Sunday, August 3, 2008

A good Sunday

We are launched. We had about 400 people in church this morning, and I was honored to have all of the clergy of St. Paul's, active and retired, vest and process in with me. Below is my first sermon; the laugh lines may not translate well, but you'll get the idea. Blessing to all...

Aug. 3, 2008

Genesis 32: 22-31

Matthew 14: 13-21


            Good morning. In case you are wondering, I am the new guy – the new rector.

            Someone sent me one of these, and I applied and, well, they gave me the job. So here I am.

            They told me this is a major pulpit in the Episcopal church. But what is this?

            I want to tell you a bit about myself this morning. First let me introduce you to Lori, my wife, my partner, my best friend, the one I feel most passionate about in the universe.

We are both excited and grateful to accept this call to be with you.

            I want to thank you for your patience in waiting for us. I made a commitment to All Souls Parish in Berkeley, California, to be with them until they called their new rector. I am please to say I kept my commitment to them.

I believe in keeping commitments, and I believe in keeping my commitment to you to be your rector in the years ahead as we minister together by seeking to live out the gospel as a congregation where our lives, and the world around us, are touched by God's grace and love.

            I am from California, you’ve probably figured that out by now. I am a fourth generation Californian. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, with a brief interlude for high school on the East Coast. I am graduate of UCLA and I spent the better part of my life working for newspapers in Southern and Northern California.

            Lori and I have lived in Sacramento for more than 20 years, and I’ve been commuting to Berkeley for the past year. It is good to be moving north – yes, north. If you look at a map, Berkeley is actually south of Charlottesville.

I am here to tell you that every stereotype you’ve ever heard about California is absolutely true.

Palm trees really do grow everywhere; we wear Hawaiian shirts for all occasions; and, yes, you do see movie stars all the time in California, even in Sacramento, but it is not polite to stare at them when they get in the elevator with you, especially when it is the governor who is late to work.

            I’ve been asked by some of you how a California guy like me could end up here in Virginia. I must admit to you, I’ve wondered that myself a few times in the last few months.

            Your very able search committee showed Lori and me the possibilities where we could not have imagined, and they showed us with gentleness and patience. We owe them a great deal of thanks for their faithfulness in the possible.

            It took me awhile, though, to see this place and this church as a possibility, or to be more precise, to truly discern that this is where God wants us to be and that this is truly a calling. Callings take time. I am absolutely humbled by the prayer composed by your search committee that included the line: “Ready us to receive the one you have been forming for service in this place.”

It has been a long journey getting here, over many, many years, and I hope to share my story with you in the coming months, as  I want to hear your story, and as together our journey together unfolds and we write a new story together.

            But for now, let me give you one detail: There was a moment when I knew this is the right place. It came during Holy Week, when the clergy of the Diocese of California assemble at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco to renew their ordination vows.

I was sitting with my friend and mentor, Don Brown, who is the retired dean of my cathedral. We stood with all of the clergy, and Bishop Marc Andrus asked us whether we would vow to serve those entrusted to our care. When I said “yes,” I thought of you.

            Then it dawned on me that Marc Andrus is from Virginia. He was educated in Virginia, and went to the Virginia Theological Seminary, and later served as a rector in Middleburg. Bishop Marc had never lived west of Appalachian mountains until he became bishop of California two years ago.

            It occurred to me, in that moment, that God delights in moving the pieces around, in sending us on new adventures to be with new people, and grow in ways we can not do on our own. God delights in moving the pieces around, and so I come to you.

Moving the pieces around presents an extraordinary opportunity for all of us to discover the gospel in ways we’ve never dreamed, and, more than that, to wrestle with the meaning of the gospel more intensely than we have ever done.

That, at its most basic, is what we will be doing as we journey together over the next years, as we learn together what it truly means to be God’s beloved, and to live out our lives in the fullness of God’s promise of healing and wholeness and salvation.

Make no mistake: We will have challenges. I will make mistakees. And at times it may feel as though we are wrestling with God.

We will be in good company. Wrestling with God is precisely what Jacob does on the riverbank in the Old Testament lesson today.

Jacob wrestles with God, and though he encounters pain, he comes out seeing God and understanding life in a new way.

He could not have gotten where he was going any other way.

Many of us are in the midst of some of life’s most important, and wrenching, transitions – new jobs, moving, retirements, or maybe the beginning of a new relationship, or maybe the end of a relationship, or the loss of a loved one.

Our kids will soon be faced with the end of summer and the beginning of a new school year, and new university students will soon descend upon us – we hope so. There is a lot of change going on here even without a new rector showing up.

            It might be tempting to say this is “God’s plan.” But let’s avoid that. For one thing, I don’t believe for a single second that God has a single plan. I think God has an infinite number of plans. God provides many right answers. If this doesn’t work, try this, or try that. God works over and over to show us alternatives, and the way forward to a better place.

That is why we hear about Jesus feeding all of these people with a few loaves and fishes. God provides, and provides abundantly – and will keep surprising us with more food and more food.

Isn’t it amazing that the central act of our worship is a common meal?

No matter our station in life, or our differences, we come together to share the bread of life and this common cup. And Jesus never puts limits on who can share in this meal of grace, and so neither can we. All are welcome at this table where all are blessed. That is the meaning of grace.

And if you don’t quite see it yet, or taste it yet, don’t worry. You will get another meal, and another and another. God keeps showing you – and me – another way to see and taste, and keeps inviting us to discover together how to live our lives in the full promise of God’s grace.

            Jesus loves to use meals to illustrate the meaning of grace, and he does it over and over. He shows up at a wedding and turns water into wine, he goes to a dinner party bringing a tax collector with him.

He dines with religious leaders and prostitutes alike with no regard to social ranking.

Jesus is always stopping somewhere to share a meal with someone on his way to share a meal with someone else.

            And along the way, Jesus turns a handful of loaves into enough food to feed thousands; he heals people, brings a few back from the dead, and then on the night before he goes to the Cross, Jesus implores us to remember him – to live on with him – by sharing in his last supper of bread and wine every time we gather.

His last command to us is a dinner invitation.

            For Jesus, this banquet is to be shared by all.

What will we do with a meal like that? How will we live into the full promise of that meal? Richard Hooker, possibly the preeminent Anglican theologian of all time, wrote in the 16th century that the most important question about our Communion meal is not how the bread and wine is changed into Christ’s presence.

Rather, Hooker says, the most important question is: How does the bread and wine change us? How does the bread and wine change us? How will grace enter our lives through our coming together again and again, Sunday after Sunday, at this Holy Table?

What will we do with this meal? How will this meal change us in how we live the rest of our lives?

            This meal-of-grace is not a dream, but the reality of God’s kingdom right in front of us, and we get to share in it again in a few moments. And, I pray, we will share in many more meals for many years to come as we grow into God’s promise of salvation for all. Amen