Saturday, November 10, 2012
Beware of Church People
On Membership Sunday
Beware of Church People!
Yes indeed! Those of us who walk around in long robes and sit in the good seats had better watch out according to today's Gospel. The One we worship and adore is watching us like a hawk.
Yes indeed, there are widows and there are those who are easy prey for various predators. It was worse in ancient times. There was no income for widows in those days; no Social Security, no Medicare. Even now, there isn’t that much for many.
I’ve seen it all too often. Door to door salesmen who promise to fix the roof, take the first third of the contract in check form and then are never heard from again. There are predators in every walk of life who devour the houses of the vulnerable and worse. We’re learning all too painfully how important it is to be vigilant for the safety of young people in the church and at places like State College. Let this be a warning; you and I are being held to a high standard!
Having said that, and that needs to be said, we come now to Membership Sunday, and curiously enough we come to the Sunday of the Widow’s mite, almost as if it were planned that way. I wish I could claim such foresight and intelligence. I can assure you, I didn’t check the Gospel reading when we picked this date. Sally Heist can attest to that. So, if there were any planning to the Gospel for the day, it came from a Higher Power than mine.
If we are going to build a church where we might worship God and satisfy the human need for prayer and spiritual encouragement; or a senior center to respond to the needs of the elderly, or a day care center to respond to the needs of children, or a parish life center where we may mobilize a congregation around the needs of youth, children, or the poor; if we are going to build and tend to such a holy place as this, we will then need to make every effort to build on our membership and strengthen it where possible. It is to clerical veterans such as Cal Adams, that we can offer our gratitude for their indefatigable service. Please continue to keep Fr. Cal and Pam in your prayers especially now as Cal enters upon these latter days in his life.
The Villa and the Learning Center are now essentially self sustaining. But the church’s life depends on our annual membership drive, our pledges and on freewill offerings from all of us. At least that’s the current business model of the church. For the foreseeable future that will continue to be our business model.
In today’s Gospel, the rich were able to give generous amounts. But what caught Jesus' attention was that while they gave out of their abundance, there came a widow, who had a mere tuppence left to her name and out of her poverty she put everything she had into the treasury. It reminds me of that ancient Maori saying; “Its not so much the amount of the gift, it is the amount of the love that goes into that gift that counts.” The Maori, by the way, are native peoples of New Zealand, who have taught us much wisdom for the sake of our faith.
Jesus was impressed with the widow’s generosity. “Look, out of her poverty, she has put in everything she had”. Like the widow of Zerephath in our First Lesson, she put her own life and the life of her son on the line in order to provide for the Prophet Elijah and the purposes of God. In return God provided for her until the draught was over. In fact God always provides for all. So too most of us are of modest means. Some have been cut off from greater income by retirement, unemployment, divorce or other economic reverses. Still others live by meager means at a minimum wage job and part-time hours in the service sector.
All of which puts us in our present predicament. Lets face it; we all love the church. Most of us come to this place every single week because the words we hear, the songs we sing, and the people we know and love. All of this sustains us week in and week out because all these things bring us closer to God. And it is the Practice of the Presence of God that is at the heart of the Church’s work. This is what inspires the building of ministry whether it is to the elderly, the young, the poor, and so on.
Being a member here is more than being a member of some kind of organization. We are more than an “organized religion”. At our best we are Members of Christ. We are Members of One another. The church is the Body of Christ and we are Members of that Body.
By the way, how well we respond to this membership drive will determine how well we can meet our budget. As much as I love being here, and as much as you embrace and love Cindy and me, and I do sense that being the case; eventually you will need to bring a new priest into your midst who will then become your Rector. I pray that this Membership Drive will make this and much more possible. It is now up to you to make these important decisions. As a wise old priest once quipped; “I have good news and bad news; the good news is that we have the money to balance the budget. The bad news is that the money is in your pockets!”
We and those who have come before us have built this holy place. I was baptized in one of them, confirmed in another, ordained in yet a third, and throughout 40 years of ordained ministry have served ten congregations in all. In God’s good time and mercy, I will be ministered to when I weaken and fall sick, and ultimately you and I will all be commended to God’s keeping at what I hope will be the greatest celebration of all. We Irish do love a wake!
In the meantime, there are the widows to be tended to. We’re here to organize our lives around the needs of real human beings. Those needs obviously go beyond widows. There are many, many poor folks. As Jesus noted you will always have the poor with you. ~Matthew 26:11
So then, it fell to me to make my specialty in ministry on behalf of the homeless. Interestingly enough, when I came to tend to the homeless, I discovered that many of them were veterans. Yes, when they marched off to war in their youth and their brand new uniforms, they cut quite the figure of radiance. But they were torn away from their families, and found themselves face to face with other young people from other nations where they were required to fight “the enemy”. There are terrible traumatic moments that many face and when they come home, they often find the adjustment difficult. Having listened to many of their stories, I can understand why some of them do not adjust well. There are those who fall through the cracks and became homeless.
Thus on Veteran’s Day, I want to thank every veteran who has given of themselves to serve this county. I ask you to keep them in your prayers and more than that, I ask you to welcome them home and give them every possible encouragement as they face a new life back at home.
I do hope we will pass a robust jobs bill for returning veterans. Nothing would honor them more than to give them the dignity and honor of work. Frankly, I hope we can pass a robust jobs bill for the rest of the unemployed as well.
But whether it is the widows in their distress, veterans, the unemployed, the elderly, the young, the poor, the outcast and marginalized, and those many who have a host of other needs, we are the church. We really are the hope of the world.
I invite you therefore in the name of the Church to respond to the invitation of our Lord who seeks us knocking at the door of every human heart. Become a member of Him who died for you. Become a member of one another. Become a member of Christ’s Church here at St. Gabriel’s.
Say “Yes” to him who first said “Yes” to you. As the Epistle puts it; “Christ has entered into a sanctuary not made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself”. There he stands to be our advocate and judge.
And as for those of us who walk around in these long robes; watch out Jesus is watching us like a hawk!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Peace be to you all,