Grace and peace indeed on this summer morning, and to say that it is very nice to be home again.
A little over three weeks ago I set out first for eleven days in Indianapolis and the seventy-seventh General Convention of the Episcopal Church, and following that very busy, very rich, but also very stressful time, Susy and I zoomed on up to Scituate, Massachusetts, her ancestral family home on the South Shore, for some days of vacation. Sunshine and a little beach time.
We got home yesterday, and we still have laundry to do, but again, good to be here. You'll notice that I haven't even had time in the office to print a sermon this morning--the first time I think that I've come into the pulpit with an electronic manuscript!-- [Holds up the IPad!]
And with thanks to Phil Wainwright, Tim Hushion, and Ben DeHart for their assistance on these three Sundays, and to Dean Byrom and Deacon Chess for attention to pastoral concerns, and of course always to Pete Luley, Joan Soulliere, Amy Hume, Becky Usner, and all who keep this place humming along whether I'm around to cause problems or not.
As Phil pointed out in his sermon a couple of weeks ago, our Year B lectionary during these midsummer weeks allows us to hear a very substantial portion of St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians.
This powerful and profound and I think from a literary point of view we might even say beautiful meditation on the life and meaning and character and purpose of the Body of Christ, his Church.
We know from the Book of Acts just how special the Church in Ephesus was to St. Paul.
As a matter of fact I can't read any of this Letter to the Ephesians without the words of Acts, chapter 20 playing in the background. And perhaps as I'm writing this while on vacation, something is here also about "absence makes the heart grow fonder." something about how precious our relationships can be within the life of the Christian family.
In any event, In Acts 20 as Paul is beginning the journey that will bring him to Jerusalem and then on to arrest and trial and eventually to Rome and to his execution. And we hear Paul's farewell message to the elders of that congregation, as they are separating with tears and love.
"You know," he says there, "that I kept back nothing that was for your good: I delivered the message to you; I taught you , in public and in your homes; with Jews and pagans like I insisted on repentance before God and trust in our Lord Jesus.
And now, as you see, I am on my way to Jerusalem, under the constraint of the Spirit. Of what will befall me there I know nothing, except that in city after city the Holy Spirit assures me that imprisonment and hardships await me.
For myself, I set no store by life; I only want to finish the race, and complete the task which the Lord Jesus assigned to me, of bearing my testimony to the gospel of God's grace."
And then he says, "And now I commend you to God and to his gracious word, which has power to build you up and give you your heritage among all who are dedicated to him." And "as he finished speaking, he knelt down with them all the prayed. Then there were loud cries of sorrow from them all, as they folded Paul in their arms and kissed him. What distressed them most was his saying that they would never see his face again."
It's that scene from Acts that, again, plays in the background and fills in some of the personal resonance, as I read this touching benediction in Ephesians 3.
"I kneel in prayer to the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on heart takes its name, that out of the treasures of his glory he may grant you strength and power through his Spirit in your inner being, that through faith Christ may dwell in your hearts in love. With deep roots and firm foundations, may you be strong to grasp, with all God's people, what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ, and to know it, though it is beyond knowledge. So may you attain to fullness of being, the fullness of God himself."
To think about the deep love St. Paul felt for these dear friends. His spiritual children. Men and women, boys and girls who had first heard the news about Jesus from him, who had been nurtured and disciplined in faith under his care. Christian friends through good times and in times of distress and persecution, gain and loss.
As we read earlier in Acts when the officials in charge of pagan shrines in Ephesus had incited a riot in the streets against the tiny Christian fellowship. They had been through a lot together. Sharing now in this letter his deepest hope and prayer.
So, thinking about all this. I recently heard a wonderful quotation from the English mystical writer Evelyn Underhill. Who said: "The thing that is interesting about religion is . . . God."
Alongside the familiar saying that comes out of the 12-step movement, "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing."
Paul keeps his eye on the ball with the Ephesians.
Nothing to say, we might notice, about Ephesian Church music or architecture or a Capital Campaign, or a Sunday afternoon outing to the stadium, or the public stance of the Church in response to Roman economic policies in the eastern part of the Empire. Not that these concerns aren't important in their own way. Not that there isn't a place for them. But first, to keep the main thing the main thing.
"The thing that is interesting about religion is God." To reflect why we are here this summer morning, in this place. Who we are to one another. What we wish for one another and for ourselves and for our families and our friends and for the world all around us.
As we read together the Holy Scriptures, the one sacred Story that incorporates and measures and interprets each of our separate stories. The foundation and deep infrastructure of Paul's relationship to the Christians of Ephesus. And rolling across continents and centuries, reflecting on who we are here in this place, this Christian family.
Paul give the Ephesians and us the two keys. Repentance before God. Turning in faith to trust in Christ our Savior.
Anyway. There is a lot to unpack about the General Convention--and I know that Mary Roehrich, Steve Stagnitta, and I will find a time in the next few weeks to share our perspectives and reflections with you, as we compare our calendars and see what will work with the church calendar.
And as I said, a lot to unpack as we arrive home from vacation as well. It was fun to post a few notes and photos on Facebook, and I've enjoyed seeing some of the places you all have been and the things you've been doing at home and on the road.
Especially fun to see the pictures from our annual Chorister Camp, and i was sorry to be away while that was going on this year. Getting back on track with all the good work we have through the end of this summer and on into the season ahead. But with thanks to Pete and Matt and everybody for that. Great things at St. Andrew's. And how about my Pirates!
My mailbox in the church office is overflowing. Calls to return. Emails to answer. The busyness of life. And it's practically Round Up Sunday!
But to have here before us as well the word of reminder, Paul to Ephesus, and for us our best word of greeting and our hope and prayer for one another, the main thing will always remain for us the main thing, what holds us together and inspires us to move forward. Again to quote Paul: "That through faith Christ may dwell in your hearts in love."
Again, blessings. Grace and peace. It's good to be home and here with you.