2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
Every time I have gone on vacation over the years, my colleagues have told me that there are more pastoral emergencies and church crises when I go away. Father Lorenzo is no exception. Last week he posted on Facebook that a lot of things fall apart when I go on vacation. He included a picture of a leak in the ceiling of the sacristy as case in point. That may all be true. But I trust that the people I have left in charge can handle those church crises.
What people can't handle so well are the events that happen in the world while I’m gone. They get my attention in a much bigger way. I was really shaken, and I hope you were, by reading about the Charleston Shootings. On top of all the other racial violence that has happened in the past year, that occurrence evoked a desperation and resolve that hopefully will lead to substantive changes. Last Friday's Supreme Court Ruling on Gay Marriage culminated half a century of organized struggle for justice and equality. Once again, I was reminded how much it matters to participate in the struggle for justice, even when the goal seems almost unreachable. The day I left on vacation Pope Francis issued his Statement on Global Warming and Climate Change. No matter how overwhelming that issue is, the others won't matter much unless we take action on that issue. Finally, I read about refugees around the globe in unparalleled numbers running away from persecution and hunger in their homelands.
Those are matters that should get our attention. It is not that our personal lives don't matter. Of course they do. But it's important to remember that there is a lot more going on in the world than who is making breakfast at St. Athanasius today; who slighted me by something she said; and whether the candles are straight or crooked. There is even more going on than the exciting news of electing Michael Curry as the first African American Presiding Bishop in the Episcopal Church, which happened yesterday at the General Convention.
We need to connect our personal lives with those world-shaking events. In this morning's first lesson, when David wept over the death of Jonathan, he was weeping over the death of his best friend. But he was also lamenting a loss of leadership in Israel. His poem is a good model for the connections we need to make.
My son, Jonathan, and his girlfriend joined us for our first week of vacation in Mexico two weeks ago. We spent a few days on the ranch in Tamazula and then a few more at the beach in Puerto Vallarta. As we stood in the water at the beach, he reflected out loud about his experience on the ranch. Jonathan is a very thoughtful young man, who desperately wants to help the world through his life. He always thought that helping had to involve directly serving needy people. But as he worked alongside his uncle herding animals and working the soil, he realized that simple work on ones own land can feed people very effectively. I reminded him that his uncle does what he does because he loves it. It is who he is. And that's the best way to help the world: find the place where your greatest joy intersects with the world's deepest need.
During the month of July I am inviting us to use an approach called "Appreciative Inquiry" to discover that place as a church. I have selected a group of nine people to conduct interviews with every active member of the congregation - including the Spanish, English and Korean groups. We want to ask you to think about those moments in your life at St. Athanasius when you have been inspired, blessed, transformed, and moved to action.
We all come to church for a variety of reasons. One reason I come is because it’s my job. But that is way down the list of real reasons. I come because I believe that worship is the best way to practice the presence of the future that God has promised us. I come to sing songs and pray prayers and affirm faith through words and images that are not yet historical fact. They express my hope for the world that meets God's intentions.
Why do you come to church? Habit? Tradition? To connect with God? To see your friends? To experience Jesus Christ? To learn something new? All of those are valid reasons. And in this day and age, anything that gets you to church is probably good. But I want to raise your sights this morning. I want to call you to come to church for much bigger reasons – reasons that go way beyond what happens on this plot of land in Echo Park; and reasons that connect some of your more personal reasons for coming to church with a larger purpose.
It is said that as a fire exists for burning so a church exists for mission. Part of the mission of the church is to care for those who come for help, guidance and spiritual sustenance. But another part of the mission is to take the healing love of Jesus, and the message of the reign of God's justice and peace, into the world. What expression of that mission belongs to St. Athanasius? What is our unique charism for manifesting the love of God in the world?
During the month of July we want to begin the process of discovering that? I am asking each of you to give approximately one hour of your time to talk about your experience of St. Athanasius. What was the best experience you ever had here? What do you most value in yourself as an individual and a church member? What do you value about this church and about the Episcopal Church? What is the one thing about this church that you could not do without? As I said in the article in this morning's Gazette, which I hope you will take time to read, telling our stories may be the best way to move beyond stereotypes of each other and anger towards each other.
A team of your fellow church members will take these stories and try to discern the outlines of St. Athanasius' unique mission in the world. What is God calling us to do and be? And then, what is God calling YOU to do and be as a member of this church? Some of you may have never thought of church in these terms before. Perhaps you thought church was only about the sacraments and the Bible. But there is so much more, as others of you know well. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians, "it is appropriate for you who began to do something to now finish it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. The gift is acceptable according to what one has - not what one does not have." God is calling us beyond what we have thus far imagined; but not beyond our capacity.
But God will also increase our capacity. Just as the woman in the Gospel story stretched beyond her capacity to faith to reach out to touch Jesus we can stretch beyond our current capacity to do things we never imagined we could do. I invite you to come along on this adventure; to discover your mission as we discover our mission; and as we grow beyond our current capacity to be all that God calls us to be.