A Sermon Preached by the Rev

A Sermon Preached by the Rev


Time to Set Out for the Open Seas

A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Ledlie I. Laughlin

St. Columba’s Episcopal Church

Matthew 21:23-32 ~ October 1, 2017

Two weeks after white nationalist violence erupted in Charleston, four members of the clergy wrote an Op-Ed in the NY Times (9.1.17) challenging moderate progressive Christians to not wait for what they called “the perfect protest.” Providing historical context from the glory days of the 1960’s, the authors wrote,“The civil rights movement was messy, disorderly, confrontational and yes, sometimes violent. Those standing on the sidelines of the current racial-justice movement, waiting for a pristine or flawless exercise of righteous protest, will have a long wait.”

The message? Listen to your heart and faith, then act.

Is there a perfect response to a natural disaster such as the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, or by Irma or Harvey? Is our government doing everything possible? Are we? In giving or advocacy? Are you? Is not the most important thing to listen to your heart and faith, then act?

I spent many summers working as a journeyman carpenter. Every once in a great while, I had the privilege of building something new in the shop, but ninety percent of the time, we had to fix something broken. Two summers ago, when I joined the SCAP crew (St. Columba’s Appalachian Project), we didn’t have the option of providing a brand new kitchen for Betty and Barbara, but with a little gerry-rigging here, some new plywood there, add another elbow to that pipe, we had it good to go. Same with Rebuilding Together. Same with cooking a delicious dinner for friends, a delicious meal for guests at the water ministry. Same with singing an anthem, or arranging flowers for the altar. Same with initiating a challenging conversation with someone whose political views don’t align with our own. We do not, cannot wait for the perfect. We listen to our heart and faith, then we act.

It’s a curious parable Jesus tells of the two sons. We don’t know why the one said yes, then didn’t, nor why the other said no, then did. But there’s no doubt about the better course; just do it.

Perhaps Jesus is addressing those among us who have tidy minds, who prefer things to cohere and be in correct alignment (I am among them – eldest child, rule follower). I love the symmetry of the choristers’ prayer from the Royal School of Church Music, preferably recited with a British accent: “Bless, O Lord, us Thy servants who minister in Thy temple.Grant that what we sing with our lips we may believe in our hearts,and what we believe in our hearts we may show forth in our lives.” This is, it seems to me, just as it should be; the right sequence.

But over the years I’ve spent a lot of time with Christians – and those of other faiths too, but I’m going to keep this within the family. And frankly, I find I’m less and less interested in what you tell me you believe or who you believe in. Rather, show me; show me how you live. For then I will see and know what you believe; I will know who and what you value. “Which of the two did the will of his father?”

If you want to know what I value, look at two things: look at my calendar and look at my bank account. I’ll tell you what you’ll find: that it’s a pretty mixed bag – ways that I use, invest or spend my time, my talent, my treasure that are true to and reflect my values and beliefs, my love and my relationships, and other ways… well, not so much. So, I’m kind of liking Jesus’ parable right about now, because I’m hearing that whether I said I would and I did not, or said I would not and I did, or maybe one voice within me one day and one the next, Jesus is ever offering the opportunity for a new way, a fresh start. Jesus isn’t asking what I said, what I promised, even what I believe. Jesus is looking to see if I’m going to act. And act today.

You and I have each received a most extraordinary gift. God has planted within the soul of each one of us a vision of the world as it could be, of heaven, of the realm of God – of reconciliation among all persons, of reparation, justice, and love. We each host the vision from a different angle, our unique perspective. We each have received gifts with which we can point the way, gifts that enable us to take steps toward that vision.

We’re not alone: on days when for us the vision has dimmed, when clouds of despair or exhaustion overwhelm our sight,we’ve lost our way, entangled in misguided pursuits…. We are blessed to have this community of St Columba’s with whom to gather, who will pray with us and for us, who will take our hand, and help us recall the vision from God.

The church offers a way of connecting to something far greater than ourselves, and encourages us to offer healing and hope to a world in need. It’s not all neat and tidy. That’s part of the beauty; we’re a church that values deeply the struggle and the difficult questions. We’re a church where it is safe to doubt and name those doubts, where it is safe to believe and to name that belief, safe to step out and try.

The vision is precious beyond measure. The community is alive, robust, engaged. The love of God, the Way of Christ, and the winds of the Holy Spirit are powerfully alive among us.

So, I have an ask: I ask you to invest in this vision. Please know that I know that some of you have so much more than you possibly need, and I know some of you don’t have enough to make payments coming due this week. I am asking every single one of you to make a financial pledge to the ministry of this church as a way to help bring about the vision God planted in your soul. I’m asking you to listen to your heart and faith, then act. Act; step out in trust. The vision of God will not be realized until everyone’s in. We cannot get there without one another. The goal of our vestry, our elected leaders, this year is 100% participation in pledging among all our members, and if you think you’re not a member, let me help you become one; let me help me you act today on the faith and vision in your heart.

Because God is the one who has given us life, given us time, talents, and treasure, what we do with these gifts is holy. If you think I’m mixing spiritual matters of the heart with material matters of the church, then you’re right on the mark, for this human vessel, this community of St. Columba’s is altogether holy, the embodiment of Christ, even with our dings and scratches.

A vital part of my own spiritual practice is to give 10% of my income to the work of God through the Church as my pledge, and together Sarah and I give to a number of organizations we care about. When I first embarked on this path of stewardship, I was giving a mere fraction of one percent and could not imagine giving even two percent. Time and again Jesus reminds us of the vision within and calls forth our generosity.At every step, greater generosity is met with deeper gratitude and abundance. Henri Nouwenconfirmed my own experience when he said, “You won’t become poorer, you will become richer by giving.”

With the vision of God on our horizon, I view St. Columba’s as a great ship, a sea-going vessel, constructed for adventure and voyage on the high seas. When I hear stories of the glory days of yore, I picture you all out there in deep water, salt and sea-spray with wind in your hair. A great adventure. Jesus’ call of discipleship is a call to adventure, to follow and lead, and go to places yet unknown, to serve and heal, to teach and love. In the high waves, it’s all hands on deck. Everyone is essential.

During more recent years, attention was necessarily turned inward. We came into harbor to make some repairs, take on supplies, patch a tear here or there. Now, the great beyond beckons once more. The Spirit of the living God is calling us to faithful action. The wind is picking up. Sailors clamber up the rigging. Some take oars. Others scan the horizon, and others tend the galley, each with a gift.It’s time we set out, so I end with a prayer attributed to Sir Francis Drake (a questionable moral compass but fine navigator and good at prayers):

“Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well-pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little, when we arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore. Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess, we have lost our thirst for the water of life.

Stir us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wilder seas where storms will show your mastery, where in losing sight of land we shall find the stars. We ask you to push back the horizons of our hope, and to push us into the future in strength, courage, hope and love. This we ask in the name of our Captain, who is Jesus Christ. Amen.”