Proper 10 Sermon Year B, “Epistle from Fr. Peter”

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Rev. Peter Faass, Rector

St. John the Baptist, Sanbornville

Amos 7:7-15; Ps. 85; Eph. 1:1-14; Mark 6:7-13

A reading from the Epistle of Father Peter to the Sanbornvillians.

Peter a servant of Jesus Christ by the call of God, to the saints of St. John the Baptist, Sanbornville and beyond, who are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Where did these past five years go? It seems but a twinkling of the eye since you called me to be your rector in this beautiful corner of God’s creation called Sanbornville. The old adage tells us that time flies when you are having fun. And fun - or in theological lingo, joy - has certainly been the context of our time together.

Joy! Joy that God saw fit to bring our paths together for this five year leg of our journeys. Joy, that you the people of this parish and community and I your rector, have become richer in our faith during our time together. Joy for the bonds of affection that have grown between us.

It is said that joy is the infallible sign of God’s presence. If there is one thing I am certain of as I depart for Ohio, it is that God has been palpably present among us, as we have labored to build up God’s reign in this place and time.

As any graduate of the Adult Inquirer’s Class will attest to, one key doctrine of Anglicanism that I emphasis is that of the Incarnation. Incarnation: God made flesh. God loving us so much that God became one of us. God visible and touchable. God palpably present. It is this incarnate God that I have come to know deeply, as I have served as your spiritual leader. It is this incarnate God that I have witnessed in each and every one of you.

When Jesus was born, the angels brought news of “great joy” to the shepherds, proclaiming that God was with us. We have proclaimed that same good news of great joy as we have known God with us, as well.

Great joy as we baptized our young children, and our not so young children. Great joy as we have joined young couples, and not so young couples, in matrimony! Great joy as we have welcomed new people into this peculiar and lovely expression of Christianity called the Episcopal Church. BTW If you want to see great joy, check out the photo in the narthex of those recently confirmed and received in the Church , standing with Bishop Gene. Now that’s great joy! Great joy as we have reached out to sustain and comfort one another, when we gave back to God those whom we loved and had died.

In our rich and varied liturgy and music we have known incredible joy: ethereal moments when heaven and earth became one as we worshiped the Creator. In our beautiful children - and oh my God, we are richly blessed with beautiful children - we have experienced extraordinary joy! Will I ever forget Ginny and Joe’s granddaughter Katie yelling “Yea!” at the opening acclimation one Eucharist? Or Zane exclaiming “No!” at the exact moment in a recent sermon, when I asked, “Is there anyone that God excludes from God’s love?” Or Autumn handing me a piece of paper last week that said “I love you Fr. Peter? Or looking into the beautiful, wisdom filled eyes of Gavin as I baptized him at the Easter Vigil. Those joy filled and holy moments with children at St. John’s could fill volumes.

Joy has been the context of our life together. Every meeting, every worship service, every pet and critter at the Blessing of the Animals, every Calico Fair, every Pride Day, each Tuesday CDS Chapel, in Sunday School classes, every item sold to help the needy at the Thrift Shop, each chalice and paten lovingly washed, all the fair linen laundered and ironed, each loaf of honey wheat bread baked, the flowers planted and watered, the grass mown, each dollar counted, each Bidding Bell and bulletin created, edited , run-off, and mailed, each financial statement produced, every web page designed, every can and box of food donated, hundreds of hymns and anthems sung, all the rehearsals, every organ, saxophone, piano and flute note played, each tambourine jingled and bongo struck , the hands placed on heads for healing, all the soup and bread, pot-luck and church suppers cooked, (and eaten) , every coffee hour shared, every carpet vacuumed, all the hands shaken and hugs embraced, in each piece of bread and every sip of wine. It has all has revealed the presence of God among us, and in all of it we have known great joy.

In Paul’s Letter to the Church in Galatia, the apostle proclaims, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” My greatest joy these past five years, my brothers and sisters in Christ, bar none - the place where we have truly built up the Kingdom of God in a significant way - is in heeding those words of Paul in our common life as we enter the 21st Century.

You Sanbornvillians have incarnated that holy text to the degree where this parish can say with integrity that, “ there is neither Jew or Christian, neither male or female, gay or straight, young or old, rich or poor, Democrat or Republican or Libertarian, liberal or conservative, New Hampshire or Maine, South or North Carolina, or Florida, or New Mexico, or even Massachusetts. There is not even tall or short, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.

That is a holy statement that many people of faith could not, and often times desire not, to make. But it has brought me unfathomable joy in my ministry among you. It is truly the pearl of great value in this parish. The world is a better place and the Kingdom of God a closer reality, because of what the Sanbornvillians achieved in being one in Christ. I pray that you continue to celebrate this pearl in the same way I do.

To be honest, all this joy was not without the occasional difficulty, frustration or pain. I don’t want to stray into being Panglossian, denying that there were not a few bumps in the road.

Once in total frustration over the poor receptivity to his message, Paul wrote the people of Galatia decrying, “You foolish Galatians!” At times when I felt similarly frustrated, I would say to myself, “You foolish Sanbornvillians! What are you thinking? Don’t you get this thing called God’s grace? ”

Of course there were times I suspect that you were muttering to yourself, “You foolish rector! What are you thinking? Don’t you understand we are trying?” Maybe at times we were both being foolish.

Paul’s adversaries got back at him for his comments by deriding him for being short in stature, so the good news is that at least in that respect I was safe!

But as difficult as some of our times together were, I am grateful for all of our life together: the joy and the pain. For it is in it’s entirety that I have become a better priest, and I pray that you have become a better congregation as well. In his attention grabbing comments to the Christian community in Galatia, Paul was prepared to risk initial offense for the sake of eventual good. I humbly pray that at least on my good days, what I have done among you has been offered with that same intent. In the year 1630 four ships filled with Puritans set sail from England for the New World. On board the ship named the Arabella, was the future first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop. During the long Atlantic passage Winthrop wrote in his diary, as he imagined what the new society he and his fellow Puritans were destined to begin would look like. He wrote this,

“For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.”

The community of the Sanbornvillians at St. John the Baptist have been a city upon the hill: a guiding light, a shining example of the Good News of Jesus Christ in this community and beyond. And the eyes of many people have been upon us. Sometimes with disdain, but more often with awe, respect and love. Even those who are not members of this community hold us in high regard. We have not been utopia, but we have been a light of hope and faith and welcome.

Continue to be that beacon of Christ’s light here at the little white church on the hill. Proclaim and celebrate the incarnate presence of God in your midst. God has wonderful and holy things planned for you. Continue to open your hearts and minds to God’s abundant love and be God’s people in the world.

You and I have great bonds of affection with one another: bonds of affection that the 700 miles between Sanbornville and Shaker Heights will never sever. A wise sage once said that love is the only thing that can be divided without being diminished. It is in the knowledge of that truth that I leave my love with you, and that I take your love with me.

Amen.

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