I want to start off today with an idea, summed up in a quotation from a priest that I respect. Here’s the quotation: “God’s revelations are always concrete and specific. Revelation is… something or someone you meet.”(1) I could spend the next few minutes talking about religious ideas and if I did that well, I could sound like a guy who knows something about God, but chances are good that we will still be missing God. Because the point of the quotation is that God is present in the people and events of our lives.
Think about the times you have experienced love, the times you have experienced forgiveness – just to name a few – and you will know how true this is. God comes to us as something or someone.
That’s why the church matters to us. We need a physical expression of God. We need a place to go, people to see, “revelation is something or someone.”
It’s why the names we’ll read in a few minutes – the people we’ll remember – it’s why they’re so meaningful to us. They have been to us a revelation of the Holy – “revelation is something or someone.”
Paul writes in our epistle today about how we’re connected to God and to each other. When the Book of Common Prayer defines in one sentence the mission of the church – it says that the mission of the church is to restore us to union with each other and with God.(2) Restore our connection to each other and to the Holy.
I like to stay in my head…to think about God…about religious ideas…but what we’re doing here is about our hearts. One author says that “we think that beliefs are something in our head but really belief is something in our heart…it’s about what we live out of” – that’s what he says.(3) Belief – religious belief – operates from the intersection of our values, and our soul, and our calling to a purpose beyond just us. That’s the place where we connect with other people in love. These connections with God that Paul is writing about, the connections with others that are the mission of the church, they happen from our hearts, when we live out of our hearts.
We like to project an image that we have it all together– there’s an app for that, actually several – the ones where you see the photo perfect home-cooked meal, the perfect family vacation – When I’m honest with myself, for me, there’s always a gap between the person that I am and the person that I’d like to be. I bet that’s the same for you. Peter Rollins, the author I quoted, he says that there’s always a distance between who you are and the person you want to be.(4)
To love someone is to see that gap, to see the ways they fall short of being the person they want to be – and to love them in that gap. The author that I’ve been quoting, he says that the connection of love, the miracle of love, happens when we give to someone else the ways we fall short and the other person says I fall short too, let’s work together to draw out better versions of ourselves.(5) That’s the miracle of love. I don’t mean that you say it consciously, but you know it even still – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
And the same is true for us as a community. We live with a gap between the world we want – one of justice and fairness and freedom – and the world that we actually inhabit.(6) Same is true for us as a parish: we want a parish where everyone feels welcome, where everyone experiences connection – but sometimes we fall short of those goals. Corporate love – the love that we can express as a community – looks like honestly acknowledging that our life together – internally and externally – falls short sometimes of our high call but love looks like striving for that high call, those high ideals, anyway. And in that striving we can be a place that draws out the best in each other.
It starts with humility — an honest assessment. One of the reasons that I’m excited to be part of this community at Good Shepherd is that we take our call to do this seriously. Together, we take our call to an honest assessment of what we do well and where we fall short, we take that call seriously.
This is a great neighborhood; it has a sense of community; it’s super convenient; we’re lucky to be here. But it also limits the people we come into contact with as a parish. A few years ago, this community – all of you – realized that our mission calls us to be in more places that just this one, so we’ve made a significant commitment to spreading the love of Jesus in other parts of our city too. It’s an affirmation that Nothing can separate us from the love of God, not height nor depth, not powers nor principalities, not whether you are east or west of I-35. We average nearly 70 people at The Hill on Sundays this fall. And we’ll launch a new school there in 2018 that will reach out to underserved kids. And you may never visit The Hill – and that’s ok – but we all share the vision of a community that extends beyond this campus. We’re in the gap of who we are and who we want to be and we’re saying watch us do better. And your commitment to that vision makes me proud to be part of this community.
In 2018 we’re going to dream up some new ways to use our kitchens. Our kitchens – both here and at Woodland Ave — provide us with capabilities that we’re using now but not to their fullest extent. Many of you see an opportunity to engage more people in our shared ministry through cooking and feeding. We’re going to spread God’s love in 2018 with food from our kitchens.
This service has grown so much in the last several years, even just a few months ago we used to meet in the parish hall, and now we couldn’t fit in there. Many of you saw an opportunity to worship in new and creative ways, ways that engage our senses and spirit differently. You saw the gap and said we can fill it and look what you did. In 2018 we’re going to continue to grow this service to offer a contemporary, relevant, liturgical space.
I could keep going. All of this is in service of building, of revealing, the connection that Paul describes; the connection that is the mission of the church.
Here’s what I love about reading Paul’s letters. Paul is writing to folks who do not have it all together. That’s why he’s writing to these little communities of followers of Jesus around the Mediterranean. He’s writing them because they’re messing it up, they’re getting the message confused, they’re not acting with love for each other. And this is why I love reading Paul – it’s comforting to know that I’m not the only person who doesn’t get this all correct. I’m in good company when I want so much to live up to my values but I fall short. You with me?
They are letters to particular communities, and they’re addressing particular problems. They’re not about love in the abstract. They’re not sentimental, they’re not about how love will make you feel, they are about how these followers are Jesus are to love each other in particular situations. “God’s revelation is concrete and specific.” Love is an action. If you hear these letters as a one-size-fits all checklists of the way that love should make you feel, then you’ll miss the point: love is a verb; love is found in our actions and it is specific to the situations in which we find ourselves. It’s in how we treat the people around us, it’s in the concrete and specific, “God’s revelation is something or someone you meet.” It’s in those people who give themselves to us in love so that we are drawn to be better versions of ourselves. It’s those people who give themselves to creating community in places like this that we’re pulled toward being a better community. Love is “concrete and specific”, it’s “something or someone you meet.”