Sermons

Jeremiah 31:7-9; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

 

Invited by God.

Welcomed in Community.

Connected in Christ.

 

That is the theme of this year’s fall pledge appeal, and this morning serves as the official kick-off to that appeal.  For the next few weeks you’ll hear stories from members of the community. They will speak to the importance St. Paul’s has come to have in their lives.  We do this each year because we know that, far more than any facts or figures I could throw at you, it is those stories that remind us of the power of this community and stir us to respond.

 

This is my 10th Stewardship Appeal sermon here at St. Paul’s.  You might not think it an enviable position to have to stand in front of the same community year after year and make a pitch for a robust Stewardship appeal.  Each year brings a new twist, or a new plea, but essentially the same message; we need you to support the work of this place. The work that happens here on Sunday mornings and our programs during the week; the work that happens in the groups to whom we open our buildings 15 hours a day, seven days a week; the work that happens from this place out in Brookline and Dorchester, in prisons and hospitals, for immigrants and the elderly.  And the work that we help to make happen all over the world; NGOs around the globe; responses to natural disaster; and ministry through the larger Episcopal Church.

 

All of that work happens only because you make it happen.  It happens because you make it a priority.

 

And then there is the work that happens in you; the work that happens in me because we make this place central to our lives -- not just central to our lives of faith, but central to our whole lives.

 

I am not the same person I was nine years ago and it is because I have spent time here, among you.  I have been changed by God, through you. And I continue to be changed. Lord knows there’s more work for me to do.  And I need you, my faith community, to help me get there. And you need me. We need each other.

 

I need to give to the work of the church because giving changes me; it grounds me and it orients me.  None of that is new. That is the story as old as this building and older, all the way back to the first followers of Jesus, and before.

 

I have attended two fundraising events in the last two weeks.  And both events did a great job of balancing numbers and stories.  Both were compelling, and both reminded me why those organizations are important to me.

 

I could give you numbers and I could give you stories about this place  They would blow your mind. But those numbers don’t tell the whole story and those stories are not mine to tell.  They are your stories to tell, and tell them I pray you will.

 

And like the organizations we give to in the world, the support we give to the church isn’t meant only to change the lives of those not in this room.  The support you give the church is meant to change your life; my giving changes my life. In fact, the very act of giving is, in itself, part of the transformation we seek.  That our resources match our priorities, that our hearts go where our treasure goes, that is part of our transformations as individuals and as a community.

 

It is easy, when you have a community as dynamic as this to see things that ought to be getting done, but isn’t.  “Would it be great if….”

 

It is easy, when you are blessed with a building as old and funky as this, to see, even after all the work we have done, the paint that has started to chip.

 

And the more time I spend here the harder it is for me to imagine that every community of faith isn’t as committed to Inviting, Welcoming and Connecting everyone who comes through the door, as we strive to be.  In fact, many of you are here because your previous experience of church was one of pain, exclusion or shame.

 

We have miles to go, but there is much about this place that fills me with joy, and with hope.  And sometimes, I forget to be grateful. I forget that in this place, we enjoy abundant blessings.  And while I continue to see where we can go as a community; while I am curious as to where God might be bringing us next in our share lives of faith, this morning, I am filled with gratitude to have a place in which God’s message of transforming love has been made known; continues to be made known to me and to my family.  

 

And it is from that place of gratitude that Paul and I will consider our pledge to this place.  From gratitude and a hope that there is someone out there among you who longs to know what we have known, or maybe there is someone out there who longs to know what we all have found in this place.

 

We believe that each of us is here because each of us have been invited by God.

We know that many of us have remained here because we have been welcomed by community.

 

And we know that many of us have grown in our faith; grown in our relationships with God because, in this place, we have been connected to one another.  We are connected in Christ.

 

But we know there are others who have yet to be invited, who haven’t known welcome; who aren’t yet connected in Christ.  Maybe you are one. Or maybe someone in your life is waiting for your invitation; waiting for your welcome; waiting to reach out to make a connection for which they are desperately longing.  

 

Earlier this week, the baptist church in Wakefield was struck by lightning and was completely destroyed.  My heart ached as the pictures on the news resembled the pictures I have seen of St. Paul’s from the day this beloved was gutted by fire forty-two years ago.  It made me so grateful for this place, for the work generations have done to care for this place that has served as a place of invitation, welcome and connection for so many.  Suddenly the peeling paint was a blessing, the incomplete construction was a gift and the courage of those who grew this place out of rubble was palpable.

 

And yesterday, the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh was the scene of the largest anti-semitic attack in the history of the united states.  11 lives lost while three communities of faith gathered to worship the God of Love. And I thought of my brothers and sisters in the Jewish community of Brookline.  I thought of Temple Sinai where I was privileged to speak on Yom Kippur and the people gathered there. I thought of you and our children, and how precious you all are to me, and to one another.

 

And yesterday eight young people and one adult from our community re-affirmed their Baptismal Covenants and were Confirmed in the Episcopal Church.  And, it will not surprise anyone, I cried. Some of these young people were five or six when I arrived. Now they are these amazing young adults who will lead the church, and the world to a place for which I long.

I am so proud of these young people -- all of them; Charles, Aliyah, Esme, Flora, Austin, Ardani, Dot and Douglas .  And I am proud of the adult, James, who has humbled me with his faithful journey and has honored us by sharing it so freely with us.

 

And on Friday, Matthew Shepard was laid to rest, after 20 years, at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. -- an Episcopalian house of worship, by the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the church, and the Rt. Rev. Mariann Budde.  I was proud to be an Episcopalian as Bishop Robinson said to Matthew, “Gently rest in this place, you are safe now. Welcome home.”

 

This might be my tenth stewardship kick off sermon, but it is anything but the same old story in this place.

 

In this day and age, when I am privileged to take so much of my life for grated, I am so very grateful for this place. I am so grateful for each one of you.  I am so grateful for the ways, large and small you work to make St. Paul’s a place that invites in God’s name; a place that welcomes everyone into a community of mutual love; a place that connects people; that connects people’s hearts.

 

This is the time for which the church was made.  The world needs us. We need us.

 

Thank you for saying “yes.”

AMEN.  

 

© 2018 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello

 

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