Reign of Christ/Proper 29
November 20, 2016 (Year C)
Preached at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Brookline, MA
The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello
Jeremiah 23:1-6, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43
You can imagine my delight when I discovered that the Gospel for Launch Sunday of the Capital Campaign would be Jesus’ crucifixion.
Because today is the Sunday of the church year we call “Reign of Christ” Sunday, the readings are chosen to highlight just what such a reign of such a King looks like. It is a very different picture than we would expect. Ours is a King whose reign means enduring the worst the world can throw at him, that death might lose all power for those who come after him.
In order that we might have life that means anything, Jesus dies, showing us that death isn’t the final answer, the powers of the world are not the final answer. New life is the answer. Abundant life is the answer. Resurrection is the answer. That is the King we follow, that is what Christ’s reign looks like.
At a conference earlier this week, a bishop reminded us of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words that when Christ calls us to him, he calls us to die.
The bishop then looked at us and asked us if we were ready to die for the work of God in the world.
The pit in my stomach swelled.
He wasn’t asking about a physical death, but a loss that came from deep sacrifice. He was asking if we were ready to put the work of God ahead of our need to be protected from trial and tribulation. He shared that he expected that fairly soon, he would be spending time in prison, as he would be soon standing with those who might be deported, and his solidarity with them might land him in jail.
Are you willing to die to something for the work of God in this world, he asked.
Suddenly, this Gospel made perfect sense for Reign of Christ Sunday. Suddenly this Gospel made perfect sense for the kick-off of our Capital Campaign we are calling “St. Paul’s 2020: Preparing a Place for All.”
On my flight home from the conference, I realized that my anxiety about this campaign had to do with my fear that such a campaign was beyond our reach; my fear that if we didn’t reach our top stretch goal, it would be seen as a failure; I would be a failure. My fear that talking about money and asking you to give sacrificially would make you uncomfortable; it would make me uncomfortable.
The bishop’s question came back to me. Was I willing to take those risks, take all of those risks, for the sake of God’s work in the world? I realized I could only say I was willing if I believed this campaign was about the work of God in the world in a very real way.
And I do. And so I have.
Waking up to the results of the election, one of my first responses was “Oh my gosh, we have to postpone the Capital Appeal. This is not the time for a Campaign.”
Without skipping a beat, and in a voice both sure and steady, Paul looked at me and said, “No! This is EXACTLY the time for a Campaign. We need to do this. We need to do this now.”
As is so often the case, I knew he was right.
Now is the time God is calling us to do this. We are the people God is calling to do it.
As a response to the question of who belongs in this country and who fits in the vision of a collective future, we are embarking on a Campaign to state loudly and clearly that we are preparing a place for ALL.
We do not desire that St. Paul’s, or the church as a whole, be a place for some, but a place for all. Now is exactly the time to further that vision in concrete ways; in stone and mortar; in steel and glass. This is no metaphoric, theoretical or ethereal task we are beginning this morning.
This campaign is about saying with our physical environment what we say with our voices and our community: Wherever you are, whoever you are, you are welcome here.
We have a chance to do work to our physical plant so we can more fully turn our attention outward into the world. With this Campaign successfully behind us, we can be freed to do work God is calling us to do for one another and for a broken and hurting world without the distraction of bent organ pipes or crumbling stones in the tower.
I hope you have received the case statement in the mail this week. I ask you to read it carefully, as it beautifully articulates our priorities and vision for a place where all are welcome, all are cared for, all are celebrated and all can glimpse a bit of the Kingdom that we work so hard to build; the world we know God is asking us to build.
This campaign requires sacrifice. It already has. The countless hours the Vestry, the Buildings and Grounds and Capital Campaign Committees have spent to get us to this place have been sacrificial indeed. And for that I am deeply thankful.
We have already heard from several members of our community who have decided to make deeply sacrificial Lead Gifts to the campaign, and we know there will be more.
Jesus promised us that there would be a place for all in the Kingdom of God.
We now have the opportunity and the responsibility to make that a little more true right here in this place. Our children are counting on us. Future generations we will never meet are counting on us.
In 1852 some faithful men and women met to dream and plan a worshipping community here in Brookline when there was only farmland and grazing cows where we now sit.
In 1976, more faithful women and men decided to rebuild after a devastating fire with the belief that if they did, they could do the more of the work God was calling them to do.
And in 2008, yet another group met and decided that, without a rector and despite a recession, they would risk everything in the same belief that if they did, there would be new life in this place and more people would be able to know what they knew in this place – the abundant love of God and promise of a life lived in that love.
It is our turn. It is our day. Now is our turn to die to whatever anxieties and fears we have about the world as we know it today, and to rise again to a new dream of what God is calling us to be in this place.
Now is our time to stand up and say with our voices and our wallets, This is a place for All. This will always be a place for all.
In the days following the election, many wondered how to support those who might feel marginalized and at risk in the current political climate.
Paul and I have chosen this place, for this is where we know and love most of those who are living in fear.
As you will, please raise your hand and keep it raised if you identify as a woman. Please raise your hand if you identify as a person of color. Please raise your hand if you identify as a member of the GLBT community. Raise your hand if you were born outside of the United States. Raise your hand up if you have a physical disability. Raise your hand if you are related to someone who is not Christian.
As you are able, stand up you love someone who is any of these things; a woman, a person of color, a member of the GLBT community, born outside of the United States, has a physical disability, who is not Christian.
This is who we are. This is a Place for All.
This is our time to make sure that remains true for generations to come.
Now is exactly the time for such a Campaign. We are exactly the people to make it happen.
© 2016 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello
[i] While all direct and indirect quotes are always cited, there are sources I read regularly in preparation for sermon writing. Chances are thoughts have been spurred by these sources and so I list the usual suspects here: David Lose, In the Meantime, The New Interpreters Bible, Sacra Pagina .