Lay Preachers

by Kate Kelley

I am Kate Kelley.  With my husband, Steve, we have attended church at St Paul’s for over 20 years. We have 2 sons who attended St Paul’s during their school years and still sometimes attend when they come to visit us.

I am going to talk about them, Jon and Nick, a couple of times. They are now both in their mid twenties.  Jon lives in Washington DC, Nick in the Colorado Rockies.  Just so no-one worries that I am spilling family secrets, I talked with and interviewed both of the boys yesterday for this sermon, told them what I would say about them and they both gave me permission to tell you.

All three of the readings today deal with, in part, the development of a religious faith. Each reading shows a different way in which people in the bible came to a belief or faith.

Before talking about the readings, I’m going to start with the beginning of Jon’s and Nick’s faith journeys.  We started coming to St Paul’s when Jon was 7 and Nick was 4. Up till then they had rarely gone to church, except for their baptisms. When Steve and I moved to Brookline, we wanted to become part of a community, one that would help us develop a sense of morality, social values and, maybe, spirituality.  Not so Jon and Nick!  They didn’t want to come to church. Neither of them was good at sitting in one place for more than 5 or 10 minutes. They thought the services were boring. There was at least one Sunday when Steve had to carry 8 year old Jon down our 40 steps, kicking and screaming, to get him into the car and drive to church.  Our other son, Nick, complained regularly about being lonely in Sunday School until Maria O’Meara’s son, Tim Bransfield, joined his Sunday School class.

So you can hear that we had 2 unhappy children who often thought we were really mean parents to make them come to church and Sunday School. They would rather have been watching TV or playing soccer.  My guess is that some other families here at St Paul’s have or have had similar experiences at times.

Now I’m going to talk about today’s bible readings, but we’ll come back to Jon and Nick later!

In the first reading, Isaiah talks of a dramatic occurrence, a vision, where God appears to him with seraphs, the most holy of angels. Isaiah feels he is unworthy to see God, he has not led a good life. In this vision he is forgiven his previous sins. This is such a powerful and dramatic experience that when God asks who can he send out into the world as a prophet, Isaiah volunteers “Here am I, send me” This was sudden acceptance of faith, after a dramatic experience, or conversion.

In John’s gospel, Nicodemus, a Pharisee and leader of the Jewish council, comes to Jesus at night, under cover of darkness, presumably so that the other Jewish leaders won’t know about his visit with Jesus.  He is obviously perplexed by Jesus’ miracles, amazed by them but unsure how a how a human being can do such things. He seems in a quandary, unsure how a poor young carpenter can be sent from God, when the Jews were expecting a royal King type figure to fulfill earlier prophesies from the Old Testament. Nicodemus rebuts or questions each of Jesus’ comments.

It was obviously very difficult for Nicodemus to accept Jesus’ divinity. In the end, after all of his doubts, I like to believe he became a believer.  Later in John’s gospel it says that Nicodemus helped Joseph of Arimathea prepare Jesus’ body for burial.

Nicodemus reminds me of many people, including some scientists, who come to a religious faith after much uncertainty and doubt, feeling that one can’t believe in God if you can’t scientifically prove that God exists. These people may argue and discuss for years but some then acknowledge that not all things in life are logical or rational. They become able to accept that one can be both a rational thinker in worldly matters, but also combine that rationality with a spiritual faith

Lastly, in the epistle to the Romans, Paul says “for all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  You have received a spirit of adoption.”  I think that means that God has spiritually adopted people who try to live by the tenets of Jesus’ teaching, encouraging us to social activism on behalf of disenfranchised people. As Terry’s husband, the Rev Richard McCall preached some weeks ago: by coming to St Paul’s on Sundays we are making a statement and commitment to try and find faith or enrich our current faith. On many different levels, we people who come to services are enriched by our community and communion at St Paul’s. We don’t have to believe a precisely detailed creed.

As an example of this last group, I come back to Steve’s and my sons, the ones who came so reluctantly to St Paul’s when young school children. Where are they now on their faith journeys?

I asked them yesterday: did St Paul’s give you anything?  If so what?  Here are their quick, ready answers, unscripted by their mother! “St Paul’s gave me my moral compass; Youth Group helped me to think of other people’s problems and do something concrete to help people; the people at St Paul’s are really good people and made a community for me where I learned the social values I try to live by now.”  They don’t currently articulate a religious faith, but are totally aware of the gifts they received from their experiences at St Paul’s.

I think Jon and Nick are reflective of many of us at St Paul’s, where we experience a diversity of faith journeys and include members at different stages along the continuum of religious belief.

As a member of the Rector Search Committee, I reflect back to our Parish profile, the description we wrote, with the vestry’s review and approval, about our St Paul’s community.  The profile opens with: St Paul’s is an intergenerational community on a spiritual exploration.  We value people of all backgrounds and invite them to journey with us.

I think today’s readings show how many different ways people can come to God. We at St Paul’s certainly have many varied examples!

I want to close with another quote from our Parish profile. We express our wish for a new rector who will “be our spiritual leader who follows in the path of Christ, be grounded in faith traditions and challenge our complacency, as Jesus did.  We will move forward with a rector who embraces people of diverse spiritual beliefs, sexual orientations, races, classes and ages.  I am excited and looking forward to Jeff Mello coming to St Paul’s as our new rector. I believe he will help us on our faith journeys with spirituality, humor and energy.

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