Readings are here.
The readings today seem very appropriate to this stage in our journey of faith here at St. Catherine's. After the end of this month I will no longer be your Interim Vicar. The new vicar, Laurie McKim, will come into our circle as priest among us. Next week is my last sermon as your vicar though I may supply if needed. Following that service I will catch a plane in Portland at 3 p.m. to go to the University of the South, Sewanee, TN for continuing education as a Trainer for the Education for Ministry program offered from the School of Theology. Then if all goes according to plan I will fly to Wyoming to help Jim close on the house. (a big "if" as we won't know for sure until the ink is on the contract).
In our lesson from Samuel, the people of Israel are facing changes. Samuel warns them to be careful what they wish for. In 2 Corinthians Paul tells the people not to lose heart when things look bad and in our Gospel Jesus preaches on the nature of this new community of faith.
In times of changes in leadership we often hope that this new person will save us from ourselves - will make everything work to our satisfaction. I see it over and over in elections. The latest winner is going to fix everything - we will be happy - we will have it all. In churches - the hope is that we will grow, we will have a new future, we will attract new members, we will all grow and deepen our faith and more.
One time I was consulting with a church and I asked - tell me about a time when you thought to yourself - YES! this is why I love being a member of St. Swithin's in the Swamp! A specific time. What were the circumstances? Who was there? What did you do to make it happen? What are the core values you se in this incident? Maybe you might like to think about those questions about your history at St Catherine's for a few moments, right now.
For St. Swithin's most of the incidents occurred when they did not have a priest in residence. Times when they pulled together to start something or carry on. Their core values were around the community's own strength and the power of God in their midst. What it told me was that while the priest is an important member of the circle of community-- nothing will happen unless the community wishes it to happen. Oh - I have seen churches swell temporarily with a very charismatic preacher -but when that person goes away or fails in some way - the church goes back to it's norm. Building on the foundation of our communal gifts is the way that churches have solid long lasting communities.
I went to Clergy Conference a couple of weeks ago - the speaker is the rector of a church in Seattle that had fallen on hard times. Her presence in their midst has shown them their own strengths of worship, community and vision. She has not "done it for them" - but was a person who could support and nurture what was already there. She said the key was that they had a kindliness of spirit toward one another. When they had disagreements they remained friends and cared for one another. They built worship on being the best of who they are. This church is a "high church" - Anglo-catholic - smells, bells, chanting - so they worked on doing the best of this style of liturgy. Other churches have different styles on which to become the best of whatever is the ethos of the congregation. It does not matter what style - what matters is doing it well and helping those who visit to relax into whatever is happening. Their vision included having a Sunday School and though they had no children in the church - some members became trained in Godly play and for a year - waited for children every Sunday no matter that no one showed up - they were ready. And now they have 30 kids most Sundays.
What I see in the Scriptures are these same lessons. A new "king" or "queen" will not save us from ourselves. The new vicar will join us and see things in us and help us to see those things for ourselves. If we are divided - a new vicar will listen but will not be able to force us to learn to live with our differences and become reconciled. Only we can do that for ourselves. If we lose heart we need to remember that God is with us and wants this church to be here in this time and this place doing the ministry that God wishes done. Only we can discern what that is - and carry it out - -one vicar cannot do this alone. Jesus asks who are his brothers and sisters and mothers?
The answer is whoever does the will of God. Only you know if we are doing the will of God -but I believe if we are - St. Catherine's will flourish and become the place where all feel called to sit at the table as brothers and sisters in Christ and return to the world refreshed and ready to live as God's people.