Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Pentecost Sunday
Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35,37; Romans 8:22-27; John 20:19-23
Sunday, May 31, 2009 – Trinity, Redlands

On this, the Feast of Pentecost, we remember and celebrate the giving of the gift of the Holy Spirit to humanity. Each of the scripture readings we just heard deal with the Holy Spirit and the giving of that same Spirit in some form or fashion.

Of course, the first reading, from the second chapter of Acts, is the signature story for Pentecost. It is the story that we all tend to think of when we think of this day, this event. This is the story of the rushing in of the Holy Spirit, in the form of a violent wind. Accompanying the arrival of the Spirit, or perhaps a manifestation of it, is the appearance of tongues of fire resting on each of the persons present, and the proclaiming of the gospel in many languages, with those present speaking in their varied native tongues, but also being able to understand the words being proclaimed by others. We are told that this story takes place 50 days after Christ’s resurrection and was in keeping with Christ’s promise to send an Advocate in his place following his ascension. This fulfillment of Christ’s promise was witnessed by a multitude, not only Jesus’ disciples, but a myriad of others, including devout Jews and newly converted Gentiles from all over the known world.

The Gospel lesson from John, on the other hand, is a little more limited in scope. In this account, the gift of the Holy Spirit is not given to a multitude, but rather is only given to ten of the disciples – the original Twelve minus Judas Iscariot, who had committed suicide, and Thomas, who was inexplicably absent. And rather than occurring after Christ’s ascension, this conveying of the gift of the Holy Spirit occurred much earlier. In fact, it occurred on the Sunday evening of Christ’s resurrection. And rather than the Holy Spirit being sent by Christ, this bestowal of the gift of the Spirit was directly initiated by Christ himself – “he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” Very different circumstances, very different cast of characters, but the same Spirit.

Despite the differences between the Acts and the John stories, the purpose is essentially the same. In both cases, the Holy Spirit is given to humanity as a gift to provide the continuing presence of Jesus among his followers in the aftermath of his death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit is given as a gift to guide the community of believers, to inspire them, to energize and vivify them for the continuation of the work begun by their master – the work of proclaiming the gospel and building the Kingdom of God that they would now be called to continue.

The third story, the lesson from Romans, is quite a bit different. Written some 25 years after the Pentecost event, this passage does not deal with the events leading up to or experienced in the giving of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Rather, Paul, writing to a disparate group of Jews and Gentiles that comprised the Church in Rome, talks about the Holy Spirit in the context of the entirety of salvation history, from the beginning of creation right up to the present day. He is concerned with the implications of the gift of the Holy Spirit for humanity, where humanity has been, where it is, and where it is going. While written to a group of early Christians in Rome in the mid-first century, the meaning and implications continue to be significant and applicable for us Christians, nearly two thousand years later and half-way around the world.

Paul captures the essence of the meaning and implications for the Holy Spirit in our lives in the very first line of today’s Epistle lesson. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” Unlike the other two readings which document the sending of the Holy Spirit to particular groups of people on behalf of all humanity, Paul, in his reporting talks about the continuing work of the Holy Spirit, delivered upon the entirety of creation, for all humanity. And he makes clear that the coming of the Holy Spirit was not a single event that happened nearly 2,000 years ago, but an event that is ongoing. The Holy Spirit was not sent once, but is continually being sent for the benefit of us all. The gift of the Holy Spirit is on-going and is all-encompassing.

In saying that the whole creation is groaning in labor pains, Paul invokes the image of physical creation. In this passage, we have the meeting of seemingly polar opposites – creation and Holy Spirit, the physical and the spiritual. This should be of great comfort to us. We often think of the Holy Spirit as a source of inspiration, as a guiding power in our lives. And it is. But the Spirit is more than that. Much more.

Throughout our lives, we have periods when our own lives are filled with the groaning of labor pains. When we struggle with the burden of choices and decisions, with discerning what is right for us, with what God is calling is to do and be. Such times are sometimes difficult. They can cause much soul searching, much anguish, much internal struggle, much spiritual pain. We are filled with the groaning of labor pains as we struggle with emotional hardships. With the pain of loss, of the death of a loved one, of the end of a relationship, of the loss of a job, as we struggle to make sense out of what is happening, of figuring out how we will possible go on in the face of such all-consuming emotional pain. We are filled with the groans of labor pains as we struggle with physical limitations, with the onset of infirmity and disease, as our bodies, once young and vibrant, betray us and succumb to the inevitabilities of age.

I think Paul is right in using the imagery of labor pains. For in such periods of our lives, regardless of whether the pains have their root in the spiritual, the emotional, or the physical, we are indeed struggling to give birth to something new, to a new creation born of God and of the Spirit, born of our very being – the new creation that God is calling us to be. What is being born may not at first glance be pleasant or fun or joyful. But in the new life born of the groans of labor pains, spiritual, emotional, or physical, something new is indeed being born. We are being born into a new way of being whether we like it or not. But even if it is not what we would have envisioned for ourselves, there is hope in what is being brought forth. For the constant in all of this is the hope of redemption promised through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. These are labor pains filled with, and only made possible through, our faith and an abiding sense of hope.

When Paul talks about hope, which for him, is the hope of redemption, we are not talking about hope in our contemporary understanding. We are not talking about wishful thinking. We are talking about something that is already promised to us. We are talking about trusting that it will happen. We are talking about the certainty that it will happen. We are talking about the pregnant expectation that the promises made to us by our Savior will be brought to fruition in due time. We are talking about the knowledge in faith that it will happen.

Paul assures us that in the face of this sure and certain hope, even in the face of the groaning of labor pains that we may face along the way, we are not alone. We have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit to accompany us on the journey that ultimately leads to the fulfillment of that which we hope for. We have the Holy Spirit to help us make the most of the journey so that when it is complete, when the promise is fulfilled, we will have the most fruitful experience possible. In this, the Spirit walks with us, keeping us company, encouraging us, keeping the sense of hope alive even when we feel that things have become hopeless. In this, the Holy Spirit carries us when we feel as if we cannot possibly take another step.

There are even times on the journey when we may feel that we cannot even so much as utter a prayer on our own behalf. While the other readings imply that the Holy Spirit is a gift from God through Christ to the disciples, and by extension to us, to strengthen, inspire, and energize us for what we are called to do, the reading from Romans implies a much more relational approach. The Holy Spirit is not a one-way conduit with God’s energy and grace flowing from God to us. Paul implies that the conduit works both ways. The flow goes both ways – from God to us, but also from us to God. The “Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” Even when we cannot find the words to pray, when all we can do is heave a heavy albeit pregnant sigh of frustration, anger, sorrow, fear, or resignation, the Holy Spirit is there to take that sigh and lift up to God, transformed by the power of the Spirit into the most eloquent of prayers that cannot help but be heard by God, cannot help but pierce God’s heart.

On this day, we celebrate the most precious gift of the Holy Spirit, sent by our risen and ascended Lord to provide continuation of the gift of his love, strength, and encouragement in his physical absence. Over the years, there have been many products and services that have claimed to be “the gift that keeps on giving.” The only gift that truly can bear up to that moniker is the Holy Spirit. We can be assured that the Holy Spirit will be present, providing us with Christ’s love day after day after day, for as long as we live. And that at all times, in times of joy and particularly in times of need, the Holy Spirit will be with us, the Holy Spirit IS with us, through every groaning from life’s labor pains, through every cry for help, and even when all we can do is utter a pathetic sigh. Because of this promise, every day is Pentecost. This is our sure and certain hope. This is our sure and certain reality.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Blah Blah Blah Love

Sixth Sunday of Easter – Year B (RCL)
Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17
Sunday, May 17, 2009 –
Trinity, Redlands

My first year of seminary, we had a dean who, whenever he preached a sermon, always seemed to focus on “love.” Even if the lessons didn’t contain the word “love,” Dean Lemler could still manage to make love the central theme. Since Tuesday was the Dean’s Mass where the dean preached, we could nearly always count on a weekly sermon on love. It almost became a joke among the seminarians. Jim was well aware of this as well, as evidenced by a story he told on himself. Apparently while a parish priest, there was an occasion when a young child was in church. For whatever reason, the child’s mother wasn’t there that day. When the child got home, the mother asked, “what was the sermon about.” The child innocently responded, “The usual. Blah blah blah love. Blah blah blah love.” As you can imagine, us seminarians had a field day with that one.

Dean Lemler would have been in heaven with today’s lessons, particularly the second reading and the Gospel, which are very similar, coming out of the Johanine tradition and therefore carrying the same Christological perspective. Blah blah blah love. Blah blah blah love. In a way, that’s almost what the lessons sound like. It seems as if every other word is “love.” Blah blah blah love. Blah blah blah love. As a result, today’s lessons can be mind-boggling, if not downright mind-numbing.

In fact, one commentator, a specialist in the art of homiletics, in examining the Epistle lesson from First John, says “Anyone hoping to track by means of linear reasoning through these few verses of 1 John is likely to emerge seriously frustrated—the author certainly seems to be going around in circles!” (Schlafer, 491). While the lesson from First John contains some central images and concepts that are intended to illustrate the meaning of Christian love, upon hearing them described, the logic, for the twenty-first century Western mind, is hard to follow. “We know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments.” We can get so wrapped up in trying to logically analyze what is being said that we get caught in a loop that is almost impossible to rationalize our way out of.

To spare us too much of a headache, our friend the commentator has synthesized this passage down into a few key concepts. In order of appearance, these are ideas about belief; relationship, both human and divine; love; obedience; commandments; conquest and victory; and faith. That’s a lot crammed into a mere five verses. No wonder we have a hard time wrapping our minds around all of this. In fact, this same commentator describes this section of biblical text as “a bloodless ballet of abstract categories,” as “an elaborate procession of empty theological circumlocutions,” and as “a vortex of sentimental religious jargon, sucking its audience down in a rhetorical swirl” (Schlafer, 491). Maybe blah blah blah love is a little easier to understand.

But to help us out, and to redeem the meaning of this potentially confusing passage, this homiletical expert provides another image that might just provide the clarity we need, shedding light on the meaning of blah blah blah love. He proposes the metaphor of “something like the orderly attraction of a gravitational field—one in which belief, kinship with God and one another, love, obedience, the commandments of God, triumph over the world, and ‘our faith,’ are all elements encircling each other, held in orbit by a centering energy point, named by the writer as Jesus the Christ” (Schlafer, 491). I think this is a wonderful image to help us understand what the author of First John is attempting to describe. Sort of translating it into a twenty-first century world view, or rather, cosmological view.

The only modification I would make would be that we have all these elements, all these attributes and characteristics of Christian life, held in orbit around and by a centering energy force called Jesus Christ, just as the planets orbit the sun. But instead of love being one of those characteristics, I would say that love is the attractive force holding all else in orbit around Christ. Love is the gravity that keeps it all together. Just as the sun is the source of the gravitational field that influences our solar system, Christ is the source of love that influences the attributes of Christian life. Love, that attractive force between us and our Savior, is what binds together our system of belief, relationship, obedience, God’s commandments, victory in the world, and faith. Without love to bind us with Christ, all else would be meaningless; all else would go flying off into the cosmos, set adrift to wander without aim or purpose.

And just as we require the force of gravity to keep us grounded here on terra firma, so too do we require the force of love generated by Christ and manifest through our relationship with Christ and one another, to keep us firmly grounded in the Christian faith. Without gravity, we would all float off into outer space. Without Christ and the love generated and made possible through him, we would similarly float off into a meaningless existence, drifting about without aim or purpose.

With all this talk of love, it is probably worth a little explanation of what love is and what it is not. When we think of love, most of us will naturally think of the warm, fuzzy, feelings we have toward those with whom we are closest and most intimate. We think of the emotional type of love epitomized in Hallmark cards. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. It’s not what Jesus or the author of First John are talking about. That emotional sense of love is far too narrow, far too limiting. That notion of love tends to be, although not always, possessive, dominating, containing a degree of self-interest, can be coercive, and in limited supply.

Jesus was talking about a far broader definition of love. Unlike English, which only has one word for love, the original Greek of the New Testament has four words for love, each with a differing sense and set of characteristics. The word consistently used in both today’s Epistle and Gospel lessons is agape. While we translate agape as “love,” there are probably more accurate translations that better convey the sense of what it means and of what Jesus was talking about. Agape is translated into Latin as caritas, which made its way into English as “charity.” Rather than love, it means more of a concern for others. The full extent of what agape means is a concern for others that is not possessive or dominating, not coercive, and which allows the other to be who he/she is or is called to be. And most importantly, it is not limiting or limited, but is expansive and in great abundance. With these characteristics, it can be applied, and Jesus even commands us to apply, agape, love, not just to those whom we like or are close to, but to everyone, even those we do not particularly like, to our enemies.

Perhaps this is easier said than done, but when we remember what agape really means, what this definition of love really means, it leaves a little more room to have love for those whom we would not want to or be able to love under our more emotional definition. But remember, we are talking about a love that is a grounding force in our lives, as humans and as Christians – a love that is made possible by and through our relationship with Jesus Christ, the grounding force of our life and faith. Jesus provides the example. Remember, after all, that Jesus, out of his love for us, was willing to die so that we might be saved. And if we’re brutally honest with ourselves, we may not always be the most lovable of individuals. We may have things about us that are not that easy to like. But Jesus had such concern for us, regardless of who we are, that none of that mattered. His love for us extends to all of us, regardless of who we are.

As I said, it’s not easy. It takes practice. Lots of practice. Perhaps a lifetime of practice, to love in the way Jesus has called us to love. But with time, with practice, with the example and help of Christ, the one who first loved us so that we might love others, love becomes less and less of an emotional, even a superficial expression, and more and more a transforming power in our lives.

Part of how that slow and gradual change happens is in our communal life together, in our communal life of worship. This is expressed in the concluding section of our lesson from First John, in which the author gives very specific information about our central, grounding force, about Jesus Christ. “This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with water and the blood.” In this addendum to the explanation of the meaning of love, of the centrality of Jesus Christ to the outpouring of love, to our living that love in our daily lives and ministries, Christ is explicitly described in terms of water and blood. For us, these are tangible signs and reminders of who Christ is. They are tangible reminders of not only who he is, but of all that flows from and is held together by him – our beliefs, our relationships with God and with one another, our expressions of love, our obedience to him, particularly in following God’s commandments, in our striving to conquer the world to bring victory to the kingdom he has ushered in, to our every expression of our faith. Water and blood are the central signs of who we are as Christians. They are the central signs, the grounding influence in our communal worship, which is itself an expression of our life together. They are the ultimate expression of Christ’s love for us, and as such, reminders to us of the love we are to have for one another and for all whom we encounter.

While not explicitly used every time we worship, water is the sign and symbol of our full inclusion in the community of faith, through baptism in water and the Holy Spirit. It is through water that we are made members of the Body of Christ. In water we die to our old way of life and are born again to new and eternal life in Christ. Every Sunday, either directly or indirectly, we remember the waters of baptism, of what that means to us, and through whom that has been made possible, Jesus Christ. This is an expression of our inclusion in God’s family, and a reminder that we too must welcome all we encounter as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

And every Sunday when we come together to worship, we employ the sign and symbol of blood, or more explicitly, of body and blood. Every time we celebrate the Eucharist at this table, we take the bread and the wine, and through our prayers and the words of the Great Thanksgiving, we remember what Jesus said at the Last Supper – “this is my body” and “this is my blood.” We remember that these holy gifts were given to us and to all for the forgiveness of our sins. We remember and celebrate that through these holy gifts, we are made one with Christ in his Body, that we are made one with each other in his Body. Through these holy gifts we are nurtured and fed, giving us the strength we need to go back out into the world, carrying the gift of Christ’s love to all those whom we encounter in our day-to-day lives.

Water and blood. Washing and feeding. Inclusion and sending out. This is what the signs of our worship are all about. This is what love is all about. That is how we receive the love that Christ freely gives to us. What we do with it is up to us. We can keep it for ourselves and feel all nice and warm inside. Or we can take it out into the world, and spread it among all those we encounter – those we love, those we like, and even those we do not particularly like. Only by doing this will we be loving as Christ has commanded us to love. And in so doing, we will truly be living as Christ has commanded us to live.

Or put another way, blah blah blah love, blah blah blah live.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Schlafer, David A. “1 John 5:1-6, Homiletical Perspective.” In Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B, Volume 2, Lent Through Eastertide. Edited by David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008.

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Gospel According to Whoopi

Fourth Sunday of Easter – Year B (RCL)
Acts 4:4-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:1-18
Sunday, May 3, 2009 –
Trinity, Redlands

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.”

Who among us doesn’t get a warm, fuzzy feeling when we hear today’s Gospel lesson invoking the imagery of Christ as the good shepherd? I would hazard a guess that most of us, upon hearing this story, or any of the similar Gospel stories such as the parable of the lost sheep, recall the various paintings or stained glass windows we have seen depicting Jesus as a shepherd – such as this window here in our own church. Such images always depict Jesus holding a lamb, looking caringly down at it, while the lamb gazes at Jesus with a look of peace and contentment. And at Jesus feet, there are generally several other sheep, looking up at him in grateful adoration. When seeing such images, we cannot help but identify with the lamb in Jesus’ arms or the sheep at his feet, feeling that sense of peace and contentment, of being cared for, of grateful adoration for the One who is our shepherd. After all, that was Jesus’ intent. We are the sheep, and he is the one who shepherds, who tends those under his care – his sheep, us.

But when we really stop and think about the imagery being presented, should we really feel all warm and fuzzy? By all rights, we should probably actually be a little offended. The imagery Jesus uses to describe us, his followers, is that of sheep. Have you ever stopped to think what sheep are really like? They are basically stupid, senseless animals who have a tendency to wander off and get in trouble if not watched every moment. They don’t follow directions. They want to do their own thing. And left to their own devices, they have a tendency to get themselves in some pretty difficult predicaments. Sheep require a lot of watching, a lot of care and guidance, to keep them out of trouble, to keep them safe from harm, to keep them alive.

Wait a minute. That does sound an awful lot like human beings, doesn’t it? I mean, as much as I hate to admit it, I probably have more qualities of sheep than I care to acknowledge. And who of us couldn’t use some occasional help and guidance to keep us on track and out of trouble?

Now I certainly don’t mean to disrespect any of you or to denigrate the human race. And I honestly do not think that Jesus, in using the imagery of sheep and shepherd, was intending to offend his followers. In the rural, pastoral society of Jesus’ time, the image of sheep and shepherd would have been common, one to which nearly everyone could relate, at least on some level. It was a convenient image to convey the sense of caring and concern that Jesus was attempting to impart to his followers.

And in conveying this imagery of sheep and shepherd, Jesus actually manages to take it to another level, at least as applied to the relationship between sheep and shepherd, between Jesus and us, his followers. Remember, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd” but followed it up with the statement, “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” Jesus is talking about not just tending his sheep, but of actually knowing them. Tending sheep is not just his job. The sheep under his care are not just objects to be looked after. Those under his care are individual beings whom he knows. What did he say? “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” He relates his knowledge of his sheep, of those he is charged to care for, in terms of relationship. As one commentator notes, this knowledge “is not something abstract but realistic, concrete, grounded in love and mutuality” (Heen, 41). We’re not just talking about casual acquaintances. Jesus really knows his sheep. He really knows us. Jesus says he knows us just as his Father knows him and he knows his Father. Jesus is not talking about any relationship. He is talking about intimate, caring relationship.

When you consider that Jesus is talking about an intimate caring relationship with his sheep, with those under his care, there is much more to what Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel. There is much more about what he wants for us than to just keeping us together and out of trouble. Perhaps a modern-day equivalent of this broader story is contained in one of my favorite moves, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. For those of you who may not have seen this absolutely delightful movie, it and the first Sister Act movie are about a Las Vegas lounge singer named Deloris Van Cartier, played by Whoopi Goldberg. In the first movie, Deloris goes into a witness protection program, whereupon the police hide her in a San Francisco convent, where she masquerades as a nun, Sister Mary Clarence. As Sister Act 2 begins, she is back in Las Vegas. The nuns she befriended in the first movie need her help to teach the music class at the high school they serve. So, Deloris dons a habit once again, and goes to Saint Francis High School in San Francisco, reprising her masquerade as Sister Mary Clarence.

Sister Mary Clarence is immediately placed in the position of being shepherd to a bunch of unruly sheep. Her students are a bunch of undisciplined, street-wise kids from the poor neighborhood surrounding the high school. They are not interested in school. They just want to hang out on the streets, have fun, and coast through high school by taking easy classes, like music (okay, for some us, that would not be easy, but hey . . .).

As she attempts to tend, to reign in her sheep, Sister Mary Clarence comes to recognize that her students, who are resistant to her attempts to make them work, do have musical talent, although not of the type proscribed by the school curriculum. She sees great potential in these kids – a group of kids that many of the teachers, the school administration, and other adults have written off as being useless with no future. In the process of working with the students, she manages to instill a little discipline, teaches them to harness their energy and their talent, teaches them the importance of teamwork, and turns them into a choir. When she started working with them, they were uncooperative, getting into trouble, and couldn’t work together to save their lives. By the time she was done, they were a choir – a choir that manages to make it to the finals of a state choir competition.

Sister Mary Clarence was made shepherd over a bunch of unruly sheep. Despite their resistance and lack of discipline, she saw potential in them. Because she loved them, cared for them, and wanted the best for them, she was willing to work with them and to help them discover and realize that potential.

I think that when Jesus says he is the good shepherd, what he is really saying is that he is a shepherd to a bunch of unruly sheep, who have a tendency to wander off and get in trouble, in the same way that Sister Mary Clarence was shepherd to a bunch of unmotivated, undisciplined, street-wise students. And just like Sister Mary Clarence, Jesus sees the potential in his sheep. He sees the potential in us. This is all because he is not just tending sheep. He is in relationship with us – intimate relationship. Because he loves us, cares for us, and wants the best for us, he is willing to work with us and to help us realize our potential. The difference between Jesus and Sister Mary Clarence is that while Sister Mary Clarence, or rather Deloris Van Cartier, was willing to put her Vegas career on hold for a few months to help her sheep realize their potential, Jesus was willing to put his life on the line for his sheep. He was willing to go to the cross, to suffer and to die, for the sake of his sheep. He saw such potential in us that he was willing to do whatever it took so that that we might discover and realize that potential. Sister Mary Clarence gave her sheep a new chance that they might realize their potential. Jesus gave us new life that we might realize ours.

Part of this process of discovery and realization of our potential means taking responsibility for our actions. For us Christians, those called into the Body of Christ, that means a double whammy. Not only are we responsible for ourselves, we are also responsible for the realization and well-being of the entire Body. For us, that means the church. As we’ve already noted, Jesus tells us “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” This statement doesn’t just point to the love and mutuality inherent in the relationship between Christ our shepherd and us, his sheep. As related to us, this knowledge, this love and mutuality, “flows from the love of God through Christ to abide in the church. Christ, who shares this mutuality both with God and with humanity, is the only and perfect mediator between heaven and earth” (Heen, 41). Christ is the mediator between God, the Creator, and us, made in the image and likeness of God, called to be co-creators with God in the building of the Kingdom. That is the potential given to us by virtue of being God’s beloved creation. That is the potential we are called to realize.

We here at Trinity have an exciting opportunity to enter into and engage in this process of co-creation, in this process of discovering and realizing our potential. As we have announced over the last several weeks, the parish is about to embark on a strategic planning process. Through this process, we will have the opportunity to prayerfully and critically evaluate life and ministry here at Trinity. We will look at our strengths, those gifts, graces, and talents which contribute to the effective mission of this place. And we will look at our weaknesses or areas that are opportunities for growth, those areas which may be holding us back from expanding our current ministry or from engaging in new forms of ministry. Based on this evaluation process, we will then discern what this means for Trinity parish, developing a plan whereby we might expand upon and maximize our strengths. We will prayerfully discern where God is calling Trinity to go and what God is calling is to do in the future.

In short, we know that there is great potential in this place. Christ, as our good shepherd, recognizes that, and has called us to discover and realize that potential. Through this strategic planning process, we will work on identifying what that potential is, and discern the best way to realize it, to make it not just a dream, but a reality. But to do that, we need help, lots of help. There is no way that the handful of people comprising the Strategic Planning Steering Committee can cover all the bases. We need people who have experience in the many different areas of parish life and ministry. We need your experiences. We need to know what your gifts, graces, talents, and passions are. Collectively, we are the Body of Christ in this place. It is only collectively that we will be able to discern what our potential is and it is only collectively that we will be able to realize that potential.

I find it most appropriate that we are embarking on this strategic planning process, on this opportunity to discover and realize our potential, during Eastertide. After all, this is the season of resurrection, of new life, of the promise made to us by the Risen One of new and eternal life. That promise does not just apply to us as individuals. It also applies to us as the Body of Christ, which is only made possible through Christ’s death and resurrection. By providing us with the hope and promise of new life, Christ was saying, “I see great potential in you.” The best thing we can do to honor that potential, to honor and receive the gift that God through Christ has given us, is to do our best to discover and realize that potential.

In this Easter season, we celebrate the One who died for us, who was raised to new life for us, who defeated the bonds of sin and death, who by his actions promises us new life. But even more, we are called to recognize that that new life begins here and now, filled with hope and a great deal of potential. And with Christ, our good shepherd to guide us, to support us, to encourage us, we have all that we need to discover and realize that potential.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Heen, Erik M., et al. New Proclamation: Year B, 2009, Easter through Christ the King. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008.

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