Courage Required

February 9, 2020

Church of the Servant, Wilmington, NC

5th Sunday after Epiphany
Matthew 5:13-20; Isaiah 58:1-9a

Listen here (transcript below):

Transcript of Sermon:

For the last few days, I have been among hundreds of people from across the Diocese of East Carolina, participating with many of you here present in this year’s Annual Convention. I want to give special thanks to Laura Hickey, Ginny Lundeen and Rey Smith who were our delegates. But I also would love to give an opportunity for others to be recognized. David Smith, you were very involved. Joan Geiszler-Ludlum also, and there were others here. Alfreda you were there with ECCO. I invite all those who were at convention and participated in any capacity, just stand up, please. We thank you [applause]. It’s important for us to remember that we are part of a larger body.

The diocese is in fact the smallest unit in the Episcopal church. And while we as a congregation feel ourselves to be self-contained, we are not. The Episcopal church is about the episcopate, which is the Bishop, and we serve under him. So Annual Convention is an important time for us to come together, to be in community with this larger body, that then is part of an even larger body that we call the Body of Christ. So, I was thankful to be part of it.

The keynote speaker this year was Mary Parmer, who has a particular ministry entitled Invite*Welcome*Connect. She has shared the message of this ministry in workshops to some 60 diocese and across the globe. It provides a set of tools, if you will, that help us in the Episcopal church do those things more effectively. Invite Welcome Connect.

When we talk about Invite, she boldly uses that word Evangelism. While that isn’t said as often in our denomination as in others, it simply means sharing the good news. The gospelers were often called evangelists. They were sharing the good news of who Jesus was and what he was proclaiming on behalf of God. And in the Invite work, it calls on us to draw on those personal relationships that we have. We’re not talking about street corner preaching. We’re talking about inviting those we know. Not just to come to church, but to point them to Jesus. To “Come and See” which we’ve been talking about over the last several weeks. And what she shared, and I believe, is that in order to do this, we must overcome our fear and be courageous, because our culture does not encourage us to invite others, at least not in the Episcopal church. Though. I’ll say there are plenty of Christian congregations that encourage invitation.

The Welcome portion of her work is pointing to the ministry of hospitality. It can be difficult for individuals to come in to a church that they haven’t been to before. But in most cases they are looking for something. She shared a personal story about her adult child and spouse, who had just given birth to their first child for which there were medical complications. They were in a new town and were seeking a community that they might be able to connect with. They asked their mom to go with them to church. So, she helped them find a church and they went together. When they left, they looked at each other and were disappointed that not a single soul in the church had spoken to them.

Now I have witnessed personally in this worshiping community that that has not been my experience here. I think we have Welcome pretty down-pat. We are pretty good at identifying those who we haven’t seen before, and we’re getting better at making room for them, by literally moving to this side of the sanctuary so that those who may arrive later can sit in places closer to the door. This would have been a requirement for me had I been not wearing this clergy collar. So, Welcome is about realizing that people who come into our place, and into our space, are usually looking for something. Sometimes they’re here for a short period of time and sometimes they want to be here longer.

Connect is that third piece – a place for those who want to belong. Those individuals ask themselves, “Am I safe here? Do I fit in? Can I make friends here?” These are important questions. In order for us to respond, Mary Parmer reminds us that we have to listen more than talk. It is by listening that we can learn what those individuals might want, and what belonging looks like for them. And this could be people who are brand new, in our midst. Or it can be people who have been here for quite some time. Some who come each week, or as often as they can, but they’re still looking for how they fit in and where their place is among us.

We talked in our Vestry Retreat about that particular component of connection –helping find meaningful connections between people. We know that it’s important to us in this worshiping community to help one another discern their gifts, and then to empower them and to entrust them with ministries of this church.

I believe this Invite*Welcome*Connect is exactly what Jesus was doing with his disciples, in what we call the Sermon on the Mount. Before the reading we heard today Jesus had gone and found a few of his disciples – Jesus saw Simon Peter and Andrew casting their nets, and he looked at them and said, “Follow me.” They dropped their nets and followed him. A little further down the road he saw Zebedee’s boys, James and John, mending their nets. And he said, “Follow me.” They stopped what they were doing and they went with Jesus. Then we are told that Jesus went throughout Galilee healing and teaching all he came in contact with. Fame began to spread across Syria, and great crowds followed him. And then he invited his disciples to come up the mountain with him. And he sat down and he began teaching. With all those crowds in earshot.

In his words, he Invited all people in. The poor in spirit were invited in. Those who mourn were invited. The meek and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, were invited and included. Those who show mercy, those who are pure in heart, the peacemakers, they were invited, too. And even those who are persecuted for trying to do the right thing. So in these beatitudes was an invitation that all were Welcome.

Then Jesus looked directly at the disciples and warned, that when you make room for all these people, that culture doesn’t necessarily include, you may be reviled. You may be persecuted, and people may say evil things against you. But good on ya, because the same thing happened to the prophets. And so the invitation goes to all. And in doing this, God can be understood more fully and those who had been othered can find a place to belong. These disciples from the very outset of Jesus’ ministry were being empowered and entrusted to do the work that Jesus would count on them to do, after he was gone.

Then Jesus compares them, these disciples, to salt and to light. But I will tell you that salt, if it stays in its shaker, isn’t good for much of anything. Salt is only good if it Connects with something else. At the nine o’clock service, we had pieces of carrots that were unsalted, and then pieces of carrots that were salted. And one of the children liked the salted and one of the children, not so much. And that’s going to happen, too. But unless we as the salt connect, there’s no way to know whether that saltiness will be experienced fully. And the light that shines, if put under a bushel basket, the light cannot get out. What good is it? The light that Jesus was expecting from the disciples is that their light would shine to other people.

The lesson from Isaiah gives us an understanding of what that means. To free the oppressed, to feed the hungry, to give shelter to those who are homeless – it’s from these things that your light shines. That’s what Jesus calls us to do as light-shiners. Not so we can be glorified – the glory goes to God, not to us. So, in the same way, let your light shine, and with courage Invite others to know the love of Christ so they may find a place of Welcome and Belonging among us. Amen.



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