Year C; 3 Epiphany; 1.27.2019, Annual Meeting
St. Paul’s has made ourselves known to the neighborhood in several ways. One way is to welcome our neighbors with banners and yard signs. You have seen over the years the very large vertical banner hanging from the west side of the building. The street and foot traffic at the corner of Pleasant and Union Streets see it daily. That banner invites all people to join us for Family Worship at 9:30 am.
Another banner posted in the yard in front of the parish office shows an illustration of the Holy Family taking flight into Egypt from the story in Matthew’s gospel. This is the story about Joseph being informed in a dream to flee to Egypt ahead of Herod’s decree to kill all babies 2 years old and younger. You could call Mary, Joseph and Jesus asylum seekers. The sign reads, “Immigrants and Refugees welcome.”
And another sign also standing in front of our parish office is the tri-lingual neighborly welcome, “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.”
You could say by what we claim in our signage that St. Paul’s has a mission to welcome ALL people. And I would say that more and more we are living into that claim. If we take a look at our Annual Report for 2018, for example, you will read about the Living Local, Joining God in the Neighborhood Guiding Team’s activity around town. It was a diocesan-funded process to help us connect deeply with our neighbors. You will also see that our assistant rector for children and youth, Peggy Schnack, our full-time priest has an update on our mission to children, youth and their parents. And you will read about the annual mission of our Outreach Ministry Team.
Mission is important if a parish is to be faithful, compassionate and serious about following Jesus. In our reading from Luke’s Gospel today, we join Jesus just as he is beginning his earthly ministry. He was on a prophetic mission to declare God’s good news. He had returned to his hometown to make this declaration.
The gospel writer Luke wants us to know that Jesus came to share the good news of God’s love and mercy with ALL people, and he meant ALL people. You can see it in the genealogy from Chapter 3. It begins with Joseph and continues with “son of…son of…son of…son of…” you know, the “begats.” And ends with the first man Adam. The ancestor of Jesus was the first man! The ancestor of everyone is the first man! That hints to the reader that the preaching, teaching, healing, saving, loving and forgiving that Jesus was up to was for everyone. And his mission is our mission.
What can we learn about Jesus’ mission from this passage?
God intends that his love and mercy are for the poor, the prisoners, the blind, burdened and battered outside of the faith – AS WELL AS the faithful, those sitting in the synagogue. God’s love is intended for those sitting outside the faith as well as those sitting with their faith.
In this passage, Jesus was reminding them that God’s love and mercy is so vast that it extends to their down-trodden brothers and sisters. The Liberation theologians of the 20thCentury tell us in a wonderful phrase that the down-trodden and marginalized are even more precious in God’s eyes than the faithful. They refer to Luke Chapter 4 as proof that God has a “preferential option for the poor” because of their circumstances of suffering and the duty of Christians to “defend the defenseless.”
What can we learn about OUR mission from this passage?
One of candidates for the assistant rector for children and youth we interviewed this summer asked us an important question. At the end of the interview he asked, “If St. Paul’s ceased overnight to exist, would your neighbors notice? What would they miss?”
I immediately thought of our daily 12-step meetings. Neighbors walk to the Narcotics Anonymous meeting on Thursdays, the only one in Brunswick. One neighbor who runs the Monday night AA meeting walked over here last week to say that another meeting he goes to at another place had a flooded basement and could they meet at St. Paul’s for their Saturday meeting? You could call them refugees. And we greeted them here. That’s mission.
Ours is the only church in our area that keeps the doors unlocked during our open hours. In the last months several people in distress came to us looking for spiritual help and found our door to be the only one they could access. That’s mission.
Last week, when the snow storm predictions were dire, Peggy and I talked about our plan for Sunday Church. When I moved to Brunswick, I chose to live in a neighborhood that is close to church. I love to walk here in the snow – even snowstorms! One of the things Peggy and I considered was the need parishioners might have to get out into the winter air and be with people to worship.
Winters are long and interaction with friends is important. And we are a hardy sort at St. Paul’s! So, being open for those who wish to and can come to church was going to be important. In addition, though, we know that our neighbors might need a place of warmth where they could meet friendly and caring people. It’s rough out there on the street, and St. Paul’s is an oasis for those in need, even in a snowstorm. So, for the sake of our parishioners and guests, we kept our Sunday services and the doors open. That’s mission.
As we enter into this year as a parish, with the building renovations and our expanded mission to children and youth, with your generous gifts and pledges to make it happen – thank you! – I invite us to pray for our mission. An energy efficient building is Earth Care mission. Our care, instruction, love and nurture of people new to the faith: adults, youth and children is mission. Excellent adult formation programs and inspiring, beautiful worship and music is mission. Cards, phone calls and visits to our aging friends – that’s mission. Hospitable fellowship – that’s mission.
What if, in our daily prayers this year, we ask God to guide us to expand our mission that shares the good news of God’s love and mercy to all?