Sermon preached on the 16th Sunday after Pentecost at the Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene: Philippians 3:4b-14
Yesterday was the seventh anniversary of our ministry together. Today I begin my eighth year as your rector.
As I was thinking about this particular anniversary it came to me that this is a particularly important one. In the Bible, seven is an important number, beginning with the seven days of creation. After that almost any time the number seven appears in the Bible something about God’s continuing creativity is going on. God is doing something in order that something new or astonishing can happen.
Some examples: In the Hebrew Scriptures, there are seven days to the feast of Passover, and the Year of Jubilee—the forgiveness of debts and return of land—is seven times seven years. In the New Testament, seven basketfuls of food are gathered after the miracle of the loaves and fishes, the first deacons number seven, and the Book of Revelation is full of sevens.
As Christianity develops, there are seven sacraments, seven deadly sins, and seven joys and sorrows of Mary.
More important to me is not so much these sevens, but what happens next: eight. Eight is not an important biblical number, except in that Jewish males are circumcised on the eighth day of their birth.
But the number eight does come up in the writings of several of the early church fathers. Christian worship—the celebration of the Eucharist—gradually moves from Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, the seventh day, to Sunday, the day of the resurrection, or, as it came to be called, the Lord’s Day.
Sunday is the first day of the week, of course, but that is not what these early writers called it. They called the Lord’s Day, “the Eighth Day.” They said, for one, that the first day was the day of creation. The eighth day was the day of the new creation. The eighth day was when things really began. The eighth day, if you will, was the first day of the rest of your life.
Think of it in terms of circumcision on the eighth day. A Jewish male is not given a name until that day (we call the remembrance of Jesus’ circumcision, “Holy Name Day”). On the eighth day, a Jewish male’s identity is sealed, both as a Jew and as an individual.
OK, so this fits into some thinking I have long had. For the last thirty years, the average length of service for a rector has gradually been decreasing. It is now a little under seven years. I was in my first parish twice that long and I have become an advocate (with many others) for the return of longer tenures, perhaps not the 40+ years of Dr. Winnie at St. Luke’s, but certainly more than seven years.
I think it takes seven years for a priest and congregation to really come to know each other well, to trust and love each other, establish a corporate identity, and truly be ready to take on some hard stuff.
If I am right, then we are at that place. In some ways we are now ready to do the work we are being called to do.
Which is not to say that we have not been working hard together. We have. But really tackling the hard stuff, messing with the potential of a real reshaping of this parish for the future? We’ve talked about it; we’ve glimpsed it; we’ve done some good preliminary work, but we have a long way to go.
So I am here to say to you today, let us seize the eighth day. Carpe diem octavum!
Or, in the words of Paul this morning from Philippians, in my paraphrase, “Let us press on to make the power of the resurrection our own, because we live in the confidence of who we are, brought together and sealed in relationship by Christ himself.”
Or, in the words of an old folk song that became an anthem of the civil rights movement, “Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.”
Carpe diem octavum! Let us seize the eighth day! Let us press on! Keep your eyes on the prize!
After seven years I still cannot tell you exactly where we are going. I’ve spent a lot of time and energy over the last seven years trying to figure that out, but I have pretty much decided that is not my job. That is something we must discern together, with the confidence that God is our companion.
There are four things right now of which I am sure.
First of all, I am sure that our mission statement holds true as a statement of who we are and what our values are.
Together, as people of God, in companionship with Jesus, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called to be…A healing place for souls…A school for justice…And a welcome table for all.
Second, I remain convinced that the way we express these values together is in sacrificial acts of hospitality, generosity, and compassion. Hospitality is still Job One. And what is another word for “hospitality? Justice.
Those two things are work we have done and must continue to do. Now here are three things for the eighth day.
First, I am going to get personally involved with children and youth ministry here. I want to play a more active role in the spiritual lives of our young people. I will need help and I ask you to ask yourself, how can I help make this a better place for our children and youth? Let me know the answer! My first step: I have invited young person in sixth grade or up to supper at my house for some fun, getting to know each other and dreaming.
Second, I am going to convene a conversation about our worship. It is time to do some evaluation and to ponder ideas of what works and what doesn’t work with young people (here I’m talking twenty and thirty somethings) in other settings. I hope as part of this conversation we will talk about this space and the challenges it brings us. I will be producing a resource for the conversation which will be in your hands by October 16th, and which will include dates and times for the conversation—there will probably be several opportunities to try to catch as many people as possible.
Third, your Stewardship Committee and Vestry have decided to do an “Every Member Visit” as part of our stewardship emphasis this fall. Each of you will be offered a visit by a Vestry member and a partner. The primary purpose of the visit is relationship building, and giving each member of the congregation an opportunity to have a “one on one” conversation with a member of the Vestry.
We hope those conversations will be hopeful ones. “How do we continue to move into a thriving future?” The conversation will not be primarily about money unless you want it to be. You will be given a pledge card, and you will be invited by the Vestry member to join him or her in sacrificial generosity to the parish. You will not be asked to hold out your arm for a proper twisting.
As we have begun to plan for this Every Member Visit, and as I worked on this sermon this week, I found myself renewing the excitement with which I came here seven years ago. I opened my first sermon to you from 2004. It wasn’t half bad! Here’s the last sentence:
In all that we do in the months and years ahead, let us remember Jesus Christ raised from the dead, let us give thanks to God for God is good, and let us build, in the power of the Holy Spirit, a community of love and hope which is good news to and for the world.
I think we have been doing that, with fits and starts, joys and sorrows, good decisions and bad ones, the arrival of some very fine people and the departure of others. We have not been perfect, but we have, for the most part, been faithful.
A thriving community of love and hope still lies in our vision. In seven years we have built a relationship that is strong. Now let us seize the eighth day, the day of new creation, new identity and renewed purpose. Let us press on and keep our eyes on the prize! Carpe diem octavum!