I preached at the earlier 8 am service. The sermon is based on Sirach 10:12-18, Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, Luke 14:1, 7-14.
Here is my sermon:
Welcoming back our students
No doubt you’ve noticed the buzz in the air around Charlottesville, and it’s not just the rental trucks lumbering down the street, driven by dads hauling their kids’ stuff back to school.
The students are definitely back, and the energy level here on the corner is up ten-fold. As I walk around town, I see a lot of young people and their families and they have a certain deer-in-the-headlights look.
I think I know a little of how they feel. I am beginning my third year here, and I am beginning to feel like a veteran.
Today is our official Welcome Back Sunday for the University of Virginia, and so I want to take a few moments this morning to reaffirm our historical mission to the University community.
I want to mention this morning a few simple things we can do as members of this parish to be a part of that mission regardless of our age or connection with UVA.
First, the students who come through these doors bring many gifts, and many questions.
Many, if not most, are away from home for the first time in their life. We need to welcome these students, as we welcome all new people. To be truly welcoming is to be open not just to their presence, but to their ideas, to their talents and their questions. They will change us, just as we will change them.
Students are not appendages to this parish, but central to the mission of this parish. They are why we are here.
The biblical lessons we hear today, I believe, compel us to begin with compassion for the sojourner – the stranger – because we are reminded that we, too, are sojourners in this life.
The students who come here are strangers, and yet, like us, they too are sojourners on a life-long pilgrimage. They may be at a different place on the road than most of us here this morning, but they are on the same road with us.
The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
This academic year, I hope we will go out of our way to show hospitality to our students in big ways and small.
We host a free dinner on Sunday evenings for students, and we need some of you to take a turn preparing and serving a meal.
These are more than just dinners, but truly opportunities for students, who are far from home, to spend an hour or two once a week having a meal with a “regular” family.
If you are interested in taking a turn, see me after this service.
I would also like us to take a few more steps to live into our historical mission. I am convinced this parish is located on this unique corner for a unique purpose.
We have the opportunity to not just comfort and nurture young students, but to instill in them values of generosity and selflessness that cut against the values of selfish materialism and careerism in the wider culture at large.
We hear loud-and-clear from Jesus today, who implores us to set aside our fears and embrace the lowest among us: “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed.”
There are many ways of instilling those values, and we begin by setting an example in our own life. The Letter writer to the Hebrews implores: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
St. Paul’s already has shown great courage and strength by sharing our wealth and talent in the community, for example by working on projects like PACEM that give winter shelter to the homeless, and IMPACT that has worked to provide dental care for the poor and translation services for immigrants caught in the legal system.
Let me suggest that our actions in the wider community are integrally connected to our mission to the University of Virginia, for it is by working in the community that we can be role models for the students and new people who come through our doors. When we share our lives generously, others will share theirs too.
Finally, let us not forget that doing is only half a faithful life. The other half – maybe more than half – comes in the humility of our prayer. Indeed, the lessons this morning have a common theme – humility.
This kind of humility comes only by emptying ourselves before God, by bringing the longings of our hearts and the holes of our souls to God in prayer. And then listening for the answers, for prayer is a life-long conversation.
There are many ways to pray, and we will explore some of those ways this fall in our adult education here at St. Paul’s.
It is my hope and prayer that we will be open to exploring not just the stillness of prayer, but also the restlessness that can also come through prayer.
Prayer can – and probably will – tug us in new directions, because we are sojourners – strangers – in this life.
At times, our prayer – like our life – may not look neat and tidy. We are, after all, not the ones in control. This is not our church – it belongs to God – and it is not our earth – it belongs to God – and we are the temporary stewards. Any control we think we have is but an illusion.
Our stewardship rests on the foundation our prayer, and our prayer rests on the foundation of our humility.
When our foundation is firm, our prayers will take wing, we will find that, indeed, we are entertaining angels. AMEN.