Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Welcoming Heart!

(Note: We did an Every Door Direct Mailing last week and the response was, as you might say, underwhelming! Still we did have a few visitors on Sunday, and I articulated this welcome. If we are to be the People of God we'll need to be a People of the Warm Welcome. In such a wise we welcome God and God's people into our lives. That's not a bad way to live!)
A Warm Welcome!

Welcome to St. Gabriel’s Church. This week we sent out a direct mailer to every household in Douglassville and several surrounding mail routes. We have opened our doors to give folks a chance to discover a little about  the church. So then whether this is your first visit to a worship service here or whether you’ve been coming here all your life, welcome!

You will notice that we are a church of ritual. We sing Hymns. We have a Book of Common Prayer and we follow a set formula for worship. The shape of our liturgy has its origins in the early church’s custom of remembering the night before Jesus died. This death was for the forgiveness of our sins and as a gift that leads to eternal life. He took bread and wine, thanked God as any family would at Grace, and especially as a Jewish family would at Passover in the Liturgy of the Haggadah, literally “telling the story of our deliverance from slavery”. At one time or another we have all been slaves. At one time or another many have held slaves. Either way, God seeks to deliver us from slavery.

We read a set of scriptures every week from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the Epistles, and the Gospel to put us back in touch with with God’s Story. These readings are intended to be explained by the preacher.

So then, you are subjected to a sermon. In it, the priest/preacher is charged with the responsibility of building a bridge between what happened in ancient times to what is happening today in our shared life stories. Various clergy do that with varying skill.

Today for instance, we have a Gospel reading in which the Disciples are making their way through Galilee in that dry and rocky land underneath the heat of an oppressive noonday sun in that inhospitable place. And Jesus tells them yet again, for a second time that he, the Son of Man, will be betrayed into human hands, he will be killed, and then on the third day, he will rise again. He said this plainly.

But the scripture says they did not understand him. The first time Jesus talked about this, Peter rebuked Jesus, you may remember, but Jesus went right back at Peter and said “Get behind me, Satan. You think like people think. It is time for you my followers to put on the mind of God, and think like God thinks.”

There were hurt feelings, of course. But on they went. He healed people of physical and mental disorders. He did do some very extraordinary things. Miracles seemed commonplace with him. He had a way of teaching they found compelling, and most of all he had a way of loving people, ALL people, even sinners, even the unwashed, outcast and rejects of the day. Rich or poor, he loved them. 

So then they had time to kill and a fight broke out among them as to who was the greatest. I remember playing “King of the Mountain” when I was a boy. I was actually pretty good at the game. I had a low center of gravity even then, so I was able to hold my ground.

So the Disciples of Jesus were playing “King of the Mountain” too. Having been upbraided by Jesus, they probably shrugged their shoulders and began to wonder, half joking, who was going to be the greatest among them when this “Jesus Kingdom” finally came.

So Jesus asked them; “So what were you arguing about”? Of course he knew, he could read their body language, and he may have had good hearing too. And besides all that, he was Jesus, so he knew anyway.

I do hope you know that the secrets of your hearts are indeed open to God. And he loves you very much, even with all those secrets being disclosed to the heart of God.

Well they were embarrassed about admitting that they were playing “King of the Mountain”; just a silly child’s game.

So he sat down: the posture of the teacher in the ancient near eastern world.  Whoever wants to be first, he said must be last and moreover must be the servant of all. Jesus would later reinforce this idea by washing their feet on the night before he died for them. Then he took a child. There are always children wandering about in the Middle East even today. They are desperately poor then as now. They were trying to peddle thing then as they do now. Post cards, water, cheap trinkets. They are often dirty from the constant kicking of dust. Water is way too expensive for the poor to use in such an extravagance as frequent washings.

So he took one of these children and set him or her in their midst. And then taking the child into his arms, he told them whoever welcomes such a child welcomes Jesus and moreover whoever welcomes Jesus welcomes the One who sent Jesus.

Suddenly, Jesus had taken an ancient child’s game and turned it upside down. This is not about becoming “King of the Mountain”. This life is about becoming a servant to humankind.

Now for those of you who are new to St Gabriel’s, I suspect that even you know that we have organized our life around the needs of Senior Citizens. We have played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Keystone Villa. And then we incurred significant debt by building the Parish Life Center. We house the Good Shepherd Learning Center, and  we provide for the needs of younger families in the community and tend to their children in a safe, clean, and educational environment. The Boy Scouts meet here. There are seven recovery groups that meet in the building. We feed the poor at the Community Center in Birdsboro, and we make lots of soup for the food pantry housed up at St. Paul’s.

Now you know as well as I do that we cannot rest on our laurels. That’s why we’ve invited you to gather with us here at the church today, at St. Gabriel’s church. There are so many human needs for the followers of Jesus to tend to. That’s why we are here. We are here as Jesus said, to be child-like servants one of another.

When St. Gabriel came to Mary yea all those many years ago, he told her; “Mary, I have news for you. You are going to have a baby. And not just any baby.” She was hardly a girl herself and her betrothed Joseph was going to have a hard time with this story.

But Gabriel had a message for her as well as for the rest of us. God cares about the people. All God’s people. And God was sending Jesus into the world to show how much God cares; how much God loves all these people.

So, then week after week after week, we re-enact in our liturgical worship that supper Jesus had with his friends. We break bread together. We remember Jesus not just as we would a historic figure. We invoke Jesus into the present as Jesus told us to do. This is how we remember him. This is my Body. This is my Blood. Jesus becomes present to us in this Liturgical offering.

So welcome to St. Gabriel’s Church. Whether this is your first Sunday with us or whether you are a cradle Episcopalian, this is your church anytime you need one. You are welcome at this table, all of you always. When Jesus fed the multitudes on the hillsides of Galilee, he didn’t check anybody’s membership cards, he didn’t check on bank accounts, race, ethnicity, age, theological orthodoxy, gender or even orientation.

To Jesus if we were human beings we were children of God. And as the Son of Man he welcomed us to God. And so on this day I welcome you to God as well. Draw near to God, as today’s Epistle lesson says, and God will draw near to you.

May you be filled with all the fullness of God this day. 

Fr. Paul

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