Sunday, October 11, 2015

"All In"

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
October 11, 2015

Year B, Proper 23: The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Job 23:1-9, 16-17
Psalm 22:1-15
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

“All In”
            The rich young man in today’s gospel story seems to be doing everything right.
            He tells Jesus that he’s been keeping God’s commandments since he was a youth.
            He hasn’t murdered or committed adultery. He hasn’t stolen or lied or defrauded. He has honored his parents.
            The rich young man seems to have done everything right.
            And, yet. And, yet.
            And, yet, he senses that’s he’s not quite there yet.
            He has a sense that there’s more – there’s something more – that he must do to inherit eternal life.
            So, we’re told, he ran up and knelt before Jesus and asked, “Good Teacher, what more must I do to inherit life?’
            We’re told that Jesus looked at him lovingly. Jesus knows that he has kept all of the commandments. And, yet…
            Jesus looks at him lovingly and says, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
            Jesus knows all the good that this rich young man has done, and now asks him to go “all in” – to fully commit to God’s mission, to give it all away to build the kingdom of God.
            And… the rich young man just can’t do it.
            We’re told that he was “shocked” by Jesus’ words and went away grieving.
            I always wonder whatever happened to the rich young man after he couldn’t accept Jesus’ invitation to go “all in.” Did he just go back to living as he had been, doing all the right things but recognizing that he couldn’t fully commit. Or, did he give up completely and decide to live pretty much like everybody else?
            When he ran up to Jesus, the rich young man was at a tipping point. He was almost there…but, he chose to not go “all in.”
            Jesus invited the rich young man to go “all in” - and the rich young man…he just couldn’t do it.
            This is a powerful story. One that speaks to me and, I think, speaks especially powerfully – or should speak powerfully - to all of us here at St. Paul’s this year.
            Most of you have heard me go on and on about all of the good and exciting things happening here at St. Paul’s. We are doing a lot of things right.
            There’s the Craft Guild quietly knitting and crocheting over 50 little hats for a Rotary project that will distribute them to babies in need – and the Craft Guild has also making beautiful prayer shawls to be given to those who are sick and suffering.
            There’s the Stone Soup Community Supper, now regularly feeding over 40 people – neighbors, friends, strangers, parishioners - a delicious and healthy meal, bringing people together at the table, just like Jesus did – just like Jesus still does.
            There are our quiet weekday services, week in and week out reminding us of God’s presence in our lives not just on Sundays, offering prayers for the many people on our parish list, bathing this beautiful old room in prayers.
            There’s the group of parishioners who have stuck with our community organizing effort with thirty or so other congregations across the city, addressing public safety, education, recreation, and other issues that affect us, and our neighbors.
            It’s hard to remember now, but a couple of years ago there was no Minister of Music and no choir here at St. Paul’s but now you’re such a big part of church life.
            There are our longtime parishioners who have remained involved and committed and in some cases have taken on new ministries.
            There are our newer parishioners who have found a home here and have begun getting involved in parish life.
            From fewer than 50 a few years ago, we have grown into a church where now on an average Sunday more than 100 beautifully diverse people come to hear the Word of God, to pray, to exchange the Peace, to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, and to simply enjoy each other’s company.
            Just like the rich young man, we are doing so much right.           
            And, yet. And, yet.
            Like the rich young man, in today’s gospel lesson, there’s a sense that we’ve done many right things, but we’re not quite there yet.
            Like the rich young man, here at St. Paul’s, we’ve reached a tipping point.
            And now, just like he did with the rich young man, Jesus invites us to fully commit.            
            Jesus asks us to go “all in.”
            And, what would “all in” look like for us here at St. Paul’s?
            I’m speaking to you now not only as your priest, but as a former parishioner of St. Paul’s, as your brother in Christ, as someone who I hope you know loves you and loves this place very much.
            Many of you know that years ago some generous parishioners who also loved this place gave us a lot of money that was invested wisely, money that we usually just call the “endowment.”
            In many ways, it was a wonderful gift that allowed St. Paul’s to survive when other churches around us have closed – it’s that gift that allows me and all of us to be here.
            But, in another way, the endowment has been kind of a curse for St. Paul’s.
            Over time one of the main goals of our church seemed to be to preserve the endowment, to not do anything that would reduce the amount of money we had invested.
            Over time, there developed a sense that we – the current parishioners of St. Paul’s – really didn’t need to be “all in” because those very generous, but now dead, people had left us all that money.
            So, no matter how little we did, no matter how little we pledged, how little we gave, no matter if we gave the same amount year after year even though costs continued to rise, no matter how “little in” we were, the church would remain open on Sundays and be available for our funeral when we died.
            So, parishioners in the choir weren’t required to rehearse much because we had paid, professional singers who did the musical heavy-lifting for us.
            So, we didn’t have to do much ministry ourselves because we paid people to do that for us.
            We didn’t have much interest in church growth because we were just fine and comfortable as we were.
            Yet, all along, Jesus was calling us to more.
            And, over the past few years, we’ve begun to say yes to that invitation. Just look around. God has miraculously brought us all together. There is so much good going on here.
            And, now at the tipping point, now at the start of our stewardship campaign, Jesus invites us to go all in.
            “All in” means that we allevery one of us – commit ourselves to at least one ministry – and commit ourselves to doing our very best at it.
            Ministry is to pray for everyone on the prayer list every day.
            Ministry is to be an usher, here bright and early on a Sunday morning, welcoming people to God’s house.
            Ministry is “everybody’s favorite” - helping to clean up after coffee hour or Stone Soup or other events.
            Ministry is bringing at least one item for the food pantry every week.
            Ministry is helping to weed the garden, reading the lessons, serving as an acolyte.
            Ministry is being ready to greet newcomers, especially at coffee hour.
            Ministry is singing in the choir, which includes coming to rehearsal even when you’re tired or don’t feel like it because there are no more paid singers and we need you to do the musical heavy lifting for us.
            Ministry is teaching Sunday school or working with our amazing youth.
            And, yes, ministry is for each and every one of us, young and old, longtime and brand-new parishioners, everyone who considers this place a spiritual home, to make and actually give a sacrificial financial pledge, a pledge that hurts a bit, a pledge that’s more than what we gave this year, a weekly pledge that’s more than what we might spend on coffee during the week, more than what we might pay for an extra value meal at McDonald’s.
            “All in.”
            My brothers and sisters, the days of depending on the generosity of dead people are coming to an end.
            Look around. God has miraculously brought us all together. There is so much good going on here.
            We have reached the tipping point – we either move forward or we slide back to the way things were.
            So, Jesus looks lovingly at us and asks, “Are you all in?”
            As you know, a few weeks ago, I made a big, tough decision and chose to go all in here at St. Paul’s  - and I’m happy and excited.
            So, how about you?
            I’m now going to ask you a question and the correct answer is “Yes” with enthusiasm.
            Are we all in? Are we all in? Are we all in?