Today is a banner day for our parish community. Just a few minutes ago, we officially concluded the project that produced, among other things, this building.
We trace our history in this place back 74 years to January of 1944 when 56 Episcopalians gathered with the help of the Bishop and two parishes in Austin to establish a mission in the new neighborhoods of West Austin. This was the edge of town, the streets were just being paved and houses built. And this group of 56 met in a vacant storefront in the shopping center across the street – maybe where you parked today – until they built what’s now the parish hall in 1945 and began worshipping there. They thought that folks could benefit from hearing something about – as Jesus puts it – something about the way and the truth and the life proclaimed in this place and in the Episcopal tradition.
And some of those first parishioners – folks who were kids then – are here today. But by and large, we’re all people who came later. Those first parishioners who envisioned this place – we all benefit from the vision they had, from the time and money they gave, the buildings they built, even though they never could have guessed that you or I would be here 74 years later.
Over the last five years, we’ve built something for the future too. It affirms that we find value in the tradition that’s been handed to us. And it affirms that we are called to build something new. Those twin goals are a hallmark of the church. As one priest defines it, the church is the group of people that “holds the Mystery” – capital M Mystery – “together.” We’re the people holding the mystery of God for our time and place. And one of the things we know about God is that God is always making things new. It’s one of the themes of our Gospels – and it goes for you and me and for our parish community. God is always making things new.
Communities aren’t static; our parish community is always making decision that point us one direction or another. And that’s what we’ve done in concrete and steel and stone over the last few years…we’ve made decisions that point us in new directions.
Jesus says in today’s Gospel that he’ll gather the whole disparate flock into one. “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them too,” he says. Those founding members handed us a tradition that shows us the value of community. We can’t take this journey alone. It means we’re willing to share difficulty and joy together, to be human together. It doesn’t fix everything but it’s an essential element of knowing the holy in our lives…you are not alone…it’s Jesus’ promise at the end of Matthew’s gospel…the central promise of Matthew’s Gospel…”I am with you always,” Jesus says, “to the end of the age.” We need each other to know this promise in our lives.
Your gifts let us affirm this tradition and affirm that God is building community here in new ways. We all benefit from new people and the new perspectives that they bring. Our buildings both reflect that growth and allow it to continue. And your gifts let us affirm that growth for us shouldn’t just take place in Tarrytown…that we benefit from a journey shared with people from all over this city. And your gifts made the Hill possible, and even if you never go there, both of our campuses are different and broader because of the new people who join our community at the Hill. It’s an affirmation that we find God in everyone, it’s a hard truth to enact, and I am so proud of this community for taking the risk to enact it.
So often this room and building creates community. Last week it was the St. Anne’s luncheon meeting, other times its parish dinners, often it’s funeral receptions – sometimes for people central to the life of this community and sometimes for people we barely know – where this room is full of people here to say I am so sorry, and you’re not alone, and I’m with you until the end of the age. That is God in people and places; and the building you build makes it possible.
And this building is responsible for the hundreds of young families who come to know our tradition through Good Shepherd Episcopal School, and my own study of scripture is deeper because I share that study with others – specifically the men of Men’s Bible and Brew, just upstairs from here on Monday nights at 6:30. Join us. We don’t journey alone. Your vision and your gifts over the last five years have made that possible.
It’s difficult to share the journey with others. We’re all made in the image of God, but as one of my favorite spiritual teachers, Ed Bacon, says, in some people God is heavily disguised. And that makes it doubly impressive that you value growth and diversity – it is hard work gathering those flocks together– it is God’s work.
The Build the Beloved Community campaign was our of way writing a new direction in our narrative: we’re open and welcoming; we want new perspectives, new neighbors. Another way to say this is that we’re about new life. And there’s something about new life in the book that I just read to you from. Making something new out of the old. It takes courage – individually and collectively — to re-write our story from time to time in the direction of new-ness, of community, of growth, of love, of God.
Part of what makes it much a pleasure to serve this parish and all of you, is that this project affirmed for all of us that we are generous people– y’all are so generous. Our New Testament reading is about this today too. Listen again to a portion of the reading:
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common…. as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
This is one of those passages that will make us glad that we’re not Biblical literalists. Our context is a little different. Our economic system more complex. Our call is not to try to be like and act like people from the first century – our call is to hear and respond to God in the time and place we find ourselves. These early apostles were trying in their way to bend their circumstances to enact God’s love in the small community in which they lived. That’s our call too: to bend the narratives in which we find ourselves a little more towards fairness and generosity and love. And for us it doesn’t mean sharing one big joint checking account – but it does mean making sure that we consider where we need to be more generous. And these buildings are a visible sign of that generosity.
And all of this reminds us that we find God in the stuff of the world. That’s a central truth of Jesus, of God made human. That we find God in people and places. In buildings and in the communities of people that buildings make possible. For us God is incarnate in these buildings. The ones that enable a growing parish, an open and outward looking community, a loving parish reaching out to new neighbors, that’s what your gifts and your vision have made possible.
Our Gospel reading last week was Jesus’ first public statement in the Gospel of Mark – his first mini-sermon — and remember what Jesus said: “repent”, or a better translation: “change your mind” or “Go beyond the mind that you have.” Or put another way, from time to time re-assess your story and – where it has gotten stuck – bend it towards God’s love. That’s what we’ve done corporately over the last five years – your vision and your gifts made it possible. Thanks be to God. Now it’s our pleasure, it’s our joy, it’s our call, to live as fully as we can into that vision.