June 11, 2017

Cropped HippieJesus

Trinity Sunday - Year A

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

The 7-Day Creation Story in Genesis Chapter 1 is a wonderful expression of God’s creative nature and the importance of humanity both in Creation and in God’s plans. This version of Creation is thought to be authored by the Priestly writers of the scripture, very orderly, passing on the Hebrew tradition without unnecessary creative liberties, no detail missed in order to preserve The Creation. It is impactful, authoritative, and affirming of all that has been created by stating that God proclaimed it good.  Unfortunately, it has become a red flag to the bull that is the Anti-Religite, as I call them, people who aren’t really atheists, because it’s not atheism that they are concerned about; it’s being against religion that is their cause. There is never the opportunity to discuss the literary and theological nuances of Genesis 1 & 2, or even the fact that


the Christian faith does not hinge
on The Creation Stories; the
Christian faith hinges on
salvation through Jesus Christ.


On this Trinity Sunday, the First Account of Creation is alongside a call to be ‘one’ under the Trinitarian formula of The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit. And then in both Genesis and Matthew, there is the call to go forth and multiply.

 

This call to Apostleship, to multiply, to make disciples of all nations is not only central to the Christian faith, it is part of what we are called to do as Christians locally. Sometimes we let the uneasy bits of our faith be applied to “Christians” as a nebulous group that allows for little accountability. Well, that is why the Churches in the West are dwindling in numbers!

 

The Diocese has a Strategic Plan, and one part of it goes like this:

 

Objective 2: Cultivate the Treasures Within Our Neighborhoods Goal One:

– Continue to support congregations as they expand their horizons of mission and ministry and connect with their communities.

– Foster leadership, church growth and retention strategies that capitalize on local opportunities.


Guess what we have been doing at St Stephen’s very deliberately since January 6, 2017?

 

We have been cultivating the treasures within our neighborhoods, expanding our horizons of mission and ministry, connecting with our community, fostering leadership and capitalizing on local opportunities…through our 150th Celebrations!!


At some level…and only at some, not all…we need to look at what we are doing in terms of church growth: going forth and multiplying, making disciples, and sharing the Grace, Love and Fellowship of the Holy and Undivided Trinity.

 

We are half-way through our 150th Anniversary Celebrations. The Each one of our events has been of a very high quality. Though the attendance hasn’t been what we wanted, each event had more people from the wider community than from St Stephen’s. You can look at that two ways: St Stephen’s isn’t supporting its own events, which may or may not be true. Or, we have done a good job at reaching beyond our walls, which is definitely true.

 

With our remaining events, one of which is next week, we need to reach well beyond our walls. Our remaining 5 events rely on 100-300 people in attendance, depending on the event. For the July Jubilee, we set ourselves a target of 200 people. Is that possible? Of course it is! It’s possible because we set ourselves a target and made each one of us accountable. But in fact, we’re all accountable. In order to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, we all have to act. And bringing someone along to Choral Evensong or the July Jubilee is genuinely the first step in making disciples of all nations.

 

I think we’re actually scared of
sharing our hobby of
churchgoing. We’re afraid of
how people will react.


I think there are many different factors, as well:

  • There’s the hijacking of the Christian faith by conservative evangelicals who have a lot of money to put their destructive messages into all forms of media. We’re afraid to invite a friend or colleague to a church event or even to worship because they might associate us with those destructive forms of Christianity.
  • There’s the hostility among those who do not profess a faith. Not all of them are hostile, but I think we fear that an invitation will be met with something like…for example…today’s Old Testament Lesson: “How can you believe in something as silly as 7-day Creation?” Yes…I dread that subject coming up, because it doesn’t get anyone anywhere. “My faith does not hinge on Genesis 1 & 2, and I don’t have time to tell you the true richness of those stories and the theological implications. But I want to share with you the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.”
  • We see our faith as personal. It is, but it also isn’t. Our worship is communal for a reason. Our spiritual journeys require one another. Those who claim to be spiritual but not religious have the joy of nurturing their spirituality in quiet meditation and in “being one with nature”. But so do we, and we have the added joy of exploring all of that and much more together.

We need to overcome our fears
and extend the invitation…to
events and activities and to
worship. This is a real thing, and
it’s not just the job of the Rector.
Bringing someone to Sunday
morning worship, to Choral
Evensong, to Adult Education
is real.


I have done it – I got the Mayor here! I got the Police Chief here. [And I got my DAD here!] I don’t know if they will become a members, but if anyone asks them about St Stephen’s, they’ll be able to tell them how NOT-scary we are. That’s a big step in the right direction for us being fruitful and multiplying.

 

When the July Jubilee Committee set a target of 200 people, I did an exercise with them. On the back of a piece of paper, I wrote down all the organizations associated with St Stephen’s through this building and our neighbors:

  • Grandmother’s House Children’s Center – 25 families
  • Evening Meeting User Groups – let’s guess 30 people
  • RSVP – about 6 people work in that house at the end of the parking lot
  • Vacation Bible School families – there are about 8 families that aren’t St Stephen’s
  • Transitions Mental Health Residences on either side – About 15 residents between them
  • Access Support Network next door – about 15 people work there
  • Canterbury Ministry – You heard the list of names, but let’s just say that out of Berkeley’s connections, there will be about 10 people around next week and in July.

That right there…an exercise that took me 30s…came up with 117 people to invite to worship, to the Choral Evensong next Sunday, the July Jubilee, to the next Adult Ed program.

 

On top of that, there are 111 active members of St Stephen’s. Just the people who use our buildings and live next door, we have over 200 people who could potentially help us meet our July Jubilee target. If you 111 people sat down at your kitchen table with a piece of paper and a pen and spent 10min thinking of people you could invite, I’m sure you could come up with at least 5 per member…and that includes the U18s, because they have friends, too. Can anyone tell me what 111 x 5 is? 555 people to whom we might one day be able to say, “You were created in God’s image, and indeed it is very good, so may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you, and welcome to St Stephen’s.”


That’s how it works. Congregational growth, attendance at events, sharing the love of God works through personal invitations to those whom you know. And there will be plenty of rejection. But when someone rejects your offer to play golf next Saturday, you don’t fear asking them. When someone rejects your offer to go to the Live Oak Festival, you don’t fear asking them. So, don’t fear asking them to come sing with us next Sunday afternoon. Don’t fear asking them to come help us raise money for 15 or 20 organizations across San Luis Obispo by buying a drink and a sandwich and listening to some music – don’t fear asking them just because it’s here at church.


I think that there are 3 realistic approaches to congregational growth that you, the congregation, can and must engage in:

  1. Share the story of your personal encounter with God. Stephanie Spellers, Canon the Presiding Bishop for Evangelism, tells Episcopalians over and over again that this is the simplest form of evangelism that everyone can do. Share the story of your personal encounter with God.
  2. Invite someone to church or an event. How many of you have invited someone to join you in your hobby? Maybe that’s the theatre, the symphony. You Vocal Arts and Live Oak people: How often do you encourage people to join you for a concert or at the festival? It’s just as easy to invite someone to church.
  3. Share the joy you have for being at St Stephen’s. This is a wonderful, joyful, healthy congregation who welcomes all. Share what you love about St Stephen’s with your neighbors, friends, colleagues, family. You’ve done it with your hobbies which means you can do it with church.

Episcopalians are really bad at talking about their faith outside of church, inviting their friends and neighbors to church or church events, and even telling their friends and neighbors how much they enjoy being part of this Christian community. Episcopalians are really bad at it.


Yet…YET…Episcopalians are
known for being open and
welcoming to all people.


I hear many of you say that we have no young people. Last week we had all of our Under-18s upfront. We read off a list of college students the length of which we haven’t experienced for at least a generation. We have young people; we have all sorts of people. Episcopalians are known for being inclusive of all people, and having a thinking faith so that the 7-Day Creation Story means a whole lot more than a myth written on some parchment, only to be contradicted in the very next chapter. St Stephen’s is known throughout the City for being friendly, having quality worship and great events. Let’s be known for sharing the God of Love and Peace with as many people as we can.


Our hesitation, fear, reluctance, or whatever it is that prevents us from extending a genuine invitation, with confidence, is real, and will prevent us from growing numerically as a congregation. That fear of the reply being “You believe in a 7-day Creation? Do you also believe in fairies?” is also real. But if we don’t try, each one of us, regardless of age, gender or length of time as a Christian, we can’t share with others the beauty and power of our faith which is that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is always with you.


Going back to the story of Creation: My first essay in seminary asked the question “Do the two Creation Stories in Genesis 1 & 2 contradict one another?” A fellow student and I turned to one another and asked, “There are 2 Creation Stories?” In wanting to draw others into the St Stephen’s model of Welcoming – Worshiping – Working, whether for the next 150th event or on Sunday morning, I want you to reflect on the last paragraph of my essay. Think of the beauty of the Creation Stories, and the joy of being part of the St Stephen’s family and wanting to share that with others:


The end result of both stories is the same: Earth and its elements are created, the animals of the earth are created, and humans are created in both genders. The order in which these events occurred may be in question. However, considering the magnitude of the feat, chronological order seems superfluous, as long as one comes away from either or both stories with elements of creation, the notion that God is all-powerful, and that humans are of the utmost significance in all of God’s creation, which poses no contradiction to matters of history and faith.


So, let us just for once focus on Congregational Growth out loud. Let us more proactively cultivate the treasures within our neighborhoods, expand our horizons of mission and ministry, connect with our community, foster leadership and capitalize on local opportunities: Let us go forth from here, St Stephen’s, into San Luis in order to multiply our numbers in the pews and share that God created us, male and female God created us, God blessed us, and indeed it was very good.

© 2017 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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