parish family – either one year back or many – and find a blessing that arose from almost any experience. It just takes a little imagination – and a turning to God in thankful prayer for our blessings of every type.
Lastly, we ask God to be with us as we move forward – as we know that God surely will be. If we rejoice in the power and the fruits of the Holy Spirit and support one another as Christ has taught us – we cannot fail. We are empowered by his love, and we are upheld by the love we share with each other in this time of transition. We pray together, we laugh and cry together, we share our blessings with each other and the world, and that is what in the final analysis makes us followers of Christ and Episcopalians in the way we go about shining our light into the world.