Sermon; 12 Pentecost/Proper 16A; Romans 12:1-8
I don't preach on Romans very often. In fact, I believe this might be the first time I've done so. One of the basic reasons for this is that Romans is a long, carefully worded document from Paul focusing on basic Christian tenets, a Jewish/Gentile divide, as well as an attempt to garner support for his mission. Good or bad, this long letter has probably done more to shape Christianity than any other piece of scriptural writings.
Because of both its content and its length, it is difficult to use as the basis of a sermon series. Add to that the way the lectionary chops it up, and you would do a grave injustice to it. Romans is much better suited to an in-depth study than a series of sermons.
That said, today's passage was just too good to pass up – especially given where we are as a parish right now.
In two weeks we will celebrate St. John's Day and hold a ministry fair. During that time you will get to see all of the different ministries we offer. You will also have the opportunity to sign up to participate in as many of those ministries as you choose. Along with that, though, please remember that it's not quantity, but quality. If you only sign up for one thing and do it well, that's preferable to signing up for many things and doing none.
The Ministry Fair is also the lead-in to our annual pledge drive, as this event focuses on the time and talent portion of what we pledge to the life of St. John's. It is through our time and talent where the work of ministry is done. Our time and talent are the visible incarnations of our pledge to the church and to the mission of God.
As we move forward as Christians, Episcopalians, and members of St. John's, we need to continually ask ourselves, “Who is God calling us to be?” and, “What is God calling us to do?” Maybe we are called to increase the Community Cafe one Saturday a month so that we serve people on both the 2nd and 4th Saturdays. But that particular decision will only happen when we spend time discerning God's call for us, when we look at the time and talent offered, and when we evaluate the increased financial base something like that will require. But that's just one example. Maybe we are called to expand our relationship with Bester, or increase our involvement with Micah's Backpack, or maybe we offer an Evensong service one or more times a week.
All of this gets back to what Paul has to say in this passage from Romans, and it is all tied to the question of priorities. There are, of course, exceptions – I will never ask anyone to choose between paying their pledge and buying food or necessary medicine. But in general, where is your faith and your parish on your personal priority scale? Are we presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable, to God?
The Church, and by extension our parish, can only be identified by its people. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity in God through Christ. How that happens, though, is as wide and varied as the people who make up the body of this holy institution.
We are one body with many members, and not all members have the same function. Each of us have different gifts, and those different gifts allow us to do many different things.
This is, I think, both the blessing and curse of St. John's. It's a blessing because we do a lot of stuff. I've said this before, but that was one of the things that originally attracted me to the parish profile. There is a lot going on here. And, as I said in the newspaper article that ran shortly after I arrived, this is a place that gets it. You understand that “church” isn't just what happens between 8 and Noon on Sunday.
But it's also a curse in that because we are a fairly large congregation there may be a tendency to think, “Oh, someone will take care of that.” It's a curse in that it's easy to hide in a large congregation. It's easy to think that we can simply write a check to pay for a particular ministry.
The reality is, though, that a few people do most of the work, and they could use help. The reality is that we are not as financially sound as people might think, and the amount of money we have is strictly based on how much you pledge and donate.
How might we combat this curse? If you haven't read Soundings yet, I'll give you a sneak peak of my upcoming Ramblings – I think we might need to think small. Here's what I mean by that.
When I was in Montana I served two small congregations. One of them was in the big town of the valley with a population of 700, and when I arrived they had about a dozen members – all women, all but one over 70 years old. By the time I left, their membership had increased to about 45. But this isn't about that increase, it's about what they do.
That parish maintains their old building. A new roof went on while I was there, and they just did the 10-year re-oiling. They've made other improvements like new carpet, repairing stained glass windows, painting, and installing a new furnace. They've opened up their parish hall for community events and after-school programs. They coordinate a community worship service once a year. They involve the community in Holy Week events. They run a wood bank where they harvest, cut, stack, and deliver wood to those who can't afford to heat their homes. They participate in the meals-on-wheels program. They can do all this and more because EVERYONE participates. Everyone utilizes their gifts and talents as different members for the benefit of the one body.
As we prepare to move into the pledge drive season, it is a good thing to acknowledge all that we do. But I also stand with Paul when I say, “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice to God.” Yes, we are a large parish. Yes, we do a lot. But everything we do is the result of the work and gifts of individuals. It just may be that in thinking small we will accomplish much greater things.