Rector's Address: 2013
St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church Annual Meeting Address, January 27, 2013
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21
Our Focus for 2013
Has anyone here ever put together a personal mission statement? They usually include a sentence about who you are, what your gifts are, and what you want to do. Some people put them on their resumes. It is always helpful to have clarity about our gifts and passions and how God is calling us to use them for the greater good. This knowledge enables us to know when to say “yes and no.”
In our Gospel reading from Luke it sounds like Jesus is giving his personal mission statement. While his words include his life’s focus and calling, he is reinterpreting tradition for his hearers in terms they can understand. Drawing from a passage his fellow Jews would know by heart, Jesus claims that he is the one Isaiah was talking about.
Imagine being in the Nazareth synagogue when Jesus, returning to his home town, stands up, and declares that he is the one to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy. The Spirit of the Lord is upon him. God has anointed him to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of Jubilee – the year of the Lord’s favor. In a nutshell Jesus says I am here to fulfill God’s mandate as well as the hopes and deepest longings of the poor and ostracized.
In our reading from 1 Corinthians Paul similarly does some interpretive work for the Gentile Christians in Corinth to whom he writes. He describes life in Christian community as being like a body. Speaking to a group of Christians concerned about who among them is most spiritual, Paul says that in Christ we are a body. Some are are eyes, others ears, others arms, others legs. Let’s not single out one or two gift sets as being the most important. We need everyone and their gifts in order for the body of Christ to function.
Most of us don’t think much about our bodies until something stops working. The body is miraculous in how all the separate parts – the organs, and veins, and muscles, interrelate and work together. While we are understandably frustrated when something stops functioning, it is amazing how often so many different parts work together. When they do we feel good, we function fully, we are able to reach our full potential.
Further, in a body, diversity is important and valuable. Through the Spirit, Paul notes, we were all baptized into one body. Through baptism Jews, Greeks, slave, and free have all become one.
St. Matthew’s is a faith community blessed with more diversity than I’ve ever before experienced in an Episcopal Church. We have social, theological, racial and cultural diversity, and yet Paul is telling us that through baptism and by the work of the Holy Spirit we are brought into one body in which there are many gifts. This diversity is a blessing, and the more diverse we are, the more we reflect God’s kingdom or reign.
Seven and a half years ago I accepted a call to serve at St. Matthew’s because you told me you wanted to go deeper spiritually. Together and by God’s grace and leading we have gone deeper spiritually – and it has been truly exciting to see the fruit of that commitment.
At this point in our life together we still need to learn more about how to interpret Jesus’ teachings and those of other Christian leaders in language we can understand. What does it mean to be followers of the Way of Jesus in 2013? What does the Gospel look like as it is lived out in our in our homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, and world?
Whereas the dominant American culture tells us that we are responsible for finding meaning and constructing our own identity individually, the scriptures have a different story to tell. They tell us that meaning and identity are conferred by God – not something we invent. They tell us that fullness of life and purpose come when God works in and through community and relationships. They tell us that the Way of Jesus frees us to live for others. They tell us that our lives have meaning when they are rooted in a deep tradition, as Jesus’ was.
This past spring and summer a Discipleship Task Force appointed by the vestry interviewed twelve focus groups representing a broad cross section of our faith community. Those interviewed most appreciated the following aspects of St. Matthew’s: that we are together in our differences, the culture of bottom up leadership, the variety of liturgical practices and music, the sermons, the Eucharistic invitation, the fact that there are multiple opportunities to serve, the widespread inclusion of children, and the fact that members of our faith community have “voice.”
They also articulated a desire to grow “closer in our differences, to go deeper in our relationships with God, one another, and our neighbors, and to go deeper in spiritual practices, especially contemplative practices. They wanted to understand and integrate scripture and Christian traditions – including spiritual practices – into our everyday lives. They want to continue to learn in safe spaces where they can question and grapple with Jesus’ teachings. They also want to learn how we can better support our children and youth. Last but not least there is a desire to develop a common language for an expansive and generous vision and expression of the Christian faith and life.
We will spend 2013 looking at these important questions together. We will avoid the temptation to jump to programmatic solutions. Instead, we will follow the course we have followed these last seven years, of creating spaces for prayer, honest discussion about important questions, and co-learning, where we can learn more about the Spirit’s leading through trial and experimentation.
Ultimately, we at St. Matthew’s find our mission—both personally and communally—in Jesus’ mission of healing, liberation, proclaiming good news to the poor and the rich, and sharing in God’s kingdom. Let us discover together what that means for us in deep engagement with voices of the Christian tradition, one another, and our world. Amen.