At the Eucharist before the Annual Meeting
Well, we’ve made it to another annual meeting. I don’t mean that to sound negative, rather I mean it to be extremely positive. People have predicted the demise of St. Paul’s Church; people have predicted the demise of Christianity itself – yet, here we are!
One of the special things to celebrate today is that we are debt free. We no longer own the diocese accumulated debt, money owning to the allotment. We have had three years in which we have successfully paid off all of our financial obligations. Light bills, energy bills, payroll, supplies, and on and on the list goes, including the allotment; the dreaded allotment. Allotment is that portion of our income that is used to help fund the ministries of the diocese, the national Church and ministry in northern Canada.
We entered into an agreement with our diocese that said, essentially, if we meet all of our financial obligations, including allotment we will be forgiven our arrears to the diocese. We succeeded; we did what we set out to do. It wasn’t always easy; some of us lost sleep with worry; all of us worked together to accomplish this task. It was great to have Bishop Sue Moxley with us in January to celebrate our accomplishment. It was great to have her on board, in our corner, pulling for us the whole way through. Both she and Bishop Ron Cutler never wavered in supporting our efforts in recent years.
We are, as of this moment, debt free to the diocese. Or are we?
We know that we can set a reasonable budget and live within it. We know that we can make difficult decisions, we can work hard, and we can, in community (with one another, within this region, with the diocese) be responsible and contributing members, to the good of the Church. But our debt has changed, it’s no longer financial, it’s now moral. We have a moral obligation to continue to be responsible stewards of our resources, to make reasonable plans and to stick to those plans.
There is a distinct difference between the Anglican Church and other Churches, particularly in terms of how we understand power within the life and ministry of the Christian community. When I speak of power, I don’t mean power by virtue of position, be it of a rector, of a warden or of a bishop. I mean the power of the Holy Spirit. And when we speak of the Holy Spirit we mean GOD’S Holy Spirit. We do not believe that the Holy Spirit rests with an individual, but in community. In a sense, we are Anglican because we are in community with other Anglican Churches. The Holy Spirit comes to us, just like she did on the Day of Pentecost, as the apostles were gathered in community. The Holy Spirit comes to us in community, in synods, in parishes, in common prayer, in community.
And always, for me at least, the Holy Spirit comes in unexpected ways. When we decided to combine the 9:15 and 11:00 o’clock services, I was against it. I didn’t think the Holy Spirit wanted us to worship less. But I was wrong, you wanted it, you got it, you got a 10:00 am service, you were right. Or let’s be honest, the Holy Spirit amongst us was right.
When we asked, in a feasibility study if you thought we should build a new parish hall – you said no, you said live within your means; don’t expect another penny more from us until you start being responsible with what you already have. I thought you were greedy and miserly. I was wrong. And you were right, well, the Holy Spirit, living amongst us was right.
Even if my idea is different, I have to check-in with you, with this community, so that together we can discern the will of the Holy Spirit, the will of God.
In our Gospel today (Matthew 5:21-37), the Sermon on the Mount continues. Jesus takes the common teachings of the day and shows us that love, within the community, is the power and will of God acting within us.
Jesus says that murder isn’t just about taking a life, but that when we choose to live with anger and insults against a neighbor (or even a brother or sister) it’s just as bad as taking someone’s life.
So, if you have a dispute with someone; settle things before the judgment. A wise lawyer looked me straight in the eye once and said, “my job, as your lawyer, is to keep you out of court.” And I thought here’s a lawyer that knows the scripture better than me; lives them better than me.
And Jesus says that adultery is wrong, no dispute there. The problem with lust, looking at people with only their outward appearance taken into account, is to relegate that person to nothing more than their appearance. Lust therefore runs the risk of not seeing others as humans, as children of God. Lust runs the risk of breaking trust, breaking relationship, of living without love. Lust, in this sense, is no better that adultery.
My hope, my belief is that the prescription for lust, to tear out eyes and lop off limbs is hyperbole; a gross exaggeration. Jesus is, I hope, I believe, merely stressing the important of sins such as hatred and lust.
And we cannot escape the teaching of Jesus regarding divorce. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus is not saying that divorce ought not to be allowed. But given the social realities of the day, when all it took to get a divorce was a sheet of paper, no lawyer, no judge, and no obligation, Jesus is saying something different needs to be. And it happened, men moved on from one marriage to another, leaving behind ex-wives and children with no way, in that society, at that time, to fend for themselves. Jesus’ rather hard teaching is merely a plea for people, for men, to take responsibility for their actions. For us today, with better, not perfect, but better laws, the teachings of Jesus, in their strictest sense, can change, and we still follow the true spirit of the rule; that behavior that disrupts trusting relationships needs to stop.
It’s all summed up in the final part of our Gospel reading. Why swear an oath? That what I’m about to say is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Let that be true of everything we say, every time we speak, whether we’re under oath or not. Let “yes” mean “yes” and “no” mean “no.”
I think that these teachings of Jesus (the Holy Spirit of these teachings) have been at the heart of who we are and who we’ve tried to be these last three years. Even to the point that on Valentine’s Day four years ago, we held a service of reconciliation. An opportunity for us to say to one another, I am hurt yet I want to continue to be in community at St. Paul’s; and to say, I am sorry for the ways I’ve hurt you and I want you to continue in community here at St. Paul’s. It was a powerful opportunity for us to move forward, seeking and acknowledging the Holy Spirit amongst us.
Some people have, over the years, chosen to be divorce from us, that’s sad, but the point isn’t the viability of St. Paul’s, financially or otherwise, the point is God, the point is bringing people into relationship with the creator, loving and merciful.
The Holy Spirit is alive and amongst us, I am not to be trusted to be the one who decides when and how, but together, in community, in prayer, we can see God’s love at work amongst us. What will it look like? Well, it won’t look like hatred; it won’t look like window-dressing; it won’t look like carelessness. It will look like love, responsibility, commitment.
These are the gifts of the Spirit that have brought us this far. We love God and we love one another. We take responsibility for our actions and fulfill our obligations. We are committed to seeking the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit and serving one another in community.
I thank God every day for you: for your ability to discern the Holy Spirit; for your integrity that makes a “yes” a “yes” and a “no” a “no”; for your love expressed in so many, many ways. I thank God for you. Amen.