Several representatives from this covenant community went with me to our annual diocesan council on Friday and Saturday. We heard lots of reports and voted on resolutions but the keynote speaker really grabbed our attention. J. Clif Christopher wrote a book called “not your parents’ offering plate” which talks about stewardship. Pastor Christopher said many things which I know resonated with everyone in the room, sometimes in uncomfortable ways. But he said something that made me sit up and pay attention. He was talking about why people don’t give money to churches the way they used to. And he said this: people are not convinced that churches change lives.
Well, I’m here to tell you that St. David’s changes lives. Lives have always been transformed in this place. Our legacy through Margaret Mercer planted deep roots of justice and education and worship on this sacred ground. Our grace-filled rebirth which resulted in our beautiful sanctuary was clearly the work of the Holy Spirit. St. David’s has a legacy of thinking outside the box to live into God’s imagination for us. Every step along the way has deepened those roots, drawing from the well of living water that is at the center of our covenant community, the water of baptism, and the life-giving bread and wine at the table we share.
Lives are changed at St. David’s by the warmth and inclusiveness of our welcome. Our greetings at the front door are matched by our open invitation to the altar for the Lord’s Supper. I have seen visitors weep when they grasp that they are welcome at this table no matter who they are or where they’ve come from or what their life situation is. This is how Jesus welcomed and taught and loved. We make Christ known through this welcome. And God changes lives through this welcome.
Lives are transformed at St. David’s because we are committed to knowing Christ by asking the hard questions, vulnerable enough to share our joys and sorrows, open to transformation through the gospel. We are committed to translating what we hear on Sunday into change in how we live on Monday, Tuesday – every minute of every day. Our identity as a covenant community, defined by our 5 root values, gives us a framework to dig deep and grow tall, to deepen our spirituality in relationship with the risen Christ and with one another. Our 7 spiritual disciplines help make our beliefs real and tangible in the world.
We know who we are – a covenant community where no one stands alone - and why we are here – to know Christ and make Christ known – and we are well aware that being church is much bigger than even our beautiful glass-windowed sanctuary. We are seeking and finding something authentic, something meaningful, something eternal in this place, something we can commit to, give our lives to, something that transforms us.
St. David’s changes lives because here we find authentic, committed community. We are more than just people gathered together for an hour or more on a Sunday morning. We are woven into a fabric of community that embraces and supports us. Here we know each other’s names. Here we care about what’s happening with each other. Here we share our ‘highs and lows’, our joys and our fears and our wounds and our grief. And here we find comfort and healing.
Ms. Theresa – came through our doors by herself one day, and kept coming for the next two years. Her past was enigmatic, but her accent and her smile were charming. She loved being here and I know she felt loved here. For two years we gave her rides after church. And two weeks ago, when she was dying, caring members of St. David’s, without being coordinated at all, were at her bedside with her all day until she died.
Ask me about the preschool mom, with domestic problems, who with tears in her eyes says St. David’s is her “safe place. Ask me about the father who calls the office explaining that he is one payment from no heat in December. Ask me about the parents thankful to find a place which welcomes children to worship. A place to hear about a loving God. Little boy – if I was going to run away, I would run to St. David’s. Lives are changed here, transformed one by one.
St. David’s changes lives because we truly live out the priesthood of all believers. Everyone is gifted for ministry, and lay ministry is the tap root of this community. Our many ministries are strong and well-developed. Our outreach – locally, nationally and internationally – is strong. Our preschool is premier and intrinsic to our vitality and growth. Our vestry has done a marvelous job of shoring up our infrastructure, and providing sound and transparent fiscal management.
More than any church I know, St. David’s is alive with the Holy Spirit, transformed in tangible ways by God’s love and grace, always increasing in our love and knowledge of Jesus in body, mind and spirit and from that grace reaching out to make Jesus known to our hurting world.
In our gospel today, Jesus begins his ministry by reading a scripture which is, in essence, his mission statement, his job description. He reads from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And then Jesus rocks their world: “today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Today, as the body of Christ, committed to knowing Christ and making Christ known, the spirit of the Lord is upon us. The spirit of the Lord is upon us and today, we are being called, challenged, summoned to do the work of Christ in the world.
Christ calls us to do better, to do more. We are called to grow. For the past three years, we have stayed steady – in numbers and money. We can do better. We are called to grow. Now, I am not interested in increased numbers for numbers’ sake, or a new building for the sake of saying, “look what we built”. We are called to grow disciples – to continue to grow deep in knowledge and love of God and one another. We need to reach more people to share the amazing, transformational power of Jesus we find in this community. And we are called to grow in our reaching out as Christ’s eyes and ears and hands and feet in the world.
This is how we grow. One:
we strengthen formation. We continue to strengthen our Christian education/discipleship for all ages. We continue to strengthen our small groups. We strengthen our incorporation – moving people from visitors to first steps to involvement in small groups or ministry, to commitment to this community. We continue to follow the Holy Spirit in outreach, growing our feeding programs and caring programs and building relationships with other groups caring for those in need.
Growing deep disciples will grow the kingdom of God. Much of this work – most of this work is done by dedicated volunteer ministries, but we need paid staff to support their work. Our current budget does not allow for even the minimum clergy and staff, musicians and bagels to get the job done. Two,
we need to engage in year-round stewardship of time, talent and treasure. Eric Byer has graciously agreed to chair our effort in year round stewardship. He needs the support of vestry and congregation alike.
we spread the word about this community that transforms lives. We are the best kept secret in Ashburn. We need to be intentional about getting the word out about who we are and what we do. When people find us, they love us. We have to do better at helping people find us.
The potential for transformation in this covenant community is amazing. But at present, just like a plant which stops growing because the pot is too small, we are root bound. It’s time. We need a parish hall and kitchen. We will never have all ages Sunday School or multiple education classes if we don’t have enough room for them. We can’t feed people from here or provide relief from the cold or if we don’t have a kitchen. We need a parish hall to build community through parish wide events, to provide Sunday School for all ages, to expand our preschool, to give the youth a space to call their own.
I am creating a task force to make the parish hall a reality – to explore what plans have been made in the past, to dream about what can be. This team will be composed of vestry and parishioners and will report to me by June 3, 2013.
Our mission is to bring good news to the poor, to restore sight to the blind, to release the captive and oppressed. We need to stop thinking in terms of scarcity – what we don’t have, what limitations we face – and start thinking of abundance. What God calls us to do, God will equip us for. When we listen for God’s direction, when we act under God’s authority, God breathes life into our work and we will have what we need.
I thank you for the incredible gift of serving you as your rector. You bless me in so many ways. I look forward to growing with you this year.