Sunday, March 29, 2009

Grace Church’s “Hour”

Sermon preached at Grace Church March 29, 2009 by Ken Lyon

The Gospel according to John 12:20-33

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

"Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say-- `Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him." Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

The Sermon

John has a point of view and a vocabulary that is different from the other New Testament writers.

John views the moment of Jesus’ crucifixion as the moment of God’s glorification. It’s not something that happens on the way to something; it is the thing itself. It’s not a defeat, it’s a victory.

John often has Jesus refer to his crucifixion as his being “lifted up.” He means us to understand that this “lifting up” is the moment of God’s glorification—the moment that Jesus saves the world.

In last week’s reading from John you might remember hearing Jesus say:

Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

Jesus is referring to that time when the Hebrew people were wandering in the wilderness and got attacked by poisonous snakes. His listeners would remember these words from Numbers:

And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live." So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

John is comparing Jesus being “lifted up” on the cross to that serpent being lifted on the pole. Jesus on the cross is the victory. And John, ever a lover of paradox, is saying that the very act that Jesus enemies intend to be a humiliating tragedy becomes the very act that saves the world.

Today’s selection from John’s gospel describes that point in Jesus life where he realizes that he has reached a point of no return. Today is the moment when Jesus understands that his “hour” has com. He can keep going in the direction that his life has prepared him to go, or he could veer off and choose another path.

You may remember John’s description of Jesus’ first miracle at Cana--where he turns the water into wine--that he does it secretly, saying that “My hour has not come.” Well, today marks the instant that Jesus realizes that his “hour” has indeed come.

Some Greeks (that is, Gentiles, that is those not included in Jewish life) come, saying they want to meet Jesus. Jesus’ answer seems to have little to do with the visitors, for he answers, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” He goes on to say, “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say--`Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” And then, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

According to John, the reason why Jesus’ words are an answer to the Gentile’s request to see him is this: The very fact that non-Jews—people considered to be outsiders--have sought Jesus out is the sign that it’s time to take the next step. It’s his time to be lifted up in sight of all, Jews, Greeks and Romans alike; for God to be glorified; for his saving grace to be offered to all people.

So, Jesus, seeing that his “hour” has come, decides to continue the trajectory of his life; to realize his calling.

Similarly, I think, Grace Church’s “hour” has come.

Will we say, “Father, save me from this hour?” Of course not, because, like Jesus, we understand that it is for a reason that we have come to this hour.

Like Jesus, our actions over the next few months will decide: Do we hang back or do we embrace our future?

Jesus decision was to be the person that God had made him to be; his life to that moment had led him here; now it was time to go forward. So it is for Grace.

Like Jesus, we are not called to be something we aren’t; we are called to become more fully who we are.

And who are we? How do we figure that out?

In a recent cartoon, parents, as they often do, tell their young son that he can be anything he wants to be. His immediate reply was that he wants to be some kind of killer reptile. He parents had to sadly inform him that there were limits to what he could be.

So it is for all individuals and groups: We are born with certain God-given aptitudes—gifts—into certain circumstances over which we had no control (families, cultures, times in history). We live our life, with God’s help, learning and changing and growing as best we can, and all of that contributes to who we are and who God calls us to be at a moment in time. When our “hour” comes, and it may come to us more than once, individuals and organizations can take stock of who they are and can decide to embrace who they are or to retreat. This often involves deciding what of its heritage needs to be set aside and what needs to be embraced enthusiastically in order to take the next step authentically.

So it is with Grace. Grace’s “hour” has come. Our life together so far—our heritage and history--has made us who we are and can help us who we are called to be.

Here are some factors to consider as we discern who we are called to be at this, our “hour.”

We’ve been on this corner for over 140 years.

We’ve been doing an inspiring liturgy that dates back to the earliest days of Christianity in the most beautiful, the most uplifting, worship space for miles around.

We have the prime location—smack dab in the middle of the entrance to our community.

And we have a wonderful facility—that’s our gift and that’s our burden.

For over 140 years, Grace, as an Episcopal church, has been a “via media,” a place where people of many Christian backgrounds can meet and worship together, without too many questions asked.

For the last 30 years, we have been celebrating the Eucharist every Sunday. Over time, we have come to a richer understanding of our weekly common meal as a foretaste of that time when all those created in the image of God will be gathered at one table in a heavenly banquet. We are learning to live out the promise of the Baptismal Covenant introduced in 1978, “to respect the dignity of every human person.”

At the national level, signs of this understanding include election of an acknowledged gay man as a bishop of our church and the election of a woman as our Presiding Bishop

Here at Grace, perhaps through God’s urging, we haves made some choices over the past 20 years that have led us to where we are today—our “hour.”

About 20 years ago, while we were still a mostly white parish, we decided to call a black priest. We had expected Fr. Melton to be charismatic, activist and rather, uh, edgy; we later discovered that he was gay. What a learning experience—a changing experience—a growing experience--for Grace!

During one of the interim periods between priests, we decided to live without the services of a full-time priest. For over a year, we hired a priest to do services and some home visitations, and we divided up the remaining responsibilities of being a parish among the members of the congregation. It worked, and Grace has never been the same. What a learning experience—a changing experience—a growing experience for Grace.

About ten years ago, Grace decided to call an acknowledged gay priest with partner. Grace rallied to support and defend Fr. Farrell and Dale, when the bishop abruptly changed his mind about wanting him here and ultimately forced him out. Another learning, changing, growing experience.

Two years ago, Vicar Ernestein came to us: a woman, an African-American, an immigrant. Now we’re doing Hip-Hop services and Healing services with drumming. Her presence among us has enlarged our sense of Grace.

All of this is not to say that the white male priests whom we have also called over the past 20 years haven’t contributed to who Grace is; I mention these experiences because I think they have helped us push our boundaries the most.

So, now is our “hour.” Time for answering the question: What has our life together prepared us to be next? It’s a time for sifting our heritage, choosing those elements that will best enable us to be the people God is calling us to be.

Now is our time for Grace to be “lifted up” for the entire world to see that Grace for what it is; a place for all sorts and conditions of people to come to experience God’s saving power.

We, as a community, are called to be both the lifters and the lifted up. We, as Jesus, are called to stop turning water into wine in secret, and to be more public about who we are and what we stand for.

People have told me that they’re uncomfortable with anything that feels like self-promotion. We need to get over it. We are not promoting self; we are promoting God and God’s work at Grace. It may be appropriate to be modest about ourselves, but there’s no need to be modest about God and God’s work among us.

This is Grace’s “hour.” We, like Jesus, have seen those who were formerly excluded coming to us. For us, as for Jesus, that’s our sign that our time has come to be lifted up so that God may be glorified. And we say, with Jesus, “Now our soul is troubled.” And rightly so. But do we say, “Father, save us from this hour?” No, it is for this reason that we have come to this hour. “Father, we glorify your name” And, as we are lifted up, we draw all people to the saving place that is Grace.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sermon on the Future of Grace Church

Sermon on the Future of Grace Church

This is the outline of a sermon given by the Reverend Ernestein Flemister on March 22, 2009.

Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.

This morning, I have been given the task of updating you and the friends of Grace on our current condition. As was mentioned at the annual meeting, we did not pass a budget because of a deficit of close to $57,000.00. We have been able to overcome our deficit over the last two years through your generous support and the support of the diocese in providing grants to support our work and mission. We are all aware of the economic downturn; this has affected us all, the diocese included.

Since the annual meeting, Mission Council has been hard at work looking at options and alternatives. We met with members of the diocese including the bishop to discuss the situation at Grace. In our discussion with Bishop Breidenthal, he suggested that we explore and investigate a concept called “common or total ministry.” In fact, bishop Breidenthal wrote an article on it in this month’s issue of the Interchange. At the end of our meeting with the bishop, four committees were set up to look at:

  1. Common ministry,
  2. Building rental and utilization,
  3. Possible merger with another church, and
  4. Fundraising.

At the Mission Council meeting last week, we received initial committee reports.

Common ministry:

Common Ministry is living out our baptismal vows by using the gifts of every member of the congregation. It is a belief that the Spirit equips every congregation to meet our basic ministry needs from among our own members. Through a process of continued discernment, we would determine who would be engaged in the ministry and work of Grace.

The Mission Council is investigating this idea and voted to send a letter to the Bishop asking him to help us further explore the concept of Common Ministry with the Diocese and the Congregation. The Bishop conveyed to us that the final decision will be ours. We will bring the information to you and together a decision will be made on Common Ministry. If you have any questions, please ask a member of your Mission Council and we will try to provide as much information as we have available to you.

Building rental and utilization.

Collaborating with Six acres bed and breakfast

Exploring the possibility of a Montessori pre-school.

Developing a community training program

Exploring opportunities for grants to assist in projects

Merger with another church:

We have looked into merging with several other churches. At this time, it seems to be an unlikely prospect however we will continue to investigate all possibilities.


“Taste of Grace” Dinner– international food festival; exploring the food and culture of different parts of the world.

Rummage sale in the fall

Booths at Gay Pride Parade, 4th of July Parade, and Community Fairs

Joint Fundraisers with other organizations, i.e. CAIN.

Music Series with guest musicians, Rainbow Band and Muse.

Silent Auction/Community Charity Ball

After a careful review of the proposed budget, Mission Council believes that the only area that can be realistically reduced is salaries. There are hard choices to be made. Mission Council feels that the budget needs to be cut and presents these figures to you for your consideration:

With a full-time priest the deficit will be: $56,800.60

With a supply priest and a deacon; the deficit will be: $18, 800.60

After much prayer and discussion, the Mission Council now asks for your help, input and suggestions on what needs to be done going forward.

(Much discussion ensued.)

After listening to your comments and suggestions, I want to say that I appreciate your love and support but I also need to say that this is not about me. Grace was here doing ministry before I came and it will be here after I am gone. You need to understand that you are able and capable of doing God’s work in this place and you don’t need me to do that.

You need to make choices that will make Grace a viable and growing church. When we spoke with bishop Breidenthal and he talked about Common Mission, I told him that I thought we were already doing it here at Grace. So please know that Grace will continue to be a growing and vibrant place with your support.

Let us pray,

O God of peace, who has taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength: By the might of your Spirit lift us, we pray, to your presence, where we may be still and know that you are God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen