Sunday, February 27, 2022

Sermon at Eucharist before the Annual Meeting

Sermon at Eucharist before the Annual Meeting
February 27, 2022
John W.G. Clarke
If someone is described as being gracious looking – it is not because of their clothing – their perfect dress or tuxedo.
It is not because their hair or make-up is just right, or that finally they are having a “good-hair-day.”
It is not because they happen to be with the “in-crowd,” or having just exited a stretch limousine.
Graciousness never, and I mean never, has to do with externals – the superficial, how we look, how white our teeth, how smooth we are, how hip we are.
Graciousness, and I mean true graciousness has to do with something going on inside – like a light, deep inside, that bleeds out, that somehow escapes the façade we project.
For sure, it can be seen in our actions, in how we behave and how we treat other people, but it’s also something that can be seen before we do anything. It is something we can sense in one another.
True graciousness can be awkward and annoying too, because when graciousness is around it calls us all to be better – to be better people – to be loving and kind, merciful and forgiving – to be the voice of reason, the voice of justice – even when people don’t want to hear it.
Perhaps I can make myself clearer if I say that I’m not really talking about “graciousness” in the way we normally talk about it. I am talking about “grace.” That quality of God’s love that enables us to be the people God intends us to be – to be people of grace. To be a people with a light inside that breaks through the fragile, delicate personas we so painfully project. A light that bleeds through our outer crust – a light that glows. A light that is inside each of us – Yes! Each of us!
A light that, if we fan its flame, even just a little, glows in such a way that we are transformed – transfigured, just as Jesus Christ himself was.
Fan that flame, Feed that fire.
I don’t know, maybe life would be a lot less complex if God didn’t bother with us. If we were allowed to wallow in our own selfishness, greed and careless behavior. But that’s not who we were made to be. We were made to be an expression of grace, of God’s love and joy, and when needed, to be an expression of God’s forgiveness and mercy.
As small and as weak as that flame is within me, I am happy that we were created to fuel this fire, to feed it and let it burn and to let the Grace of God flow – flow – Flowing out through you and me;
Flowing out into the desert,
Setting all the captives free.
No about of greed, violence, hatred – no amount of human cruelty can extinguish the love of God, the unquenchable love of God that burns inside of each of us. You may not see it in me, you may not even see it in yourself, but it is there… it is alive… it is eternal.
Fan that flame, Feed that fire.
Three years ago, we, that is the Parish of St. Paul’s, reviewed our Vision and Mission statements. We had celebrated being a parish for 250 years and there was, by all accounts, a good sense that we were on the verge of truly honouring that flame of grace burning within us – as a Parish. We were making the practical decisions to create an atmosphere of moving forward, of picking up the pieces we might have dropped and carrying with us the new challenges we could see.
But then – a pandemic – corona virus – Covid-19 and its variants. There was confusion, worry and sorrow. Navigating the whole damn thing was challenging, it was tiring, time-consuming and expensive. And we’re not even free from it yet. Not only are there likely to be more variants, but we will also continue to struggle with how we behave and interact with others in public.
I have no idea, at this point, what moving on will look like for us at St. Paul’s.
·        We have individual communion cups and that is how we will administer the sacraments from now on.
·        We have people with a variety of concerns regarding their health and who might not yet feel comfortable in public. Maybe we can’t just hug other people or even shake their hand without first seeking permission – maybe we should have been doing that before anyway.
·        We have an on-line community, people following and enjoying our on-line presence and who will miss it if we suddenly disappear.
·        We have two years of people missing the grandeur of Christmas Eve and the joy of Easter morning as we had celebrated those things for so many years.
How do we re-engage people in the ongoing life of the gathered community, when we are not even sure what that will be like?
How do we re-engage people? That’s the question – that’s the principle question that’s on my mind. And as I’ve said so many times before – who we are in the future is not a matter of singing my favorite hymns, or using my favorite prayer book – it’s about, and always has been about doing those things that engage people in the life of the community and their own spiritual journeys.
God’s grace is not just a light burning deep inside of people, it is a light that burns deep inside communities too. It burns deep inside of St. Paul’s Parish.
Fan that flame, Feed that fire.
And if people describe us as gracious looking – it is not because of our Island red bricks, or stained-glass windows, or Casavant organ, or the lovely wood work inside.
It’s not because we are the in-crowd.
It is not because of the devilish good looks of your rector, who, by the way, has a “good-hair-day” every day.
If true graciousness continues to thrive here, it’s because we can be awkward and annoying, calling one another and everyone else to be better people – to be the people God intends us to be. If God’s grace is to be seen in us it will be because we are true to our vision and mission and that we manage to be loving and kind, merciful and forgiving – it will be because we continue to be the voice of reason, the voice of justice.
Fan that flame, Feed that fire.
And in 250 years from now, the people of St. Paul’s will not remember us for surviving a pandemic, or balancing a budget, or singing in harmony – they will remember us in the company of all the saints who passed on the Good News of God’s love so that they too, will enjoy the challenges of being God’s people of grace, transfigured by that flame burning brightly, deep inside of them, as it burns deep inside of us.
Jesus took Peter and John and James up on the mountain to pray – there they witnessed Jesus, wonderfully transfigured – the grace in him bleeding out. It was an amazing experience – a mountain-top experience – but as quickly as it started, it ended. Suddenly, they were down off of that mountain, in the valley, where life is lived, where there is sickness and pain, where the light of Christ, the grace of God needs to shine and heal and restore and bring love, forgiveness, mercy and joy.
Fan that flame, Feed that fire. Let’s get on with it. Amen.

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