January 8, 2017
We are celebrating sort of a combination feast this morning: the Feast of the Epiphany, which was actually Friday, and the feast of the Baptism of our Lord, which is today. Not technically the liturgically correct thing to do to combine them, but we are doing it this morning anyway. It isn’t that bad of a combination actually, the day we celebrate the coming of people to Jesus, traveling, bringing gifts and offering of themselves, and the day we celebrate the identity of Jesus with us in baptism and our own identify as Christ’s own forever in our own baptism. It is about recognizing the divine on our midst, bringing and offering ourselves and our gifts to God, committing ourselves to a way of life which is the life of Christ. What a great combination of feasts to have for my last Sunday! If there is anything I have tried to do in the past 11 years it has been to help people see God, to help people commit themselves to the way of Christ, to help everyone understand that our whole identity is wrapped up in the reality that we are deeply loved by God and in our baptism we are part of God’s family, always loved, always redeemed, Christ’s own forever.
For the past 11 years I have almost every Sunday offered the same blessing, and it seemed appropriate to focus my words this morning around that blessing. “The love of our Lord Jesus draw you ever closer to himself.” If you have learned one thing in the past 11 years I hope it has been that you are loved. God created out of deep love, calls us into communities of faith out of love, gave the Law out of love, send the prophets out love, and then in an act of supreme love became incarnate, lived with us fully human, experienced our life, experienced our joys and our sorrows and our grief, died as one of us. Love never ends. With the resurrection God shows that love never, ever ends. You are loved. Never doubt it, never worry about it, always claim that deep truth. You are loved. That love of God is an inviting love, for God desires that all of come to know God in a deeper more personal way, in the way of beloved and lover. And so every week I pray that Jesus draw you closer to himself in love.
The wise men were drawn to seek out the star, drawn by something which told them that there was a momentous event happening. Who knows what they thought the boy born king of the Jews meant, they were willing to leave what was comfortable and familiar and go seek something new. In doing so they offered not only the gifts they brought, they offered themselves. And they would be changed. We don’t hear in scripture how this change would be manifest, but we know it must have happened. You cannot come into the presence of God without being changed. I pray that you all are willing to leave behind what is comfortable and familiar when necessary to travel to experience the presence of God and be changed forever. That travel might be the willingness to change your mind about some previously held belief, it might be the willingness to try a new way of doing something, changing a time honored tradition. It might be the travel of learning to see someone you currently struggle with as a beloved brother or sister in Christ. Whatever it is, when you travel to come closer in love to God, you will experience the greatest gift there, the gift of Jesus, the gift of love.
“The power of our Lord Jesus strengthen you to do his work.” One of my favorite verses of Scripture comes from Paul – glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Do not ever think that the work relies on you. The ministry of this parish does not rely on you. The work of the kingdom does not rely on you. The work, the ministry, the task needs you yes – we are called into the work of Christ, but the work relies on the power of Christ, the power of God. The work also isn’t yours by the way, it is God’s work. Our task is to discern what work God is calling us into and then cooperate with God. It is a very freeing experience when you come to realize that the world does not need to be saved – that has already happened! It is very freeing when you come to understand that you are not actually needed for the world to keep turning. There is a big difference between being the one who cooperates with and participates in the work of God, and the one who thinks God relies on you for everything to turn out ok. Of course we are called into work God has given us. And every Sunday we pray that God send us out into that work. And we do need the strength of the power of God for that work, for the work of the kingdom, the work of love and compassion and mercy and forgiveness and justice and peacemaking, this is not easy or trivial work. But when we know that we don’t need to rely on our our strength but God’s strength, then our weak hands our made strong, our tired backs invigorated, our hearts enlarged. For with the power of God working in us there is literally nothing we cannot accomplish. Humans limit what we can do when we think it is up to our own power. God can do infinitely more than we can even imagine. Over and over in scripture we are told to offer ourselves and our gifts to the work of God, and God takes those gifts and does amazing things.
This parish is doing amazing things. We have offered ourselves, our gifts, and we are doing the work of God here in the Valley. Don’t stop. Don’t spend time worrying about what will happen “if” or “when” simply faithfully continue to seek out the work God is giving you, ask the questions, pray for the strength, and do the work. Remember that the work can and will change over time in the exact way it looks. Don’t ever think you should not let a ministry die – resurrection can only take place through death. Sometimes it is necessary for a ministry to die. It is through the intentional discernment of ministry for the here and now, and the prayers for the power of Christ that you will be strengthened and empowered for God’s work. In our baptism we vow to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves, we vow to strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being, this is our work, this is God’s work.
“The grace of our Lord Jesus fill your soul.” Fundamentally it is about grace, the grace of God which has been given to all of us. Theologians like to define different types of grace, I find it usually more helpful to simply understand that grace is a free gift offered to all. We don’t have to work for it, we don’t have to earn it, we don’t have to prove ourselves worthy of it, we simply are invited to accept it and let us fill our souls.
I offer this blessing every week because when we have the love of Jesus, the power of Jesus and the grace of Jesus we have all we need. To many in the world we might appear small and weak, but the ways of Jesus have never been the ways to the world. With the love, power and grace of Jesus we can indeed be witnesses to a way a life which is love, which is mercy and justice and forgiveness and compassion and healing. We can offer to all around us the answer to why we do this – why do we come here week after week and participate in worship and teaching and service – it is because this way of life makes a difference – it makes a difference to each one of us and it makes a difference in a world which desperately needs our witness.
I have loved being here with all of you. I have loved serving here as the rector. You have been a family not only to each other but to me. I will always love Nativity. I will continue that the love, power and grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. I will continue to pray that you will reach out arms of love to all around, that you will continue to feed body, mind and soul, that you will claim the power of God to do great things.
I am not the same as I was 11 years ago when I came here. You have helped me grow, you have helped me become the priest I am today. You are not the same parish you were 11 years ago either. Now it is time for you to have a new rector, one who will lead you in the next chapter of your ministry. I am convinced that God will lead you to the person who will be right for the parish, to the priest who will be able to help Nativity take the next faithful step forward in its walk with Jesus. I know that some here are worried, perhaps even afraid about what lies ahead. Let me remind you all that God tells us to not be afraid. and as Jesus said to Martha, do not be worried or distracted, it is when we allow ourselves to be distracted by the small and mundane tasks of our parish that we can lose sight of the greater ministry. Do not be afraid. God is with you, God loves you, God will never leave you, and so glory to God, whose power working in us, can do infinitely more than any of us can ask or imagine.