…for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy…
Those are apt words for me this week! In the midst of gearing up for another school year with our kids, and program year here at church, the many tasks, details and calls on my time and energy pile up and can feel overwhelming. But that lasts only as long as I am confiding in my own strength. When I reach the limit of that strength, I remember that God is the director, not me, and things begin to turn around. As I depend less on myself, and as the collect so eloquently puts it, make my boast of God’s mercy, I begin to breathe again. Then refreshed I again see this ministry we share in this wonderful parish with fresh eyes, and feel excitement for another year starting up.
It was God who brought each one of us through these doors for the first time and it is God who gathers us back in here together on this our annual homecoming Sunday. As I stepped back from the frenzy this week, I was once again dazzled by how God brings us each here for God’s own good and grace filled purposes. And once we are here, when we are willing God partners us with each other in ways that accomplish those purposes as we become woven together in community. Not perfectly – we are still a work in progress – but we are a community woven together with threads of grace.
Can you remember what was happening in your life when you walked through the doors St. Paul’s for the first time? Maybe it was 20, 30, 40, 50 or 60 or more years ago. Or maybe it was 10 years ago, or 5 years ago, or 2 years ago, or just last week, or maybe even today. Take a moment and think back to that first time you entered here. When you think about it, do you have a sense of having been led here? It may be only in hindsight that some of us may be able to detect God’s imprint in our arrival to this holy ground. Others of us may have had the strong sense at the time we came of literally having been pushed through these doors by an unseen, insistent hand. Others still where brought by parents or other family members, or we came at the invitation of a friend. Each of us has our own arrival story – each as individual as we are.
Through my 20+ years in ordained ministry, I have heard countless such stories from people in the 4 very different parishes I have served. What strikes me as a common thread running through all those stories of how people come to be part of a worshiping community is the feeling that each person expresses that there was something important they needed in their life that they could not find alone.
I have found it also true in my own life. There is a real grace that flows in my life as a result of being part of Christ’s body in the church. Week after week, as I am fed on the mystery of the sacraments, and exposed time and again to the words of scripture, and blessed by the bonds of fellowship that grow up among us in the body of Christ, I receive something that helps me live my life with a palpable strength and hope. And though I cannot exactly explain how that works, I can say that in those few chapters of my life where I absented myself from the community of Christ’s body, I found that sense of strength and hope to be absent too.
I know that I need spiritual community, and your presence here today tells me you do too. And I believe that healthy spiritual communities remain open and ready to receive new life and health continually through the graceful way God guides new members into their midst.
In the 12 step fellowships which have all sprung from the original AA, there is a saying:
“The newcomer is the most important person in the room, because to keep our recovery from addiction, we have to be constantly giving it away.”
I find these words to be very wise and I have recently translated for myself for use in church:
“The newcomer is the most important person in church, because to keep our faith in Christ we have to constantly be giving it away.”
I have shared this translation with our newly formed newcomer welcome committee, as a slogan we can use to direct our approach to welcoming and incorporating visitors and new members whom God in Christ draws in among us. And we all have a part in embodying these words. The amazing thing about living into this slogan is that as we turn our focus to the newcomer and engage our curiosity about who they are and how they have come to be among us, we are reminded of our own first coming into this community – of those moments when God’s grace moved us not to confide in our strength, but rather to enter into a community that makes a boast of God’s mercy.
In our Gospel passage from Matthew this morning, Jesus says, ”Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” This homecoming Sunday, let’s celebrate that amazing truth once again! Let’s take some time at the passing of the peace, to pause to see Christ looking back at us through the eyes of those we greet in his name. And let’s joyfully trust that they will meet Christ in us as well. And after our worship together is complete and we gather for our homecoming picnic, let’s seek out those we don’t know well and get acquainted. Let’s take some time to share a bit about what brought us here to St. Paul’s, and how it makes a difference in our lives. Let’s each dare ourselves to greet and get to know someone we don’t know well – someone who is a newcomer to us, even if we have seen them around here for years, but have just never had the chance, or the nerve (speaking for those of us who are on the shy side) to get to know them. When we reach out to each other in community this way – even when it feels awkward – we literally weave the threads of our community closer and strengthen the pathways of light through which the love of Christ can flow!
Of course none of this begins today – hospitality is a charism of this parish- but it is a charism that needs constant refreshing, and deepening, so that we don’t just welcome, we welcome and weave in all who have been brought here to find spiritual abode – whether for the short term or the long run! And may this curiosity about, and care for each other go viral among us whenever we meet!
I want to close with some words I read this week in a commentary about this Gospel passage – the commentator writes this:
“Two or three met with Christ, are not merely added: they multiply each other’s faith, and are multiplied in power by him who is most surely in their midst.” (From The Interpreter’s Bible (1951) vol.7, p. 474)
May Christ powerful presence among us multiply our faith and our ability to serve him in whose name we are gathered! Amen+