Sermon preached on Sunday, August 1, 2010, by our parish deacon, the Ven. Archdeacon Jean Chess. The Lessons appointed for RCL Proper 13C, Track One, are Hosea 11:1-11,Psalm 107:1-9, 43, Colossians 3:1-11, and Luke 12:13-21. Deacon Chess also references a reading appointed for RCL Proper 13C, Track Two--Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23.
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
What does it mean to be a Christian and what does it mean to be “the church”?
This morning’s scripture readings illustrate how “not” to do it.
From Luke: After the prosperous man built some bigger barns … God said to him – ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be? So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
Today’s alternate Old Testament reading from Ecclesiastes is even more pointed “It is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with: I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see; all is vanity and a chasing after wind…”
I think we’re all here this morning because we are trying to figure out how to do better. We believe – or we at least want to believe – that our lives can and do have meaning. We want to believe that our lives are more than just “vanity and a chasing after wind”.
We believe – or at least hope – that following Jesus Christ leads us to a deeper understanding of how to make meaning out of our lives and that part of how we follow Jesus is by being part of the Christian community…
And yet, we Christians got some poor press this week when noted Author Ann Rice publicly ‘quit’ Christianity.
Rice wrote on her facebook page, “For those who care, and I understand if you don't: Today I quit being a Christian ... It's simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”
And then a later clarification…
My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me," Rice wrote. "But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been or might become.
What does it mean for us to follow Christ *and* for us to follow Christ as the church?
I recently attended a conference for deacons in Chicago. Over 200 deacons from all over North America as well as from Canada, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic were in attendance.
I attended a great workshop given by Jeffrey Lee, Bishop of Chicago. His workshop was titled ‘Generative Christianity and the Emergent Diaconate’ – rather a daunting title – but its focus and message were on the question of What does it mean to be the church today?. There is no way I can do justice to his 90 minute presentation (though it was videotaped and you can watch it via the Internet – he’s a highly entertaining and engaging speaker…) but I do want to share with you his punchline –
He ended his presentation with this message
“The Church has become a place to go – let us make it a people to be”
I’m here to tell you that while we always have a ways to go – that the Church – both here at St. Andrew’s and across the world – are already the “people” I want to be.
Here are some of the people I encountered at the NAAD conference who inspired me.
- I met the Rev. Dr. Peter Jackson (not the Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings Fame) – but Peter Jackson, deacon from the diocese of Newark, retired from his work at the United Nations whose ministry focuses on the children of migrant workers. His recent work been to make a documentary film on these children – and he’s even gotten Eva Longoria-Parker engaged to help promote it!
- Deacon Alice Mason, from North Carolina, who began by visiting female inmates at her local jail and is now working with others in the community to set up a program called ‘Clean Slate’ which provides transitional housing and support for women beginning their lives again in the community.
- A deacon, from Atlanta, concerned with Domestic Poverty who reported that their diocese began every meeting in every congregation for 90 days with the agenda item “How will this affect the poor?”. While there was much fussing and much resistance – this question led people to think about things like ‘who actually makes those t-shirts we are buying for the youth event” and “who picked those coffee beans”…
- A deacon from Kansas City who works as a probation officer. While she expressed frustration with all the things she could not change - she was able to change the system so that parents are no longer arrested (or re-arrested) in front of their children.
- Our own diocesan deacon, Ann Staples, from Northern Cambria (up near Altoona). Ann is the founder and executive director of the Coal Country Youth Hangout which provides not only a daycare and a teen center – but also partners with local agencies to provide workshops for teenagers to raise their awareness of their local history. Ann is currently on a mission to seek funding to enable local youth to research the history on a long-closed Jewish synagogue – the first one in Pennsylvania I believe. The building has long been used as storage for the municipality – but Ann’s vision is to get funding, restore the building and then use the building to help provide social services to this community. (Right now people have to travel 45 minutes to either Altoona or Johnstown to gain access to food stamps or WIC or counseling services.)
And I could go on and on and on.
It’s easy to feel discouraged, or overwhelmed by the vast amount of brokenness in the church and in the world. But I’m here to tell you that we, as the church, both here in Highland Park and in the broader world – are indeed a ‘not just a place to go, but we are also people to be’. Amen.
For more on the Anne Rice story, CLICK HERE
For a video of Bishop Lee's presentation at NAAD, CLICK HERE
The two videos referenced in Bishop Lee's presentation are