Here is my first sermon preached in Antigonish, Bayfield and Country Harbour. Enjoy!
MP: St. Mary the Virgin, St. Paul the Apostle EP: Holy Trinity
Focus text: 2 Corinthians 8:7-15
For those of you who are married, how many of you remember the sermon the priest gave at your wedding? Do you remember the address given at your graduation? Or perhaps a graduation you attended? Here’s the real test. How many of you will remember my sermon when you leave this morning/evening? =)
One of the most profound encounters I have had was at a graduation ceremony, and it wasn’t even my own. About 8 years ago, I attended the convocation of UPEI. The speaker was a Canadian diplomat, just returned from a turn in Africa. His emotions were clearly still raw-angry and confused. He avoided any language to those dear graduates of roads less travelled, and spoke very frankly of the world they were committing themselves to, a war-torn world full of inequality, disease and poverty. My friends were completely disgusted. “What a downer”. I was spell-bound. That freshly homebound diplomat was Stephen Lewis, now one of the most powerful prophets of our time, opening the eyes of the world to the devastation HIV/AIDS is causing in Africa.
Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians are a very meaningful parallel to our own Anglican church in these times. The Corinthian church struggles with her priorities, is confused about who to follow, comes close to schism more than once, and lives in tension with a market driven world. Sound familiar?
Today, Paul is telling the Corinthians how the Christians in Macedonia, who have little, have been very generous to help the poverty ridden Christians in Jerusalem. He asks the Corinthians to consider their own resources and to show the same commitment to the furthering of God’s kingdom as the Macedonians have. Although the Corinthians are capable of giving a great deal, Paul wants to witness their desire to give and minister, not just what they can give monetarily. He asks them to finish that which they start, to keep to the commitments they have made.
Stephen Lewis shows such characteristics, giving of himself not out of convenience or well wishing. He has, as Frederick Buechner says, found where his deep gladness and the world’s great hunger meet.
This morning is not the beginning for this parish. The coming of a new incumbent or rector does not mean the wiping of a slate—all things made new. I have come to Antigonish, Bayfield and Country Harbour as only one in a long line of priests, deacons, lay readers and many many ministers. Much has happened before my time here, and much will happen long after I am gone. As a Christian community, we have commitments. We have financial commitments to ourselves, the function of our diocese and our wider church. As a worshipping community we gather to praise God and reflect on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Anglicans, we are committed to our communion in a very tumultuous time. Our Archbishop of Canterbury, our Primate and our own bishops have commended us to prayer, reflection and conversation. As a parish in the Diocese of NS and PEI, we are committed to a diocesan vision encompassing healthy congregations, organizational effectiveness, youth, Xn formation and stewardship. As part of a national church, we are committed to the work of the Primate’s Fund. And, as a parish family, we are committed to one another, encouraging and upholding one another, caring for the sick in our midst, and working for restorative justice in our community.
The Corinthian church was often guilty of becoming consumed by its internal struggles ending up in a downward spiral of confusion. WE DO NOT EXIST UNTO OURSELVES. The teaching of all the prophets, the great commandment of Jesus has us looking outward, loving God and loving our neighbour. My task is to offer direction and leadership so this parish maintains these commitments. And I am grateful to walk in knowing that so much of this work has been continued even without full-time leadership for almost a year. That is a great testament to the strength, authenticity and reliance on Christ in this parish family. WE DO NOT EXIST UNTO OURSELVES. The Church that Jesus, Paul and all of our founders began was one that looked outward, a city on a hill, shining a light into all dark places.
As I have been preaching, I know you are beginning to paint a picture of me in your mind. Next week there will be a more complete narrative about me in the bulletin, but allow me to fill in a few gaps. I am an Islander, raised on PEI—I won’t say the island, I know how dangerous that is around here! I grew up in a fishing village called Souris on the eastern end of the island. My mother, Carol, who is with us this morning, still lives in Souris and I have one older brother who is a chef in London, England. Before my degree at AST, I worked as an economic development officer with the PEI and federal governments, a youth minister, and spent four years working with an online resource for professional fundraisers. I am a rock climber—when I can find a climbing partner–and I hope you will see me riding around town more on a bicycle than in my car.
I am also a deacon, and I am going to indulge for a minute to speak about this. There is an unfortunate blip in our process that makes being a deacon look like an awkward transitional time when you are “not quite ordained” and “what’s the good of you if we can’t have the Eucharist?!” The ordaining of vocational deacons in our diocese has helped to educate all of us about the traditional role of deacon to the church. The ordained deacon’s task is, as I see it, to be the bridge between what happens in here and what is going on out there, and it is a role I take very seriously. Some say deacons are the social justice people, and, as a rule, deacons are committed to social justice, but their task is to bring those needs to the church so the church can respond in its ministry. When I am ordained a priest, I will continue to be a deacon, building those bridges. The Eucharist will continue to be a central and regular part of our life together, even though we will not celebrate it every Sunday. These months of morning prayer are a good time for us each to reflect on the role the Eucharist plays in our relationship with Christ and how it brings us together as community. It can also be time for us to focus on another area that is critical to our worship together, and that is prayer, that morning prayer is a time for us to gather and spend time in reflection and laying our concerns, our blessings, our lives before God, knowing that God is waiting for us to spend a few quiet moments with him.
Finally, I want to express my gratitude to Rev. Glen Kent and Rev. Susan Best who have served as priests in charge over these past months. In particular, it is important that we acknowledge all those parishioners who have continued to serve as wardens, treasurers, parish and church councils, lay readers and musicians. I invite all those who served in some capacity over the past year to stand. Now, take a deep breath. Now let us all stand and show our appreciation (applaud). AMEN