Sunday, June 02, 2013

Sermon, Proper 4, 1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43; Luke 7:1-10

I have two trivia questions for you today, and neither of them has to do with the last sermon I preached.  First:  What is the legal, corporate name of the Episcopal Church?  The legal, corporate name of this thing we call the Episcopal Church is the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.  This is so because at the General Convention of 1835, two bishops, Charles McIlvaine of Ohio and George Doane of New Jersey, argued that TEC should not create a specialized “missionary arm” of the church, but that every member of the church, by virtue of their baptism, confirmation and the Great Commission, were, in fact, missionaries – both domestic and foreign.  To be sent in mission of proclaiming the Kingdom of God, to be a missionary, is at the very core of Christian identity.

The second question is this:  What is the duty of all Christians?  The duty of all Christians is to work, pray and give for the spread of the Kingdom of God.  We work through the variety of ministries that take place here, as well as by becoming involved in various activities.  Everything we do, from teaching Sunday school to buying food and preparing and handing out Personal Survival Packs, is grounded in working for the spread of the Kingdom of God.

We pray not only through our individual prayers, but we pray through our liturgy.  Our liturgy is prayer in action.  And we pray through thought, word and deed.

We also give towards the spreading of God’s kingdom.  Our giving includes our pledges as well as gifts over and above what we have pledged.  And it should be understood that we give to God the first fruits of that which he has given us.

This duty of all Christians, as articulated in the Catechism, is coupled with our baptismal covenant.  Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?  Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?  Will you respect the dignity of every human being?

In all these questions we answer, “I will, with God’s help.”  We make this answer, hopefully, not because we are parroting the script as found on page 293 of the Prayer Book, but because this is what we believe.

Do you really believe you are called to proclaim the gospel?  Do you really believe you are called to seek and serve Christ in all persons?  Do you really respect the dignity of every human being?  Or are there strings attached?

This covenant was on display during the pre-Boatnick parade staging.  Every year we position someone by the back door to offer coffee and the use of our restrooms.  It’s not a huge thing, but it is appreciated by those getting ready for the parade.  This year Eileen volunteered to be that person, and she told me about one particular encounter.

The Boatnick parade, as you probably know, gets all kinds of participants.  In the two I’ve seen, I’ve noticed that it seems to be a platform for almost all of the area churches trying to spread their particular message.  One of the more conservative congregations got into a discussion with Eileen and, in short, wanted to know who we allowed to be in the church.  She said, “Everyone.”

And the debate was on.  What about Those People?  Yes.  What about Them?  Yes.  Finally she said, “Look, all means ALL.”  End of discussion.

This is where we find ourselves today.  Will you proclaim by word and example?  Will you love your neighbor as yourself?  Will you respect the dignity of every human being?  Our readings say, “I will.”

The first lesson comes from the dedication of Solomon’s temple.  During the dedication, Solomon’s public prayer to God includes this:  “When a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, then hear and do all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the people of the earth may know you.”  Solomon isn’t praying to conquer the nations.  He’s praying that outsiders will come to God’s house and be welcomed therein.  All means all.

And in the gospel, the ultimate outsider, a Roman centurion, requests that Jesus heal his beloved slave.  Jesus never meets him, but is given a good report by Jewish elders.  Jesus goes but is stopped short by friends of the centurion who display the man’s faith in the God of Israel.  Jesus welcomes the man and his request, and the slave is healed.  All means all.

So here we are at our first 9:30 service.  The impetus and hope for a combined service was to build a stronger community at St. Luke’s.  It was, and is, hoped that this will strengthen our congregation and unify our community.  It was, and is, hoped that people become excited about being here with a fuller building, more robust singing and generally experiencing all we have to offer.  But it’s not just about us.

Solomon didn’t pray that his glorious new temple would only appeal to Episcopalians – I mean, Israelites.  He prayed that foreigners would be drawn in by God and welcomed into that household as full members.  All means all.

Jesus didn’t turn down a foreigner’s request because he was a foreigner, but used him as an example to others for what faith looked like.  All means all.

Both of those scenes involved looking and listening to outsiders and foreigners.  Both of those scenes involve us and God connecting with people who have us surrounded.

As we move forward with this single service, look for what excites you.  Look for reasons to proclaim the gospel, to love your neighbor and to respect the dignity of every human being.  Look for ways to help spread the Kingdom of God.

When we start actively looking for these things, then we will begin looking for ways to speak God’s language to outsiders and foreigners in ways that they understand.  We will begin looking for ways to connect with our community.  We will begin looking for ways to connect with all those who have us surrounded.  Because in the Kingdom of God, all means all.

And when we do that, then we will be active missionaries of this thing we call the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.



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