Sunday, September 19, 2010

Our Centennial Sunday and the Cornerstone of Faith: Recommitting ourselves to prayer, listening and compassion

Today is our Centennial Sunday, celebrating the first Holy Communion service on our corner. The building is not the same as 100 years ago, and much else has changed. But the cornerstone of our faith is still the same and sustains us still.

We are going off the lectionary today, and instead using the biblical readings used at the dedication of the building in 1927. We aren't sure what was read in 1910, but they might well have been repeated at the 1927 service. Those readings are: Joel 2:23-28, Psalm 122, Ephesians 2:13-22, and John 17:20-26.

Here is my sermon from today marking our Centennial:

* * *

Centennial Sunday: Sept. 19, 2010
By The Rev. James Richardson

Today, we tell a story.
The story begins at the time of Creation, and continues through the time of Moses, and the time of Jesus and Saint Paul. The story continues into the ages beyond. Today we pause at the year 1910 for a few moments.
The year 1910:
The Campfire Girls and Yellow Cab are founded.
John D. Rockefeller is the richest man in the world.
President William Howard Taft is the first president to throw out a baseball on opening day.
Comet Halley is visible on clear nights.
Henry Ford has been mass-producing automobiles for two years, but most people still travel by horse and buggy.
If you want to get more than a few miles from here, you take the train. Airplanes have been invented but the first will not fly over Charlottesville for another two years.
The nation is at peace, but not for much longer.
The Civil War is a live memory and still an open wound. Racial segregation is the law of the land in much of our nation, but not in Charlottesville, not yet. Still a social custom, legal racial segregation will be adopted two years later.
In 1910, the University of Virginia is 91 years old. Repairs to the Rotunda, damaged in a fire, have been finished for several years now.
The only students are white men. The first black man will be admitted in 1951. Not until 1970 will there be undergraduate women of any color.
In 1910, the university announces that regular Sunday services in the chapel for students will cease, setting off in earnest the effort to build an Episcopal church across the street: this parish church.
And so, on this weekend in 1910, St. Paul’s Memorial Church holds its first worship service on this holy ground, presided over by The Rev. Hugh McIlhany, the founding rector, and The Rev. Harry Lee, the rector of Christ Church, from the other side of town.
The men and women who founded this church were bold.
Today we honor them for their vision and their sacrifice, and we honor all those who came after them. We honor all of you who still come through these doors because the story of St. Paul’s Memorial Church is still being written, and you are the ones writing it.
We don’t know what biblical lessons they read on this Sunday a century ago. We do know what they read in 1927 at the dedication of this building, and so we are reading those lessons today.
From the Hebrew Scriptures, they hear, and we hear, the Prophet Joel proclaim the dreams of his ancestors:
“I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men (and women) shall dream dreams, and your young men (and women) see visions.”
And from Saint Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, they hear, and we hear, about the living cornerstone of the church:
“You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.”
And from the Gospel of John, they hear, and we hear, this powerful theme of unity:
“The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that may be one, as we are one, I in them an you in me.”
The dreams that built this place remain our project as much as those who came before us. Bishop Robert Gibson, upon his election as bishop of Virginia in 1897, said one of his most important goals was the founding of a parish at the University of Virginia.
But that dream was very hard born.
From the beginning, this parish was a project of the Diocese of Virginia. But the participation of the diocese, with its own trials and tribulations, waxed and waned, as did its financial support to the project.
St. Paul’s was held together by the vision of a handful of people and especially a group of generous Charlottesville women who shared the vision to build a parish that would serve not themselves but the larger community of the University of Virginia and all who came here from everywhere.

The first Holy Communion was held in a temporary wooden building on this corner on September 18, 1910. The building wasn’t finished on that first Sunday – the windows still had no glass, and the doorframes had no doors.
The founding rector, Mr. McIlhany, used his two hands to help build that first wooden building.
The church had no proper cross at the altar, so the day before the first worship service he built the small wooden cross that we display today in front of the Holy Table.
Tragedy loomed. A few days after the first service, Mr. McIlhany died from blood poisoning. He was 36 years old and left a wife and five children.
It is said that he may have stepped on a nail while working on the building, or snagged himself building the cross.
The temporary wooden building would remain on this site for 17 years. The building where you now sit was dedicated on this weekend in 1927, so this Sunday is a double anniversary.
It was built after a nationwide fund-raising campaign drawing attention to the need to build a church dedicated to UVA students – the “boys” as the bishop at the time put it. It took many years, and many blueprints, before this church where you now sit was built.
The parish’s third rector, The Rev. Noble Powell, and a committee of six leaders, traveled the country raising funds and raising the profile of this parish. They garnered newspaper articles in many cities and that generated contributions from all over the country. This parish became a project of the entire Episcopal Church.
In a very real sense, this parish belongs to the entire Episcopal Church – we have no right to call this ours alone. It is profoundly appropriate that we began our centennial year with a three-day visit from the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, who challenged us once again to "be bold."
From the start, Bishop Gibson's vision of this parish was outward, because the vision of the great university across the street was outward.

Thomas Jefferson envisioned the University of Virginia as serving not just this town, and not just a single state, but the entire United States of America. He hoped it would be a national university.
The vision of St. Paul’s Memorial Church is inextricably linked to Jefferson’s larger vision. It is therefore very appropriate that a few weeks ago, Dr. Teresa Sullivan, the new president of the university, addressed us in this pulpit and called us to create a more caring community not just for ourselves, but for all who live, study and work here.
The University of Virginia is a public university, supported by the taxpayers, and it serves all people of every background, every race, every religion and no religion at all. And so, too, must this parish be a House of Prayer for all people. We must take a stand against all forms of intolerance, especially intolerance of religions not our own.
This Wednesday night we will host an interfaith prayer service to remember the victims of domestic violence, especially young women students, and we will have leaders from the Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Christian communities in attendance. I hope you will come.
That is who we are and how we got here. But where do we go in the next 100 years, or even just in the next year?
That is the daunting question I’ve been thinking about as this centennial year has unfolded.
I must admit I am tempted to lay out a new ambitious ministry program, or a big community outreach project, or begin a major capital fundraising campaign.
I am sorely tempted to talk about the themes of transforming the church that Sam Lloyd, the dean of the National Cathedral, talked so eloquently about last Sunday.
All of those topics must be in the forefront our conversation as a parish. But today, I want to touch on something much more basic, the foundation – the cornerstone – upon which this parish is built: A relationship with the Risen Christ of Easter, as individuals, and as a community of faith.
And so, dear people of God, today on this Centennial Sunday of our parish, I am calling upon us to be in a deeper place of prayer, a deeper place of listening, and a deeper place of compassion.
We must begin anew by recommitting ourselves to prayer as a way of life, not just an activity on Sunday when the weather and academic schedule cooperate. It is about being participants in our faith, not just consumers of religious products.
Our prayer starts in the story of our Jewish roots, the story we remember again at the Holy Table – the Altar – of our Holy Eucharist.
The Jewish way of prayer is to bring our every waking moment, our every action, our every word into our prayer, for God is always with us, God is our strength, God is our refuge, and as the psalmist says, the quietness within our walls.
Pray for peace, pray for justice, pray for healing, pray for this earth, our fragile island home.
Let each of us become more intentional in our personal prayers, bringing prayer into our whole body, mind and soul – into our whole being.
Let us as a faith community recommit ourselves to the prayers and the breaking of the bread that we share together through our baptismal covenant that we will renew again together in a few minutes.
And let us recommit ourselves to gathering here in this sacred place each and every Sunday.
We come with open questions in our prayers. We don’t pretend to know all the answers. All of us are seekers.
I recently saw a church sign that said “He lives! He reigns! End of discussion!” Well, for us, that is the beginning of our discussion. Let us recommit ourselves to open conversation beginning with the openness of our prayer.
With prayer and conversation must come listening. Deep, long, listening for the whisper of God in our lives. I am convinced God makes known many things if we have ears to hear and eyes to see.
Not all prayer is with words, and God will come to us beyond words, in many ways, in many places.
Sometimes we will experience God in the most surprising moments, the most unlikely corners of life, and in the most unexpected people.
We will experience God in each other, and that must bring us to compassion. We are called to be compassionate people beyond our walls and within our walls. That is an extraordinarily difficult challenge.
We are called not just to welcome those who come through our door, but to inviting acts of compassion.
We are called to radical inclusive hospitality beginning with our family and friends, and reaching out into the community to children and teenagers, university students, working people, young adults, boomers, and Generation Wise.
Our compassion must reach singles, marrieds, straight people and gay people, immigrants, homeless people, rich people, Virginians, New Yorkers, and even a stray Californian or two.
And we are called to be compassionate with each other here in this place, and not just in a crisis, not just when someone goes to the hospital or is out of work.
We are called to be compassionate with each other in our every day life, in the way we talk to each other, in our attitude and in our email. Snideness, gossip, cutting remarks about others, have no place in a compassionate life.
Compassion means we give each other a little slack and the benefit of the doubt. We are called to be a little less critical and a little more patient and forgiving, not just of the big stuff, but the little stuff.
This kind of compassion requires giving of our whole being; giving as a way of life. We are called to get our hands dirty, not just come up with ideas for other people to do.
We are called to give, and not just our spare change, but the first fruits of our labor, our experience, our money. I hope and pray this faith community is more than just a charity to you, but is central to your life, and therefore is central to your financial giving.
It is not a question of “giving back to God” because it all belongs to God anyway. Rather, it is a question of turning our prayers, our listening and our compassion into reality, and we do that with our giving.
None of this is possible without the cornerstone of our faith:

Christ Jesus who walked among us as a human being, fully divine, fully human -- a mystery -- and who died on the Cross to show us a way beyond the Cross, and who dwells here with us at our table, and in our life together.
We are his hands and feet here on this corner of the world. You and I are the builders of the Kingdom of God.
Today is a day to give thanks for God’s loving providence in this parish, and to give thanks for the sacrifices of so many people who created and sustained this parish through days of plenty and days of want.
And so, on this our Centennial Sunday, we proclaim, as our patron, Saint Paul, proclaims:
“You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.”
With the thanks to the people of St. Paul's, and to Paula Kettlewell for her history of St. Paul's Memorial Church.


Pam said...

It was a wonderful birthday celebration for St. Paul's. Thanks to all those who helped to make it so. On to the next 100!!!

Christie said...

It was a wonderful day all around. I loved your sermon, too, Jim. Thanks for everything.

Vickie said...

What a great sermon, Jim. You made the history of St. Paul's relevant to us in the 21st century, gave us a sense of "the cloud of witnesses," and ended on a very pastoral note. Thanks for your encouragement to be "constant in prayer."