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Christ Church Parish, Redding Ridge

2/6/11 Salt & Light

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

As we go into this sermon I want to prepare you because there’s going to be a quiz at the end.

Really.     So listen up, ok?

 

Let’s start with a very intriguing quote from a former Archbishop of Canterbury. He said, “The church is the only society on earth that exists for those who are not its members.” [Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple, quoted in Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1, p. 336]

 

One more time: the church is the only organization on earth that exists for those who are not its members. The author of this idea is Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple. He was the Archbishop during World War Two, from 1942-1944—a time when the church reached out to take the Word of God to a nation under siege.

 

I suppose one could argue with this and say what about fire fighters and policemen, Habitat for Humanity and Doctors without Borders (and many other such organizations).

 

OK let’s revise it then: the church is one of the few organizations on earth that exists for those who are not its members. This means that our purpose is to serve others—to take care of people, even those who aren’t in the Church. To quote the hymn we sing sometimes, “We have no purpose but to serve in full obedience to our Lord . . . and spread Christ’s liberating word.” Our readings point us in this direction today.

 

Jesus tells us that we are to be salt and light. It’s odd to be told we are to be salt. Jesus may have meant that we are to enliven what otherwise would be bland. We are to preserve the mission of God among us. And in this crazy winter maybe we are to be like salt and melt the hearts of the frozen, beginning with our own hearts, much as salt melts an iced walkway.

And we are to be light—that’s a more obvious charge. We’re to show the way to the Father, to Jesus, to a Spirit-filled life / to others. To bring enlightenment and warmth to a world that’s often ignorant of the Truth and confused by the demon of materialism.

 

In our first reading we’re harangued by Isaiah and told that worship for its own sake, not twinned with service to the poor and needy, is bankrupt. God HATES ritual for its own sake.

Good worship “is the place where we inhale God’s love and grace, so that we can be sent forth to exhale God’s love and grace in a broken world in need of redemption.” [Andrew Foster Connors, Feasting on the Word, p. 316] We are to serve the needy and share our bounty with them (that’s the hard part—the sharing). But that is our mission—because we exist for those who are not our members. And if we lose sight of our mission, we become another club—which exists to satisfy its own members only. God says to the people through Isaiah, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice [and] . . . to let the oppressed go free? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”

 

I hope this disturbs us. It is supposed to disturb us. It’s supposed to wake us up.

 

What a good selection of readings this is for the day of the Annual Meeting of the Parish. They bring us to the basics and invite us to take stock. Let’s see how we’ve been doing lately.

Let’s consider our call, brothers and sisters, and assess the state of the parish. It’s been five years now since we’ve ministered together, you and I.

The goals of the parish that were stated in the parish profile 6 or 7 years ago were that we work on making Christ Church a welcoming place; that we offer opportunities to encourage spiritual growth of our members; and that we develop opportunities for strong lay ministry to flourish.

 

I think we’ve made good progress on these goals… We’ve made huge strides in making our 5-year-old dreams come true: we’ve made the facilities accessible to everyone. We’ve renovated inside and out, sending a huge signal to the community that we are vital and thriving. Our flagging electronic organ with 1950’s-era vacuum tubes is being replaced this spring. Our Memorial Garden is in development and will be taken to the Vestry in a few months.

More than these internal improvements though I’m most proud of how our outreach efforts have budded these past 5 years. We’ve taken some big risks together, led by our Mission Committee. We’ve begun to go and do, rather than only to write checks from the warmth of our parish hall.

We’ve traveled to Mississippi twice to help rebuild after Katrina. We’ve engaged in several impressive hands-on projects through our Christ Church Cares program. We’ve contributed what must be over a ton of groceries for Easter and Christmas to needy families, and engaged in other projects to help others, including the Dove Project. We’re starting a community garden to help feed the hungry. Considering our call to serve others outside our membership list, and our call to be salt and light in the world, where and how might we continue to grow? We’re called to be a beacon, to send light out and to bring in the curious. How might we do this? How might we be beacons? I will be musing a little with the Vestry when we go on retreat in March about these questions. But I will invite us today in our Annual Meeting to start the process and to dream a little with each other. It’s sometimes hard to discern the will of God in terms of where we’re called, and that’s why doing it together may help us see more clearly. Remember, we exist to serve others. And we exist to be salt and light, and ultimately to bring glory to God. Now, here is the question to consider for our “quiz” that happens at the Annual Meeting:What might the people of Christ Church Parish be called to be or to do in the future? We’ll follow up at the Meeting today.Amen.