Rector’s Annual Address

Let us pray

Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

I offer this beautiful prayer taken from our prayer book for many reasons.  First and foremost, for the courage and grace our country needs right now. For the faith and focus our parish embraces truthfully right now. And, finally, for those who are searching and treading on both old and new territory, as they seek to not only find their voices, but their way in and on uncommon and yet still holy ground.

            We have a handful of parishioners and friends who headed down to Washington this weekend.  Also, here in New York. Not for the inauguration festivities but for the Women’s March on Washington. As we have been home this week preparing for our annual meeting they have been on my mind.

I have tried to separate out my thoughts and feelings regarding the election and the women’s march with the work we have to do here at the parish. But everything just keeps merging together. Jesus’ witness in our Gospel reading today feels so real. John’s arrest sets some kind of juxtaposition into play.

            As I mentioned in this week’s Epistle scholars differ on the meaning of his return.  Did he withdraw to safety?  Or did he march forward with vigor?  Whatever his disposition he took action along the way and movement transpired. People followed. 

            To be sure, my marching days are over. I don’t want to be in a crowd of a hundred let along a million. But I do have my thoughts. My passions.  I would like to share with you the march that takes place in my heart.

 

My passion for women’s freedom, or anyone’s for that matter, is not so much focused on health, reproductive rights or even sexuality, as much as on/for basic human dignity. When the world wants to get serious about stopping the use of little girls as credit cards for a bottle of milk or any other material need… I’ll fight ‘til the death for that. When this country decides it truly wants to respect the legitimacy of women in office and in religion….I’ll burn my bra for that. When we as women decide to stop allowing our bodies to be used as advertisement and entertainment….I will get down on my knees for that.

But until then, I will simply continue to march every week down this center aisle, stand in this pulpit, celebrate that Eucharist while proclaiming God’s hope and love and joy and light to whoever will listen. In our little world of following the Gospel of Jesus Christ here at St. John’s, we march forward and do our best.   

One of my favorite examples of marching in that light came on Christmas Eve.  When it came time to transfer the light of Christ at the end of mass, I walked over to my prayer desk, picked up my candle and just then realized we had perfectly planned every little detail in the service except lighting the candles. Sometimes, you just have to rely on the Holy Spirit.

So, with as much grace as I could muster, I picked up my candle, went over to the candelabra on the altar, lit my candle and turned to light whoever was closest. And then, as if perfectly rehearsed, Electra walked up to the steps and reached out to have her candle lit. And then turned and offered the light to the congregation.

The beauty in that moment was in Electra’s coming forward to receive….and then turning to offer out. No hesitancy. No question of legitimacy. No fear. Only the desire and understanding in the light that needed to be shared.

It is to that same desire and understanding that my own personal call, my passion, my march for this parish and our world take root. As I study the need of the Church at large, the growth of this parish and my own experience, I see clearly my personal mission.

And it’s quite simple. Focused.  My march is to not allow another generation of children or current adults, to grow up without knowing there is a God. There really is a greater power other than ourselves. And that greater power loves us no matter what. Understanding that fact and feeding the desire within each one of us is my mission. And I believe the mission of the church and this parish.

            One of our challenges here at St. John’s is that this building was built as a chapel.  Not a full church facility. It’s the reason why we are always compromising on where and how to make an event or ministry happen properly. Our current challenge, and it’s a good one, is we are at the start of another upswing, another life cycle in the church. A cycle of children, young families and young adults are finding their way through our doors.

            Our Sunday morning Family Mass at 9:30 brings in a new face almost every week. This past Christmas Eve our 5pm Family service welcomed 113 people. The same growth is happening at our 11am mass. Almost every Sunday we see a new face in the pews. It’s very clear to me that, while we continue to minister to our current congregation and outreach programs such as Sacred Space, we need to prepare for the next generation of seekers, both young and not so young. We need to provide worship, yes.  But what’s really needed is basic spiritual and Christian Education for children, our youth and adults.

            Through the help and heart of our newly ordained deacon Matthew Moore, we have already begun discussions with the Dean of Education and Dean of Fine Arts at Brooklyn College to design a new open space, teaching facility downstairs in our Undercroft.  Conceptually, we will be utilizing the walls, doors and archways to tell a story of our Judeo-Christian history and future through art, design and education. We are even working through how to show and teach our connection through Abraham to the Islam faith.  When you join us after mass for the annual parish meeting I will share more details as to how this will be accomplished.

            A bigger question may be….how to we pay for it? That answer takes me to a deeper and more personal place.

            As some of you know in August my family cottage in Maryland was destroyed in a freak or as the insurance people call it an “act of God” accident. Late afternoon on Aug14th, I entered into a heated, one way dialogue with God. In preparing for some minor renovations to the roof I was being asked to cut down a dead tree before work began. The cost to take down this dead tree was $9,800. I found myself on a Sunday afternoon pacing back and forth in my apartment and talking out loud to God in a stern all too familiar manner.

            I kept raising my voice, looking up and asking the question:  “Can’t you find something better to do with $10,000 than to take down a dead tree?? The question came out of my mouth at least five times, in a variety of colorful ways, until I finally resigned myself t, “Fine, let’s spend $10,000 to take down your dead tree.”

            Now, I didn’t have $10,000.  But, it’s all about moving forward in faith….right?

            About 5 hours later I received a call from my neighbor down in MD informing me that the dead tree had fallen down on top of my home and everything, absolutely everything, is gone. I knew in that moment that God was now asking me the question:  Can’t you find something better to do with $10,000?”

            For those of you who attended our Legacy Society Kick-off luncheon you heard this story and my decision to leave $10,000 in my will to St. John’s. And that is all done. Paperwork is in place for that to happen. But, over the last several months, the question kept coming back to me.

            As my insurance agent and contractor have been dialoguing back and forth about rebuilding and costs I knew the question of the money had not been answered.  Until now.

As the idea for the Christian Learning Center became clear, in a much deeper and more humbling prayer and conversation with God, I made decision to take a dead tree in Maryland,

and repurpose, redefine and re-create its spirit alongside God and you here at St. John’s.

            And it was the easiest check I ever wrote.

Now please understand, this is not a stewardship sermon asking for money. My hope in sharing this with you is two-fold:

One, we are here at this church to deepen, question and respond to the light that is offered. And, we are to take that desire and understanding, through our relationship, with God and each other, and offered it out. It’s as simple and as complex as that. We are here to learn. We are here to grow. We are here to live out the Gospel that Christ has provided for us.

My march with God has brought me here.

My relationship with God has diverted my talents and vulnerabilities to be shared with those who I interact with here.

My life with God teaches me that all things are inter-related. All things affect one another. All things are designed to love one another.

And I pray that as this parish continues to grow so that we all understand the power of that something greater that is out there to love us.  

 

Let us pray.

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
our Lord.

Amen