Sermon Archives

Sunday, January 28, 2018
The 4th Sunday after the Epiphany
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
The Rector's Annual Address

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

Every year at this time, we must stop and ask a fundamental question:  who are we? 

To this simple question, of course, there are several answers:

  • A Church
  • The Body of Christ
  • A house of prayer
  • Pilgrims on a journey of faith
  • A Community of Disciples

While each of these, and more, are apt and necessary descriptions of who we are, it is this last one, A Community of Disciples, which has most drawn the attention of my heart.

This simple phrase holds in tension two essential characteristics of our identity:  we are simultaneously both individual disciples of Christ and a deep community gathered together. 

This simple phrase reminds us that we have two dynamic responsibilities.  On the one hand, we are always disciples, pursuing the image of Christ that is uniquely visible through our personal, individual life.  On the other, we are called together to form a rich and dynamic community of faith.

It is to these two fundamental pursuits that I urge us as a community to direct our attention in the coming year. 

As disciples, we are perpetually called to Journey to the Heart of Christ.  Along the way we will experience the great wonder of our creation, the heartbreaking awareness of our sin and our broken relationships within ourselves, between ourselves and others, and even between ourselves and God, and we will come, too, to experience the even greater joy of God’s healing and restoration.

This is the inward journey of finding the great mystery of God within yourself while learning to love others as fully as you already are loved.

This not an easy journey.  It requires the humility of self-reflection, the honesty of true confession (to God or a neighbor), and the steadfast commitment to love one another, even when we do not feel loved by one another.

Fortunately, our tradition provides us useful tools to help us along the way.  At the heart of our tradition, and still practiced here at Christ Church, is the commitment to Daily Prayer and Weekly Worship.  Through the daily practice of prayer we hone the skill of listening for God’s quiet voice speaking to us over the din of everyday life, while being present at the weekly Eucharist presents us with an ongoing encounter with the heart of God:  the sacrificial love and life of Christ poured out for the world.  To receive the Eucharist is to receive again and again God’s love for you, and to see again our humility before God and beside our neighbor.

Similarly, we are called to study, that is to explore the way of God in Jesus and the Prophets, with the conviction that our individual lives will be shaped and reshaped by God’s eternal Word.  At our best, however, we do this together, lest God’s word become simply an echo of our own.

Lastly, we are called to live, not merely for ourselves, but for him who has called us out error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.  This, of course, leads us to the life of service and stewardship, for it was Christ himself who humbled himself for our sake, pouring himself out complete for love of us.

And so we are called to live for one another and the stranger among us, serving one another and the world with humility, while giving generously to support the nurture and nourishment of others in our embrace.

Therefore, I encourage you to make a 4-fold commitment this year as you seek to deepen the expression of Christ that is uniquely you’re to reveal:

  • Commit to weekly worship.  Be present on Sundays to listen for God, to offer yourself up to her, and to receive the blessing of her love and mercy.
  • Participate in at least one class to deepen or expand your understanding of who God is and who you are called to be.  Sign up for one of the Wednesday @ Christ Church classes, or a program through the Christ Church Spirituality Center.
  • Join a servant ministry in which you are supporting and caring for others.  Sign up for the Altar Guild, become a reader or usher, or
  • Give 1% more of your annual income in stewardship.  Only through generosity and sacrifice do we learn that we already possess all that we will need. 

Discipleship, however, is only one aspect of our identity.

Of equal importance is the fact of our Christian community.  We are bound by and to one another to form a diverse community of faith.  Together we pray.  Together we celebrate life’s joys and heartbreaks.  Together we challenge and uplift one another in our common call to represent Christ to the world.

If our common life is to reflect the image of Christ, we must commit to living and interacting with one another in ways that are reflective of the very life of Christ himself. 

We must also embody the genuine care and affection to we hold for our birth sisters, brothers, and dearest friends.  Such community means more than simply passing the peace or recognizing a once strange face.  Rather, the Christian community, no matter its size, must struggle and strive to form genuine bonds of affection among its members such that our absence is not only noticed, but felt as loss, and our burdens are seen not as tiresome stories, but as gifts and opportunities to express our deep love and care for one another.

But such a remarkable community is no more accidental than is our personal discipleship.  Just as our individual Journey to the Heart of Christ requires attentive practice, so, too, does our life together. 

To help us in this pursuit, I urge us as a community to commit again to our Community Norms, each a tangible expression of Christian love in relationship to another. 

In the area of Parish Life we will be recruiting members to expand our team of Christ Church Bakers who prepare everything from cookies to casseroles at home to help with parish events, and developing a team of Christ Church Cooks to help cook meals when we gather as a community.

We will focus also on Member Development to intentionally help new members and friends connect with God and our community through our shared life and ministry together.

Finally, and most importantly, in the coming year, the intentional nurture of community will be paramount.  To that end, I am excited to share a new ministry that is being formed:  Circle Groups.  Designed to develop connections between Christ Church members separate from our natural interest or affinity connections, each Circle Group will connect 30 Christ Church families as a sub-group within our community.  To help foster relationships with a Circle, each Circle will work to host 3-5 events (think “church potluck at a member’s home) per year which are open exclusively to members of that  Circle (subject to a hosts capacity, of course!). 

As they develop, Circles Groups will also serve as communities of care among us as we come naturally to share our prayers and support one another in times of need.

Lastly, Circle Groups will enable the Vestry and me to more readily connect with our community.  In addition to a pair of Shepherds who will help coordinate a Circle Group’s activity, each Vestry member will be assigned to a Circle as a community of connection and care.

What will make Circles meaningful however, is not the planning or coordination, but the care and love that we bring as members to our community.  For it is on by our love that we will be know.

Friends, we are ever be(com)ing a Community of Disciples.  At times the image of Christ shines through us brightly, at other times, a bit more dimly. 

Be assured of two things, however.

First, God will create something good and remarkable out of the clay that is us.  For that is what God does – brings beauty and life out of us if we but put ourselves in his hands.

Second, we are better together.