Monday, October 27, 2008

Gonna Keep on Moving Forward

Sermon preached at the Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene, Rochester, New York, October 26, 2008: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, Matthew 22:34-46

It doesn’t get any more core than this for us: Love God with all your heart, your soul and your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. It’s what the Bible teaches and it is what we strive to do.

They are simple commands, with many ways to follow. There are many paths that lead to the destination. The path of this congregation has been the path of bringing races together, worshiping and being formed as Christian people together. This has been true since the merger of St. Simon’s and St. Luke’s.

And over time this has led to a wider inclusion that involves having gay and lesbian people at the Table. This was true even at the time of the merger, of course, but we have become braver over time about talking about it.

It makes for a unique place. There isn’t any other church in Rochester quite like this one, majority African-American with a very significant white population and a significant number of gay and lesbian members, including the clergy person. It is a particular way of telling the good news, and of living out love of God and love of neighbor.

Before we do anything else as a parish, this reality of who we are gathered around this Table is enough to celebrate and to proclaim. It is who we are and who God calls us to be. It is our purpose, our core.

It isn’t the end, of course. It produces, as it should, a deep concern for this city and its diverse people, a commitment to justice as a way of life. I was reminded of this over the past two days at our diocesan convention. This parish is, in many ways, the conscience of this diocese when it comes to matters of justice. This too is part of our purpose, who God calls us to be.

I speak of our particularities this morning, the things that make this place unique, that give us purpose and meaning because we are entering a time of being tested, and we need, above all things, to remember and celebrate and proclaim these things about ourselves no matter what.

You will hear more details at the forum following the Service, but suffice to say that for at least the last twenty years the financial chickens have been scratching around in the yard and they are finally coming home to roost. The news is not good and it is going to have real consequences for our common life.

The depletion of the resources upon which we have depended is dramatic and threatening to our future. That is simply the truth and there isn’t any way to sugar coat it.

But having been brutally honest with ourselves, how do we react? Because it is also simply the truth that we can choose how we react to this reality.

I have had several weeks now to live with this bad news and I’ll admit it put me through a time of high anxiety, a fair amount of fear, and not a little bit of self-doubt. I got to spend some one-on-one time with our new bishop earlier this week, and he helped me see that I can choose how I react to all this. The questions before me are three simple ones: Michael, do you believe in God, do you believe in this parish, do you believe in yourself?

It’s not just about me, of course. Those are the questions before us. Do we believe in God? Do we believe in this parish? Do we believe in ourselves?

I want you to know that the answers are each “yes” for me. Yes, I choose to believe and trust in God. God loves me and that is the only truth in the end that really matters. Yes, I believe in this parish, what it stands for, the (albeit imperfect) manifestation of the kingdom of God that it is, who we are and who we are called to be as a people of God. Yes, I believe in myself. I believe that I have had to struggle before to keep on keepin’ on and I have the capacity to do it again.

And I’m here to tell you that I believe those things are true not just about me, but about us.

We gather here week by week to worship, to say thank you, to believe in the God who loves us no matter what. We have a strong sense of purpose, a vision that we are living into and that we will continue to live into despite any financial difficulties we may be having. And we are a resilient people, there is too much good news here for us not to be. Our courage, when tested, will not be found wanting.

We believe in God. We believe in this parish. We believe in ourselves.

We are being tested. To pass the test, Church, we have to keep on moving forward, with our eyes on the prize.

Gonna keep on moving forward
Keep on moving forward
Keep on moving forward
Never turning back
Never turning back
Gonna build this church together…
Gonna work for peace and justice…
Gonna act with grace and courage…

[1] Words (first verse) from Pat Humphries, copyright © 1984, Moving Forward Music.

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