3/27/22 - Final Sermon
The Fourth Sunday in Lent
Last Sermon at St. Michael’s
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Paul wrote, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ.” In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
This is my last sermon to you. While I am excited at the prospect of retirement, I will miss all of you very much. I love you all. You have become dear to me in ways and to a degree that I cannot express. We have been through much together in these nine and half years. First there was healing and rebuilding. Then there was the capital campaign and the installation of four new windows. Then there was COVID. Now we seem to be emerging from the pandemic into the pain and destruction of war in the Ukraine. In three weeks we will all celebrate another Easter, though we will be apart.
As you know, it has been my practice to offer a snippet of teaching about the liturgy at the end of the announcements each week. This week, this homily will be a more extended liturgical teaching. You will notice that the altar has been removed from the crossing. Yes, we will be using the high altar instead. This is not merely because I am being self-indulgent on my last Sunday. It is also to give you an opportunity to experience this worship space as it was designed to be used.
This church has a cruciform floor plan. That is if you were to look down on it from above it would appear in the shape of a cross. The nave where you are sitting is the long upright of the cross. The sides or transepts that contain the piano on one side and the children’s chapel on the other are the arms of the cross. The chancel is the top part of the cross. In this kind of church, the idea is that the nave represents the world, and the chancel represents heaven. There is a spiritual journey when we come up to the high altar to receive communion. We leave the world and enter heaven where we participate in the heavenly banquet. Then, nourished by the divine food, we return to the earth to carry out our ministries of service and to proclaim the love of God.
In the second reading, we heard St. Paul say that Jesus came to earth for the purpose of reconciling us to God. God then commissions us also to be ministers of reconciliation in the world. We start by practicing reconciliation within our own faith community. Then having learned how to live with differences among ourselves and love each other despite them, we go into the world and practice our reconciling skills and offer God’s love through our own love.
I am very proud of you. for you have done just that. When I arrived nine and half years ago, you were already coming out of a period of division and conflict. You had looked at the dynamics withing the congregation and decided you did not like what you saw. You wanted to do better. And you did. You worked together. You went out of your way to get to know each other better. For two years we had supper groups in which we got to know those toward whom we might not normally gravitate. You are a diverse congregation in every way except color. We differ in our politics, our income, our churchmanship, our employment, our backgrounds, our education. And we treat each other as human beings made in the image of God.
Then you looked around and asked what kinds of needs were there among our neighbors. We found that there were many people suffering from food insecurity. We created a food pantry. We asked for and received help from all our neighbors in Litchfield. We now give away about a ton of food in a single hour every third Saturday.
We are blessed by getting to worship in the most beautiful church building in the diocese. As stewards of this treasure, we discovered that there was significant degradation of the stone work that needed to be addressed. To that end we raised $950,000 of our own money, and the Seherr-Thoss Foundation chipped in another half a million dollars. The repairs were made, and we had enough to install new stained glass windows in the west and south. In addition, two families each paid for new windows on the north side of the chancel.
Through it all we have maintained our high standards of music and liturgy. We have a music program out of all proportion to our size. We have been blessed with talented and dedicated directors and organists to lead us and an extraordinarily dedicated choir.
Then came COVID and we had to learn new ways of worshiping both together and at a distance. We kept up our rounds of daily prayer and weekly Eucharist. We kept singing and praying and serving. Now we see the light at the end of the tunnel. On Thursday we received an update from the bishops about changes in what we can do about communion. They said that is time to start thinking about returning to having wine at communion. We will offer that today. This is not required. Now must take the wine, and receiving the bread alone brings the same grace as receiving in both kinds. We do ask that you either drink from the cup or allow the Eucharistic Minister to intinct the wafer for you. We do not want anyone else’s fingers in the cup.
This is a great parish. I am very proud to have been part of your life for nine and a half years. This is the best job I have ever had. I have fallen in love with you, with this parish, and with this town. You are loving and giving. You treat each other with respect. And you know how to be whimsical and fun.
Our ways will now part. We each will step into new adventures. Yours will involve envisioning a new future for the congregation and calling a priest to walk with you. Alinda and I will have the time to explore new areas of learning and experience that we have been drawn to for a long time but have only been able to dabble in up to now. As we head into these new adventures, I want to pray the prayer of Sir Francis Drake, which I have used on occasion before:
Disturb us, O Lord, when we are too pleased with ourselves; when our dreams come true because we dreamed too little; when we have arrived in safety because we have sailed too close to the shore. Disturb us, O lord, when with the abundance of the things we possess, we have lost our thirst for the water of life; when having fallen in love with time, we have ceased to dream of eternity; and in our efforts to build the new earth, have allowed our vision of the new heaven to grow dim. Stir us, O Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms shall show Thy mastery and, where losing sight of the land, we shall find the stars. In the name of Him who pushed back the horizons of our hopes and invited the brave to follow, even the name of Christ Jesus our Lord.
E. Bevan Stanley