Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sermon, Advent 3, Matt. 11:2-11 & Is. 35:1:10

In last week's sermon, the bishop talked about hope. Hope, he reminded us, is one of the three cardinal traits of Christianity; it's right up there with faith and love.

Hope is that which lets us look forward to better days. Hope is what lets the Gentiles look to scripture and recognize that the God of Israel is also the God of the Gentiles. Hope is what lets us recognize that God will not abandon us. Hope is what let the bishop's vestry person declare in the midst of surrounding despair, "I think we have all we need to succeed right here."

As you may recall, I spent last Saturday in Helena with the vicars of the other assisted congregations, as well as members of the Standing Committee, Council and the Finance Committee. The two main topics on the agenda were, "How are your congregations doing?" and, "Will your congregetions be financially self-sufficient in two years?" This meeting, and these two questions, were brought about because we wanted to see how we were doing with the 5-year plan.

The diocese, and most of her churches, are in serious financial difficulties. Because of mismanagement and negletct in the past, we needed to take some drastic measures. One of those was the 5-year plan in which assisted congregations would see a reduction of financial support by 20 percent per year for five years. The goal being not to close churches, but to challenge people to assume more responsibility for their particular parish.

The long and short of all this is that about half of the vicars of assisted congregatioins said that they thought their parishes would be self-supporting at the end of the five year plan. I was not one of those.

Every place and every parish is different. Demographics, income, population -- all of that means that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all evangelism program. I said, "No," to the above question because Virginia City is a small town with not a whole lot of growth, and Sheridan is growing but we won't grab another 50 people overnight. Rebuilding these churches is going to be a long process. But, as I've said before, I think we can make it.

I am currently working on developing our own plan for financial independence. That plan, however, will need to be approved by the Vestry before it is presented at the annual meeting. And that plan, I think, will do a few things to our parishes.

First, it will be OUR plan. Instead of trying to live into the diocesan 5-year plan where we are expected to increase giving by 20 percent every year and might not fully understand what that entails, we will be trying to live into something that might be more manageable and which is easily identifiable. And I think knowing what we are shooting for will help immensely.

Second, it will require that we be more intentioinal about our stewardhsip. It will require that people offer more than they have in the past. It will require us to honestly tackle the issue of what it costs financially to keep us afloat.

Now, why am I talking about finances and assisted congregations and deficits? Because I have hope. I firmly believe that our two congregations can be financially independent. I firmly believe that our two congregations will grow. I firmly believe that our two congregations can be a viable and vital part of the Body of Christ in the Ruby Valley.

Before John baptized Jesus in the river Jordan, he announced, "One who is more powerful than I is coming .... He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." John had hope that God would send his holy messenger, his messiah, to save the people.

Today, though, we hear John's doubts. "Are you the one?" All of us have doubts about God, about our faith, about whether we will make it. We are just like John here: unsure, wondering if we have the resources to make it.

And to that question, God, through Isaiah, and Jesus, says, "Look, the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life."

Our two congregations were in dire straights -- lamely limping along, almost blind and damn near dead. But through the giftst of the Holy Spirit we are being raised to a new and exciting life. I was brought here for a purpose and I am helping you to grow. But don't forget that this is a two way street, and you all have given me more than you can imagine.

And together ... together we will embody the spirit of the resurrected Christ. Together we will grow. Together we will do good things.

We have a plan. The lame walk, the blind see and the deaf hear. I have hope.

The question I have for you is this: are you willing to put that hope into practice?


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