Sermon Archives

Sunday, January 29, 2017
On the occasion of the Annual Meeting of Christ Church Grosse Pointe
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
Rector's Address

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

For most, if not all of us, 2016 was a tumultuous and socially difficult year.  As our community (local and national) struggled to find common ground, we often retreated into the safety of our affinity groups which strengthen our resolve in the face of opposition, yet lessened our ability to hear one another, let alone the voice of God speaking quietly through our neighbor.

And so, through it all, Christ Church has striven to be a place where we might see a more perfect truth – that we are, in fact, one; not because we agree on this or that, but because we share a common love by God and a common need for God and for one another.  Week-in and week-out, we have left our various tables where we preside, to come together around God’s holy table, to be nourished and refreshed, and to lay aside all that divides us to receive the One who makes us one.  Here in this holy act, as we come with hands outstretched, we see again who we are, redeemed by Christ and beloved of God.  As we take our place beside a stranger at the altar of Christ, we see again who she is, who he is, a woman or a man equally redeemed by Christ and beloved of God.  And there in that moment of transformation and hope, we receive again our call:  to live, to speak, to care for one another and even the stranger in our midst, with the very same grace and mercy that has been poured out for us in death and received us into life.

This is the great mystery and power of the Eucharist – it is the Truth of who we are, and the aspiration of who we will be.

And yet, the aspiration is not simply a moment in our week, but the most important journey of our life.  67 years ago today, January 29th, 1950, Bishop Emrich consecrated this church that it would be “separated henceforth from all unhallowed, worldly, and common uses, and dedicated to the Worship and Service of Almighty God.” We must have always remembered, though, that we are not simply about consecrated bricks and mortar, bur the consecration of our lives.  What we have done outwardly with this building, we are called to do inwardly with our hearts and personally in our lives – to transform them, to set them apart from all “unhallowed, worldly, and common uses, and dedicated [our lives] to the Worship and Service of Almighty God.”  In keeping with this, some 20-odd years ago, our community redefined our mission:  to bring God and people together to know and live the Good News of Jesus Christ! 

This is no small task!

We are here as a community, not merely to be fed or simply to be refreshed, but to be transformed into the living embodiment of God’s love and grace for one another and the world.  At times, this goodness and love will shine through our lives as brightly as the morning sun; at others it will be more difficult to see, such as the shadowy light on a grey and foggy day. 

And so we return.  We return again to this community of faithful and struggling disciples who prop us up and beckon us onward to be our better selves.  We return to God’s table to hear and to see and to encounter once again God’s truth for us and the world.  We return to this table to see not only how God loves, but who God loves: the broken and hurting, the sinner and the redeemed, the elderly and frail, the young and the hopeful, the lonely and the poor, the joyous and those who mourn – all are invited here, all are received here, all are loved at this Holy Table.  We return again to practice this same love and grace with others who will receive us when we struggle, forgive us when we fail, and rejoice with us when God’s light shines through us as clearly as at the noonday.  And we return to this holy place on bended knee, to confess our failings, to proclaim our need and deepest desires, and to ask again for the strength to serve and to love as completely as Jesus served and loved his neighbor, his friend, and even his persecutor. 

This, friends, is the journey of faith, the journey of Christian discipleship that we have embarked on together.  We who, with James and John, Peter and Andrew, Mary and Martha, have said “yes” to God’s call, have begun a rich and rewarding journey; not an easy one, mind you, for a life marked by sacrificial love and service by definition is hard, but it is a remarkable and life giving journey none the less. 

This is perhaps the greatest reason why Jesus called his disciples together into a new community and sent his apostles out two-by-two . . .  this journey is too hard to do alone and we grossly miss the mark when we are guided only to ourselves.

Friends, we are better together.  Friends, we need one another. 

We need one another because God is bigger than any one of us and any group of us.  We need one another, because this journey is tough.  As we make our way through the wilderness of this world struggling to live as Jesus would have us live, we will inevitably find ourselves lonely in a sea of people, hungry yet surrounded by an overabundance of food, and fearful of what holy living will mean.  Matthew starkly reminds us today that many of the greatest blessings of faith are found in places we abhor:  mourning, poverty, humility, persecution.

And so we need one another.  We need one another to encourage us to keep at it and keep on.  We need one another to lean on when we are weak and tire and afraid.  We need one another, when our hearts have grown cold, to warm us with the fire of their love.  We need one another to shine a light so that we can see God’s way more clearly. 

We cannot walk this way alone.  If we hope to go far in faith, we must go together.

But it doesn’t stop there.  The world needs us.  Desperately.  The world needs to see a community that can overcome its estrangement and division.  The world needs a place where it can learn to love more than itself and, then, to learn to love more yet again.  The world needs a community where it can safely learn to forgive a wrong by being forgiven first.  The world needs a community to lead the way to the beloved community by daring to be the beloved community itself.

Friends, the world is desperate for us to become the people we have set out to be – a community of faithful and struggling and yet always loving disciples who know and live the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

We cannot begin to receive or embrace a stranger who looks different than use, dresses strangely, speaks with a foreign tongue or comes from a foreign land if we cannot first see and embrace one another here in this place, let alone a stranger in our very midst who looks so much like us, and speaks with our same accent, and whose home is on the next street over or the next town down the road.  If we are so angry or so afraid of one another or so protective of ourselves and our stuff within our community that we cannot gather at the same table, feel safe in the same room, or speak with kindness and civility to one another, let alone affection and true care, we will have no chance at offering God’s remarkable invitation, welcome, and embrace for the world.

Friends, such faith is not a task to be accomplished, but a life to be lived, a life best lived together.

And so, I want to extend a few invitations to this transformational journey.

First, I invite you, again, to join me and our vestry in this wonderful spiritual journey!  Don’t just dip your toes in, dive in deep.  Jump into a community of disciples exploring the remarkable life of God. 

To help you along, I encourage you to make a four-fold commitment:

  • Get to church!  Don’t wait for your assigned day to read or the spirit to move you.  Come, week-in and week-out.  Of course, there are times when life takes us away, but when you’re home, come.  We’re better together.  We need you, and I suspect, you will find that you need us as well.  It’s not unlike the family dinner table – its better when all the seats are filled, relationships are deepened and our hearts are filled.  I can’t say enough for the habit of church, either – not only is our community enlivened when we are together, our spiritual journey changes when we move from a passing acquaintance with our liturgy (or one another, for that matter!).  When the words on the page become the words of our heart, our experience of the Holy in these walls is transformed.
  • Let me say this as well . . . beginning today, we’ll expect to see you.  If we haven’t seen you in a while, we’ll call and see how things are going – not because we’re checking up, but because we want to check-in; we’ll call because we care and want to see that all is well; we’ll call because we’re here to encourage you on your journey and to help you along the way.
  • Get involved in at least one ministry – here AND beyond these walls!  Sure we can use more volunteers – what organization can’t?  But that’s not the point.  We have a need to serve.  We have a need to get out of ourselves, to serve as Jesus himself served.  We have ample opportunities here to serve within these walls and beyond.  Join our Bakers ministry and become a member of ministry of care for those going through a trauma or transition.  Become a Sunday School teacher and encounter not only the beauty of God’s story, but the wonder of our children coming to know God through you!  Join the altar guild or lector corps, or become a Eucharistic Minister.  We are called to be a community of servants, not merely recipients, within these walls.
  • But, as with all things in faith, it can’t end here!  We must also be servants in the world.  If you’re workplace has a volunteer service day – sign up, practice and model our commitment to seek and serve God in all people.  If you’re looking for an opportunity, we have a few here as well:  sign up to help at Crossroads next week, or Mercado when the opportunity comes again, or the Habitat build this summer – we need to come face to face with others in our world. 
  • Commit to learning more about God.  Don’t let your confirmation class be the last Christian Formation class you take.  One of the beauties of our tradition is the recognition that our understanding of God is ever expanding and, consequently, always incomplete.  The more we immerse ourselves in the story of God – the more we come to know the Good News of Jesus Christ – the more completely his light shines through us.  And so I encourage you to join us Wednesday night.  In the Catechumenate, we are beginning a journey through three books:  Rowan Williams' Being Christian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, and Rowan Williams' Being Disciples.  Others are considering offering a class or two as well, so don’t wait – we never have enough time, so dive in!  Come and join the conversation and take part in the exploration.
  • Lastly, make a pledge.  For some among us that is a new and important step in the journey.  The act of making an intentional financial commitment rooted in gratitude is a critical step in our Christian journey.  The simple act of a pledge from our first fruits reminds us that our capital L-Life begins with God’s first gift of Love made complete through Jesus our Lord; this is our beginning and our end, and it is in response to his love that we commit ourselves – body, mind, and spirit!  And our pledge is an essential step on this journey. 
  • If the pledge is old hat, however, it is important to remember that the journey goes on.  As a community we are called not only to know God’s sacrificial and redeeming love, but to live it, and so we are invited to take a step – further up and further in, as CS Lewis wrote.  Therefore, for those of you for whom a pledge is already customary, perhaps even easy, I invite you deeper into the sacrificial life of Christ by making a plan to achieve a tithe. 
  • Yes, I said it.  We have talked and | or taught about the tithe for years now.  25 years ago this April, in fact!, the Vestry of Christ Church affirmed “the basic Christian need to give generously to God and His Church as an expression of gratitude for God’s gifts to us, including our redemption through Jesus Christ. We prayerfully affirm tithing as the Biblical standard of giving of our time, talents and money. We believe that tithing involves joyful and sacrificial giving of our first fruits to our Lord and His Church. We commit to giving an ever-increasing portion of our income to our Lord, His Church and His purposes, in the hope of eventually reaching a tithe of 10% of our income. The Vestry and Clergy invite all parishioners of Christ Church Grosse Pointe to join in our affirmation and commitment to tithing.” 
  • We have a need, not only to financially support this ministry – and that need is very real! – but even more, we each have a personal need to be transformed in our relationship to money, God, and our neighbor.  If we are to live the Good News of Jesus Christ – if we are to turn the other cheek, walk a second mile, or give up our cloak – if we are to learn to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God – we will have to find a new foundation in God as well!  Part of this journey, part of this transformation, is learning that money is not our hope nor is it our salvation.  Part of this journey is building the internal strength to live sacrificially – to push our limits of kindness and mercy and love, so that we love a bit more today than we did yesterday, and then a bit more again tomorrow.  And so, as affluent American Christians today, we will have to confront our relationship with money.  We will have to work, slowly, but surely, to put money back in its place, realizing once again that money is not the source of a good life, but rather a commodity for doing CAPITAL-G-GOOD in our life. 

Now, I said that I had a few invitations to extend and I’ve saved my favorite for last.  We are a community.  We are community blessed by God with one another.  We are, I firmly believe, better together. 

So let’s live it.  And I know no better place to come to know one another with affection than at the dinner table.  And so Jessica and I invite you to ours.  We haven’t figured out just how we’ll manage it, but we’ll find a way – so here it is:  come to dinner.  It is our hope to have all of you to our home this year – we’re a large community, so it make take some time, but our home and our table is better when you’re with us. 

Friends, God has called us into a wonderful and sacred community of faith and affection.  Let us give thanks for one another and God’s love that has made us one.