Epiphany 4A

The past 7 days have been a whirlwind, haven’t they?  Here’s just some of what’s happened since our Annual Meeting last Sunday:

Monday evening saw a small group of folks meet up with Katie at the Coffee Lab and then head over to the Lorraine Morton Civic Center for the City Council Meeting. 

Tuesday evening: Folks gathered in the kitchen upstairs to pack lunches for Wednesday’s lunch; a couple of St. Mark’s folks went to the OPAL / NAACP forum where they met with and heard from candidates for the District 65 and District 202 school boards; and still others spent the evening at a meeting of the organ committee, here in the parlor.  Earlier in the day, I had the opportunity to preach and preside at the Eucharist at Bexley Seabury in Hyde Park and later that afternoon to celebrate the ministry of The Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, our diocese’s Director of Networking who will soon become the next bishop of the Diocese of Indianapolis - the first African American woman to ever lead a diocese in the United States.

Wednesday: An AA meeting took place in Bethlehem Chapel at 6:45 a.m. At least I assume they did - I was still in bed at that point!  At a more reasonable hour of the day, a group of dedicated volunteers served lunch to and had conversations with some of our hungry neighbors and I attended a meeting with clergy colleagues in Chicago to discuss preaching in light of current events.  That evening a group of creative writers met in Bethlehem Chapel and English Country Dancers enjoyed an evening in Cunningham Hall

On Thursday morning, St. Mark’s staff gathered in Bethlehem Chapel to do some “big picture” planning for the next 12 months, Lola was in the office preparing bills to be paid and sending out end-of-year statements.  In the early evening, Evy Skelton’s Brownie Troop met in Bethlehem Chapel and just as they were leaving, choir members were arriving for rehearsal.

On Friday, Scott and I went to visit a homebound parishioner.

And yesterday was a flurry of activity - literally - as two Tai Chi classes met and practiced in Cunningham Hall in the morning and a group of toddlers had some “soccer” practice in the same space in the afternoon.  A Buddhist meditation group and yoga class took place in the basement Spirituality Center and a meeting of Al-Anon took place in Bethlehem Chapel in the afternoon.

Of course, this doesn’t take into account all of the other things that happened — a newsletter was prepared and sent out by Katie, David practiced the piano and organ, Scott began plans for a spring break vacation bible school and I wrote a sermon.  Oh, and then there is all of you —most of you went to work, to school, to meetings, to classes, to play dates, to book groups and countless other activities that keep you busy.  Emails were exchanged as were text messages, Facebook posts, Tweets, Snapchats, and Instagram photos.

Yes, the past 7 days have been a whirlwind, haven’t they?  And you thought I was going to talk about politics, didn’t you?  I’m not and here’s why. Sometimes we ALL need to create space for normalcy in our lives.  Sometimes we ALL need to find a space where we can take just a moment to reflect on all that has not been changing before our eyes, to celebrate the beauty of a vibrant church and to appreciate the splendor and comfort of routine.

The passage from Micah this morning reminds us of all that God asks of us - “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”_  This is a text that can spur us to political action - to advocacy work, to demonstrations and rallies, to calling our elected officials, to ministering to those in need, to sending money to organizations that support just causes.  But it is also a text that reminds us to take the time to love kindness and to walk humbly.

In our current political climate, I need some hope - not the “pretend everything is fine kind of hope” - but REAL hope. Hope that the future is secure. Hope that my life and the lives of others are safe.  Hope that come what may in the days ahead, God has a long view in mind that it is beyond even our wildest imaginings.  And while all the phone calling, letter writing, demonstrating and social media posting is important work, it is also exhausting work and, truth-be-told, it can sometimes leave us feeling less hopeful because there is always so much more to do, so much more we can do, so much more we think we alone can do.  But, walking humbly with our God is a reminder that no one among us is the linchpin in this world.  The world will NOT fall apart if we take our eye off of the political ball for a moment - somedays that is harder to believe than others; but it is true. And God’s call to “walk humbly” is, in part, a recognition that we CAN take a break. 

Remember that meeting I mentioned - the one with my clergy colleagues?  Everyone of us commented on our own anxiety and our desire to “fix things,” our desire to spur our congregations on to doing more justice work and more outreach work than ever before.  We mentioned the number of people in our pews who were sharing that same anxiety, the number of people in our pews who tell us that they are calling senators, writing letters, protesting and making plans to attend future rallies.  We agreed that ALL of this is good work, important work - and it is work that God calls us to do.  And yet. . .

And yet, even God rested and sought balance: “And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.”_. And perhaps knowing our propensity to not know when to stop, when to put it down, when to recharge, God declared, “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work.”_. God rested and so must we.

What that rest looks like for each of us may differ.  In our household, we have committed to taking a media fast on Mondays.  No television (that’s the challenge for Andrea) and no social media (that’s the challenge for me).  Just a day to look around at the world around us and to appreciate all that is going right in our world - to be thankful for the vibrancy of St. Mark’s, to be thankful for the fabulous staff and volunteers I am blessed to work with, to be thankful for the loving relationship in my home, to be thankful for Brownie Troops and toddlers playing soccer, to be thankful for clergy colleagues and for creative writers, to be thankful for dancers and volunteers, for singing and for celebrating.  A day to appreciate that there remain yet 6 days for MSNBC, Facebook and Twitter to be in my life.  A day to appreciate that there are others out 11their working for justice on a day that God gives me to rest.  A day to appreciate that God does want me to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with my God. 

And this is not just God’s desire for me. It is God’s desire for each of us. Your Sabbath may look different from mine.  What stirs up anxiety and tension in your soul and your body may not be what stirs up my anxiety.  But whatever it is, lay it down for a day.  Allow God to be God on that day of rest.  And allow God to be God when you are doing justice.  And allow God to be God when you are loving kindness.  And allow God to be God when you are walking humbly beside God.  That is what Hope looks like.  And can’t we all use a bit of hope right now?


From Follow Me in 2016 to Come and See in 2017

State of the Church Address
Annual Meeting of St. Mark's Episcopal Church

Last Sunday our Gospel reading came from John’s gospel (1:29-42) and described a moment in which John the Baptist is telling two of his disciples about Jesus’ baptism. In the midst of his story, Jesus himself walks by and John exclaims, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” John’s disciples begin to follow Jesus and Jesus turns to ask them “what are you looking for?”  They answer, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” And Jesus replies, “Come and see.”

Today’s Gospel, this time from Matthew (4:12-23) begins with Jesus walking along the Sea of Galilee.  He sees two fishermen – Simon and Andrew – and calls out to them: “Follow me.”  And, immediately, they drop everything to do just that.  Likewise, when Jesus calls out to James and John, they too leave everything to follow Jesus.

Come and See.  Follow me.  2016 at St. Mark’s was a “Follow Me” kind of year.  We began with the Annual Campaign’s call to “Build the World We Want to See,” recognizing that God is the master builder and that each of us is invited to come along side and get to work.  God is the master builder calling out to each of us, “Follow me.”  And so we did.

We participated in the Standing with Muslims rally in Fountain Square on a cold March afternoon recognizing that Jesus ministry, like our own, is set amidst ethnic and religious diversity.  We demanded a living wage for workers as we participated in the Fight for 15 rally in Fountain Square on a cold May afternoon recognizing  Jesus shared parables about treating workers fairly (Matthew 20:1-16).  And, after the presidential election we joined our interfaith brothers and sisters in a rally of peaceful prayer, song, witness and repentance in Fountain Square on a cold November.  This time we gathered because we understood – perhaps in a new way – the seriousness of our promise to respect the dignity of every human being.  And when we weren’t gathered in Fountain Square on a cold afternoon, we were at City Hall supporting Evanston’s Welcoming City Ordinance remembering that we too were once foreigners in a strange land. (Exodus 22:21).  We are building the world we want to see. . . . following Jesus.

2016 was also the year in which we followed Jesus’ example in feeding the hungry.  More than 1600 lunches were served on Wednesdays in Cunningham Hall by 37 St. Mark’s volunteers, ranging in age from 5 to 79, along with several volunteers from St. Matthew’s.  In addition, on the 3rd Sunday of nearly every month, you brought non-perishable foods to the church to be shared with area of food pantries or with the men and women who are guests at the Interfaith Action of Evanston hospitality center housed here in St. Mark’s.  On the 2nd Tuesday of the month, St. Mark’s parishioners join others in the community at the Robert Crown Center to sort and distribute fresh produce and bread to our hungry neighbors.  Literally tons of fresh produce each month.  People like Bruce Gaede, Rima Lockwood, and Chris Schultze are there every month and there are months when St. Mark’s makes up 25% of the volunteer force for the day.  We are building the world we want to see. . . . following Jesus.

At our 4-church lakefront services in July and August, we collected funds for Curt’s CafĂ© to help young men and young women who are at risk – because they have either already had contact with the   In August and September, we partnered with COPE to collect, sort and distribute backpacks and school supplies for students who would otherwise attend school without the tools they needed to be successful.  In December, St. Mark’s members collected hats, mittens, gloves, and scarves for ESCCA and for the homeless men and women in our community.  We are building the world we want to see. . . . following Jesus.
judicial system or have been headed in that direction.

Inside our own doors, we teach one another about God’s love.  Our worship is the primary place where formation as followers of Jesus happens.  As we worship on Sundays, we are invited to see our daily life through the lens of that worship.  As we hear and read Scripture we are invited to become the story we tell.  As we bring forward the bread and the wine, the gifts of money and other offering and set them on the altar before God, we are invited to consider anew our relationship with the material world around us – remembering that the abundance we have comes from God’s hands (1 Chronicles 29:16).  Yes, we are building the world we want to see. . . following Jesus.

Jesus is walking along the shores of Lake Michigan and he sees St. Mark’s.  He calls out to us: “Follow me.”  And sometimes quickly and sometimes with a bit of hesitation, we drop what we’ve been doing to follow Jesus. 

If 2016 was the year of “Follow Me,” then I would like to suggest that 2017 be the year of “Come and See.”  Of course, we need to continue doing the work we’ve been doing of following; but, as we’ve gotten better at it, as we’ve gotten the hang of things, it is time for us to call out to others to “come and see.” 

Come and See is a phrase that occurs multiple times in our scriptures.  The psalmist cries out, “Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds among mortals.” (Psalm 66:5).  When Philip finds Nathanael and begins to tell him about Jesus.  Nathanael asks him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” And Philip responds, “Come and see.” (John 1:45-46).  When the Samaritan woman returns to the city after her encounter with Jesus at the well, she says to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!” (John 4:29).

If 2016 was the year when we pushed ourselves beyond our doors to go out into the neighborhood, 2017 needs to be the year when we continue to push ourselves to invite those we meet to come and see.  To come and see how God is at work in our community and in our lives.  In the next month, we will launch our Come and See Campaign.  Like the Annual Campaign, it will ask each of us to make a commitment for 2017. But this commitment will not be for financial resources but instead for a commitment to sharing the Good News by inviting a neighbor, a friend, a co-worker to Come and See what is happening at St. Mark’s. 

If you are in the choir, you might commit to inviting 1 person to “Come and See” what it’s like to sing in the choir for a month. 

If you are part of the Wednesday lunch ministry, you might commit to inviting 1 person to “Come and See” what serving is like at St. Mark’s. 

If you love evensong, you might commit to inviting 1 person who loves beautiful music to “Come and See” the Evensong that will be prayed on our patronal feast day at the end of April. 

If you love your dog or cat, you might commit to inviting 1 person from the dog park or from your veterinarian’s office to “Come and See” our pet blessing in October.

If you love the outdoors, you might commit to inviting 1 person you know from the playground or park to “Come and See” our lakefront worship this summer.

When Jesus called out to John the Baptist’s two disciples, “Come and see,” they went with him and remained with him.  “One of the two. . . was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’. . . He brought Simon to Jesus” so that he too could “come and see.” (John 1:39-42).

We have found the Messiah.  Like Andrew, it is time for us at St. Mark’s to go out and invite others so that they can come and see in 2017.