Friday, November 07, 2014
No Hierachy for Gods' Love or God's Church
Sermon preached at St. Peter's Church, Bloomfield, New York on All Saints' Sunday: Revelation 7:9-17, 1 John 3:1-8
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.
This is, I believe, one of the most important sentences in the whole Bible. It expresses the simple good news that whatever else we are, we are children of God, and not by our own making, but by God’s own choosing.
It is what we will say in a bit to the little gentleman being baptized this morning: “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.” We do not say these words as if we were wishful thinking, and there is no asterisk at the end of them leading to fine print on the bottom of the page that says something like, “unless you do something bad or wrong, especially x, y and z.” No, we say these words because we believe them to be true, and they will be just as true every single day of this child’s life, as it is every single day of all of our lives.
All Saints Day is not only about the great heroes of the faith who did extraordinary things for God. It is about us in our ordinary lives trying to live into what we already are: loved by the One who made us.
There is no hierarchy for God’s love. This child we baptize this morning is loved and will be loved by God as much as the greatest of those we call saints.
I am here this Sunday at Denise’s invitation to start a conversation about St. Peter’s future. But there is actually a conversation we need to have first, and it has everything to do with what I just said about us as individual Christians, equally loved by God.
My experience is that churches—especially small churches such as St. Peter’s, are in love with their past and fearful of their future, and they simply don’t know what to think about the present. Love for your past is great so long as you remember that you cannot return there. Anxiety about the future is also a fairly natural thing, but what is needful first and foremost is to be certain about who you are right now.
And who you are right now is above all things loved. There is nothing wrong with who you are, even if you want to be more. We are obsessed in our culture with largeness: bigger is always better. And we have soaked that up in the church, so that the model we think about when we think about church is large. We all should want to be mega-churches.
Bull. Small churches are, in fact, the norm, and there is much that is good and even holy about them. The Bible has no preference for the size of churches, if anything small churches are the expectation. The mega-church is only in heaven, the vision of which we had in our first reading this morning, the great multitude that no one can count.
Of course you want to grow, but one of the biggest secrets about church growth is that if a community such as this one does not value itself as it is, or if it believes or is led to believe that it is inadequate as it is, growth will never happen. Your first task to enable a future is to love yourself in the present.
Because that—love—is all that is necessary for any church of any size to be all it can be. Any future you have must grow out of the love you have for one another now. That means that the first step in a conversation about the future is a conversation about why you value this community now.
And that is the conversation we are going to have after Service. I want to hear stories about why you value this place, what gift have you been given here, or been inspired to give by here.
We will talk about the future also, but first I want to make sure you are relaxed about who you are. The trouble with traveling the road of anxiety is that it leads to nowhere and nothing but more anxiety. If you believe the truth that you are a child of God and, together, children of God, and saints, we, come what may, there is always a future in that.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Deuteronomy (7:7-8), which parallels the quote from First John with which I began, and has something to say about size in the eyes of God.
It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you—for you were the fewest of all peoples. It was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors.