Sermons

This is not a day for the introverts among us.  This is not a day for the polite, the private New Englander, the discreet or the sheepish.

This day is bold.  This day is loud.  This day is out in the face of the world declaring, in just about every way we can imagine that we are here.  That we stand for something contrary to the ways of the world, and that we think this thing for which we stand is worth giving our lives over to, publicly, boldly, out loud and up front for all to see.

Makes some of us sweat, just to think about such a thing.

But that’s what we’re doing.  That’s what Jesus did in that upper room, that’s what the Holy Spirit did in the center of town during a major festival in crowded streets.

And that’s what Amanda did yesterday, when she was ordained to the transitional Diaconate on her way to the Priesthood. 

And that’s what Brielle and Nathaniel will do when they are baptized shortly this morning.  Okay, technically, it’s what Brielle and Nathaniel’s parents will do.

It’s also what St. Paul’s will do, when, after the baptisms we will read and proclaim together the statement of Welcome and Commitment – a covenant created by you, the congregation. 

Back in January, at the Annual Meeting, we collected sheets of paper from the community.  On one sheet people wrote who they believed St. Paul’s welcomed, or we strived to welcome.  On another sheet, we wrote what we all believed St. Paul’s was committed to.

Those sheets were gathered by the vestry and through an inspired process for which I can only give credit to the subcommittee and Holy Spirit, this morning we receive it in draft form as a dialogue between welcome and commitment.

Immediately following our reading of it, it will be posted on the front doors of the church for all who pass by to see.

I said back in January that the church can’t afford to be meek or quiet in letting people know who we are, for what we stand, to what we are committed, or whom we follow.

In the crowded field of news and social media, the time had come, I believed, to make our voice known.  My hope, our hope, is that the day might come when those who seek a place like this, but not know anything about us, won’t have to wait until they make the brave choice of crossing the threshold to hear some of the Good News that keeps the rest of us coming back each week.

This is a risky thing we are doing; going public with what we have believed up to this point in the safety of this loving community.  People out there might not agree, some might question our motives, still others might accuse us of straying from the path due to our expansive understanding of God’s love.

I was taught, growing up, not to cause trouble, keep my head down, avoid conflict at all costs, so this endeavor has stretched me in ways I never imagined, and I am so grateful.  Perhaps it will stretch you as well.

I imagine that today, the first day Amanda will serve in her role as an ordained member of the church, is a day that will stretch her as well.  Nothing outs you as a follower of Christ like wearing a collar.  This morning, you are with friends, Amanda, and we rejoice at your ordination.  But there will come a day, if it hasn’t already, when the sight of your collar will confuse, threaten, and make visible something believed by those who see it. 

You may never know the stories behind the reactions that collar will inspire.  You now wear, as a mentor once called it, “the world’s smallest projection screen.”  You will notice when you choose to wear it, and when you’d rather not.  And I suggest you pay attention to both of those feelings and, perhaps, do whichever makes you the most uncomfortable.

Brielle and Nathaniel, too, enter the public sphere this morning as their parents bring them to make a statement in front of this gathered community about what they will stand for, how they will live out the love of God in their lives, with God’s help.

But unlike the collar, or a poster on the front door, Brielle and Nathaniel will have the choice everyday of their lives as to how “out loud” they want to live into their faith.  Unlike our Muslim and Jewish brothers and sisters, there are no articles of clothing Christians wear as a practice of our faith.  Perhaps a cross that can be worn inside or out, but perhaps not.

Brielle and Nathaniel will have to choose to make their voice as followers of Jesus heard. 

Amanda has, in a very concrete way, chosen to live out her life of faith in a very public way.  This morning, St. Paul’s chooses to live out our message of welcome and commitment in a new, and very public way.

But what will Brielle and Nathaniel choose?  What will you choose?

I wear my collar around town because I want people to know communities of faith exist; That priests are among us, and they do things like drink coffee and shop for groceries.  I hope, in my visibility, some narratives of the church might be challenged and barriers overcome.

I am thankful for this banner that will hang on our door, for many of the same reasons.  It will say, “This is what the church is about, this church anyway.  This is who you will find if you choose to come inside and see.” And it will remind us who we are trying to be, because it’s hard, community is hard, beautiful, but hard.

But what about the people who pass by you?  What about the people who see you at coffee, or at the market, in the school?  How will they know what you know – that there are faithful people who call themselves Christian who believe that God calls us to a radical life lived out in our love for one another, in our service to one another, in our respect for the dignity of every human being, in our care for creation, in our belief that grace and forgiveness bring life and are available to anyone who seeks it?

How will they know?

Of course, I can’t answer that question for you, though I would be delighted to explore your answer with you.

All I know is that this thing we celebrate, this Holy Spirit who blew open the shutters of that upper room is less interested in what we do in this room than She is about what we do out there, in the world.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  So I send you, Jesus says.  So I send you.

St. Paul’s is going public. Amanda has gone public.  Brielle and Nathaniel are about to go public, too. 

If the headlines are teaching us anything, it is that we need to go public.  We can’t wait for people to find their way in to this, our upper room, or any upper room.  We must let the Holy Spirit sweep us into the streets, sent by Jesus to bring the peace Jesus gives us to a world in desperate need of it.

It isn’t always comfortable.  It isn’t even always polite.  But it is critical, if the world has any hope of knowing the peace for which it longs.

AMEN

© 2017 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello[i]



[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 .

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