Monday, December 5, 2011

You Have All You Need

I was asked to preach at my home church soon after the pastor announced that she would be leaving the congregation. It occurred to me that in times of change, it is often easier to focus on what we will miss than to remember what we still have. I hope this speaks to you.

A Letter from Paul
A sermon preached at the Metropolitan Community Church of New Haven, CT
November 27, 2011
(c) The Rev. Dr. Joan M. Saniuk

Today is the First Sunday of Advent, the first day of a new church year and the beginning of a time of spiritual preparation for Christmas. On this first day of a new year, I am doing something that is very unusual for me: I am preaching on the reading from Saint Paul. When I looked at the readings that are designated for today, in the Common Lectionary of the mainline Christian churches, I discovered that the first and last ones were about the end times. From Third Isaiah and from Mark, we have doom and gloom, shock and awe, war and destruction, fear and trembling. And in the middle of those two passages, there was a little word of hope from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. I was led to meditate on that word of hope this morning.

Paul wrote to the community in Corinth in a time that was unsettled and crazy, a time not unlike ours. As I meditated on his words, I began to wonder: If Paul were to write that letter to us, MCC New Haven, right here, right now, what would he say?

I invite you to imagine with me. I imagine that Paul’s letter to us would go something like this:

Paul, a servant of Christ, to the believers in New Haven: Grace and peace to you in the name of the Eternal One and in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ.

By the time you get this letter, you will be preparing to celebrate the coming of Christ Jesus. What an amazing love we celebrate! Christ, the ruler of the universe, gave up every type of privilege to come among us as one of us, to set us free from every evil. To Jesus be honor and glory, forever and ever! Amen!

Before I say anything else, I need to make an amends to all of you. I am humbled and awe-struck that after all these years, you find the voice of the Holy Spirit coming to you through my letters, God be praised! But at the same time, I am horrified to know that some people have used my words to hurt and demean you. I never intended to harm you so. However, since they are my words, I need to say that I am sorry: especially to those of you who are same-gender loving lovers of God, especially to the women, especially to those of you whose families have been made slaves and kept enslaved. I hope that I may count on your gracious forgiveness.

Speaking of grace, I want to remind you of some of the words that I still mean, with all my heart.
Through Jesus the Christ, you have been enriched, and strengthened, and filled with every spiritual gift that you need. I mean that; you have everything that you need!

I know of the faith that you have lived out together with your pastor, Marilyn, which will continue to sustain you after she has been called elsewhere. I know how much you rely upon God, and I know of the testimonies you have given: of how your lives have been changed, of how you have found the strength to go through each day, of how you have discovered joy in the unlikeliest places. I know that the Spirit will continue to be your guide, and that you will continue to follow where God leads you.

I know that you are not like those other churches who sit around and whine about what they don’t have, who make excuses like “if only we had such-and so, then we could begin our ministry.” Look at the gifts that you have! Gifts of love, of wisdom, of teaching and prayer and songs of praise, gifts of serenity and trust, of tenacity and creativity, gifts of generosity and mutual support – all of these are from God and give glory to God. You have everything that you need.

I know that you will remember to receive each other as gifts, and that you will honor and support each other in your crazy, varied giftedness. There are many gifts; there are many points of view; there are many different devotional styles; there are many ideas about what it means to follow Jesus; but all come from the same Spirit, from the same connection with the Christ, and all work together for good. Always remember that in MCC, God is making a completely new thing: a church that is not united by its theological dogmas but by one understanding and one mission, to proclaim God’s outrageous love for all people, without exception.

Finally, I know that you will continue to encourage one another, to strengthen each other, to build each other up. Jesus the Christ has set us free from fear: free from fear of sin, free from fear of death, free from fear of being stuck in destructive behaviors, free from fear of what other people will think. We have been set free! You have every gift you need, and there is nothing that stands in the way of the ministry to which God is calling you.

In closing, I pray that in this next month, you will return your focus again and again to prepare your hearts for the mind-boggling love we celebrate at Christmas. Just imagine: God is born among us as a tiny baby – not even a royal baby, but the first child of a poor woman who is far away from home. In this, Jesus proves that even the most unlikely place or person among the “99 percent” is good enough for God. Hallelujah! Amen!

The saints who have gone before you, and especially the brothers who have gone before you, send kisses and big hugs. And so do I. May the Spirit of Hope and Peace sustain you until we meet again.

Love, Paul

No comments:

Post a Comment