Sunday, May 08, 2016

Our Mission Statement: To Make God Known

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
May 8, 2016

Year C: The Seventh Sunday of Easter – The Sunday after the Ascension
Acts 16:16-34
Psalm 97
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
John 17:20-26

Our Mission Statement: To Make God Known
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            The other day, in the midst of lots of Mother’s Day posts, Facebook reminded me that I have reached my third anniversary as rector of St. Paul’s.
            That milestone has gotten me thinking about all that we have achieved here at St. Paul’s, with God’s help.
            With God’s help, we’ve stabilized and begun to rebuild the church, growing in members and ministries and we’ve improved our financial situation.
            With God’s help, we’ve become known in the community as a place where absolutely everybody is welcome, a place that cares for the whole community, not just our own parishioners.
            As I’ve mentioned to you before, I’m kind of a glass half empty person, but even I have to admit that this is all pretty wonderful – and I’m grateful to God and to all of you for this amazing privilege, for this exciting faith journey that we are on together.
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            But…since I am a glass half-empty person, I can’t help but think about what hasn’t been accomplished, at least not yet.
            And, I’ve been especially thinking about a challenge that Bishop Beckwith gave us when he visited St. Paul’s last year.
            He challenged us to define our mission.
            What is our mission here at St. Paul’s?
            I’ve thought a lot about that – and I certainly see missions – missions that have been in place long before I arrived here – and missions that have developed over these past few years.
            One of our missions is to offer beautiful worship. Our niche among the Episcopal churches in Jersey City is to offer traditional Anglican worship – not stuffy or precious but beautiful, prayerful, and lively.
            One of our missions is to offer hospitality – to welcome absolutely everybody to our already amazingly diverse community – a community that, for me and I bet for you, is a powerful sign of the Kingdom of God.
            One of our missions is feeding – to feed people’s stomachs at our sometimes over-the-top coffee hours, at our increasingly popular Stone Soup Community Suppers, the Thanksgiving community feast, through our donations to the food pantry, next week at our Pentecost Picnic, and more.
            One of our missions is becoming a community arts center, a place where God’s great gifts of imagination and creativity are nurtured, celebrated, performed, and displayed – and nobody has to present his or her baptismal certificate to come and be part of it.
            One of our missions is to get out into the community and advocate for the poor and the oppressed, to challenge the powers that be to do a better job of serving all of God’s people.
            So, yes, we see many missions here – and you can probably come up with others.
            But, still I’ve wondered about the bishop’s question: what is our mission?
            What should be our mission statement?
            And then I started thinking about today’s gospel lesson.
            We’re still in John’s rather lengthy telling of the Last Supper, specifically Jesus’ great and powerful prayer for his disciples and for us.
            Here’s what caught my attention: Jesus prays,
            “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
            There it is.
            You don’t need me to tell you that the world still doesn’t really know God. Just open any newspaper or turn on the TV and see all the ways that we treat each other as less than human, far less than beloved children of God.
            And, of course, although it has plenty of houses of worship, our city still doesn’t know God, either. Just look at the ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots, the injustice baked into so many of our systems, look at the unemployment and under-education, look at the bloody violence that erupts on our streets all too regularly.
            The world and our city still don’t really know God at least in part because so often the Church has failed - and is failing - in its mission, turning off people by being at least as judgmental and unloving as the world, beating certain people over the head with carefully selected Bible verses while ignoring and even frustrating God’s great dream of a kingdom of love.
            The world still doesn’t know God.
            Our city still doesn’t know God.
            But, we do – not perfectly, of course, but we know God through God’s Word, through the love that our diverse little church shares, and most of all through Jesus who we welcome into our bodies and souls every time we come here.
            So, you know, actually, long ago Jesus gave us our mission statement: To Make God Known.
            Our mission statement: To Make God Known.
            Just imagine if we looked at everything we do here at St. Paul’s through the lens of making God known!
            We keep our church building and grounds beautiful not because we want everyone in the neighborhood to ooh and ah, though that’s nice, but because we want to make God known through God’s good creation of beautiful flowers and plants and through this unusual and special building that was dreamed up, built, and maintained by creative, talented and faithful people.
            Our mission statement: To Make God Known.
            We come here week after week not out of obligation or even because we like hanging out together so much – though there’s that.
            Each week choir members sacrifice a precious weeknight and drag themselves in early on Sunday morning not because they’re looking for applause – though that always feels good.
            Each Sunday we try to offer a warm welcome to absolutely everybody and an often over-the-top coffee hour not just because we’re nice, friendly, hospitable, generous, and hungry people – though of course we are.
            We do all of this and more…to make God known.
            Our mission statement: To Make God Known.
            We feed people’s stomachs through our community suppers and we feed people through the arts and music not because we want to be a restaurant or an art gallery or a concert hall, but because through hospitality and creativity and beauty we strive to make God known.
            And, we go out into the community, praying at sites of violence and death, challenging our leaders to serve all the people not because we want our name and photo in the paper or because we’re just another community organization but because through our witness, and faithfulness, and courage, we strive to make God known.
            Our mission statement: To Make God Known.
            Long ago, Jesus came among us and made God known by teaching us, by serving us, by loving us, and sacrificing himself for us.
            And now, he has given us that same mission: to make God known in our world and in our city by teaching, by serving, by loving, and by sacrificing ourselves.
            It’s a tough, even audacious, mission, but, as we’ll celebrate next week, we can do it because we have the Holy Spirit - and we have each other.
            Our glass is way more than half-full
            As I begin my fourth year as your rector, I hope and pray that, with God’s help, we will continue to make God known.
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!