Jesus asked the crowd:
“Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” (from the Gospel of the day, Matthew 21:33-46)
“Put those wretches to death!” That was not the answer Jesus was looking for. So he gave his own more complex answer about the wonderful workings of God, who does not kill those who oppose divine ways, but rather looks for every opportunity to transform them into friends.
And our second lesson (Philippians 3:4b-14) is written by a man whose life story is evidence of just that. Before he was Paul, he was Saul. He was a well educated and highly ambitious young Pharisee who, the Book of the Acts tells us was violently determined to put an end to the followers of Jesus.
But one day, on the road to Damascus that all changed. Taking an image from our Gospel, one could say that on that Damascus Road, Paul fell on the cornerstone of Christ and was broken to pieces. The person he was – Saul the impeccably credentialed Pharisee – was broken open and Paul, follower of Christ Jesus, emerged. I refer you to chapters 8 and following of the book of the Acts of the Apostles for the achingly difficult details of this transformation.
The beauty of the story is that Saul, who worked against God’s purposes, was transformed – or one might even say resurrected – and became known as St. Paul, our patron saint. His good news is that the pain of being broken open can be survived and great power can come from it. That is true for us as individuals, but also as a faith community. St. Paul shows us that God’s call can sometimes require that we let go of things as they have always been, and embrace the uncertainty of what God wants to put into our hands in the future. On that Damascus road, Paul lost his vision – he was blinded by the light of Christ. But gradually he received a new vision from inside the community of the followers of Jesus.
New vision is the gift Paul was given, and new vision is the gift I believe we are receiving right now, as St. Paul’s Church. Over the last year we have celebrated 300 years as a parish. And we have not just celebrated, but also, through a series of forums and Bronson deStadler’s history minutes, we have come to feel connected to those who have passed this parish down to us. The are most certainly not just names on a plaque or on a gravestone, but we know them as friends, and we see how who they were is related to who we are here and now as St. Paul’s Church.
Just as importantly, alongside those celebrations or our heritage, our Holy Conversations Team has led us in thinking about where God is calling us in the next chapter – led us to ask, who are we called to be as a parish in the next 300 years, or at least in the next 3-5 years. All of this looking back and looking forward has resulted in a rich vision for the future. .
In the next several months the Vestry will be sharing with all of us the results of the Holy Conversations report and the strategic plan that will be arising out of it. This morning I want to tell you a bit about what I perceive that vision to be. When I look ahead to the next 3-5 years of our parish life, I see a church that builds on the incredible strengths already present, and responds to the needs of its members and the world around it.
I see a church:
- Where the story of each person is held as sacred, and is known.
- Where common questions are, “Where have you been? What brought you here? What are you longing for? What do you hear God calling you to be as part of this parish?”
- Where through knowing each other’s stories we see how God has already provided all that we need to be Christ’s compassionate hands in the world.
I see a community of faith:
- Where we rejoice in the heritage we have received in this place and marvel over how God continues to write our history by way of each person God draws through our doors.
- Where members are bursting at the seams to tell others our common story so the spiritual riches we find here can be theirs too.
- Where we spend time, talent and treasure on getting the word out broadly in our community through many avenues from word of mouth to the media.
I see parish that cares about and is connected to:
- the neighborhood it sits in;
- the diocese it is a part of ;
- the nation whose roots are so intertwined with its own;
- And the wild and beautiful global village that needs its care.
- A parish that shows care in meals served here weekly and funds sent overseas to assist our brothers and sisters in distant lands
I see a church that has its fingers on the pulse of the larger culture and is not hesitant to try new things:
- where we combine contemporary music and liturgy with the best of our traditional forms resulting in an alchemy of worship that catapults us all into the deeper into the presence of God
- where we stretch ourselves to appreciate song and prayer that are held dear to the hearts of those sitting in the pews around us
- where shifts in the ways individuals and families live are understood and honored, and seen not as roadblocks but as opportunities of new ministry
- where leaders are willing to wonder about and pursue ways of being church in a highly digital world so that members and visitors can regularly connect to church even if they cannot come through the doors every Sunday.
I see a parish:
- where generations blend and blur as we pray, serve, learn and follow Christ together (and we saw this just recently at the parish homecoming picnic)
- where sometimes elders lead and young ones follow, and sometimes the young ones lead and the elders follow
- a church that knows anyone of any age is called to live out their baptismal covenant in daily life. A church which provides real, deep and meaningful education and support for all ages in doing that
- where we spend time and money to provide as many growth opportunities as we can.
I see a community of faith:
- that does not make all of us happy all the time, but which we are nonetheless deeply thankful to be members of.
I see a church:
- where significant differences can live side by side, united in the conviction that Christ has called each of us to this place.
I see a parish:
- that knows it has shortcomings, and dares to pray for grace to overcome them.
I see The Body of Christ:
- where we are challenged when we are too comfortable, comforted when we are too challenged, and where we receive new eyes to perceive resurrection continually unfolding among us.
I hope I have listened well to all of you and that this is not just what I see but at least in part what you see too. If you did not hear your vision in what I have just shared, I urge you, in fact I beg you, to speak to me or to one of your Vestry members and let us know what you think is missing. This vision of ours will be honed and tested among us in the coming months.
But this morning, I need to ask that each and every one us to prepare to join in the hard work of making this vision a reality. It will require time, talent and significant financial support from all of us.
The Vestry joined me on Monday night in affirming a proposed budget for 2012 that includes initiatives that begin to embrace this vision. We have increased our line items in the music and liturgy section of the budget to reflect the broadly agreed on need to buy new, more contemporary music resources. Some funds have also been added to allow me and our music director to pursue training as we continue our work of expanding our worship life.
In that proposed 2012 budget we have also included funds to bring Ollie Jones on as a 15 hour a week Assistant Priest. His good work among us this year as a partner in discernment has been felt broadly among us, and especially among our youth and their families. This month he has launched a youth forum to meet at 9:15 each Sunday. We need to continue to deepen this work, and hiring Ollie will be a much needed strategic move in that direction.
This week you will be receiving our annual stewardship mailing which will give you all the information you need to join in making our forward vision take flight. To do so will we need to significantly increase our pledge income across the board. The theme therefore of our campaign is “step up your pledge”. I am personally raising our family’s pledge by 25% and I invite each of you to consider doing so as well. I realize that some will be able meet that challenge, some will be able to exceed that challenge, and some will be able to do less, but still in a faithful way. The important thing is that we all make a sacrificial gift. This is my rule of thumb – you know it is a sacrificial when it hurts a little. If we all give this way, we imitate God’s extravagant goodness to us and we place our vision within our grasp.
We have so much to give thanks for at St. Paul’s, and so much to look forward to as we embrace a vision that I believe God is providing through all of us! Thank you for your generosity and your prayerfulness as we undertake this stewardship campaign.
In the name of Christ Jesus our Cornerstone name. Amen+