Third Sunday after Epiphany (Annual Meeting)
One of the most helpful organizations I belonged to as a teenager was the Key Club. Key Club was the teenage incarnation of the Kiwanis Club. Much of what I know about public speaking, organizational leadership and parliamentary procedure I learned from my time in Key Club. Our High School Key Club always opened its meetings with a distinctive ritual. The president called the meeting to order and immediately asked “Future Leaders of America, why are we here?” Our answer? “To serve, build character and develop leadership.”
Jesus wanted people to know why he was here, so he went back to his hometown synagogue, read from the prophet Isaiah, rolled up the scroll, sat down and declared “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” “This is why I have come.”
This being the Sunday when we meet as one congregation for our annual meeting, I think it’s a good opportunity for us to look ahead to the coming year and ask ourselves, “What is our reason for being?” Both individually and collectively I think it’s a pretty good thing to know why we are here.
SO, Christ Episcopal Church in Sausalito. Why are we here? Well,
1. WE ARE HERE TO WORSHIP GOD.
A young man was standing in the narthex of his local church looking at a plaque hanging on the wall dedicated to members who had lost their lives in military service. The rector walked up to the young man, put his arm around him and said, “Do you know what that is? That is a memorial to all our members who died in the service.” Alex thought for a moment and then asked, “Which one, the 8:00 o’clock or the 10:00 o’clock?”
I suppose there are those who think worship can bore you to death, but I beg to differ. Worship is the heartbeat of a congregation. As worship goes, so goes the Church. One of the worst times in my life was when I was being treated for cancer . . . and not because I was being treated for cancer, but because I was hospitalized for weeks at a time and unable to be with my faith community on Sundays. I badgered and begged my doctors to let me go. Not going to church on Sunday didn’t relieve me from responsibility, it left me feeling alienated from my community. Sunday morning television stinks, including religious TV. The weeks in that hospital had no beginning and no end. The days all ran together. I yearned to hear the music, say the prayers, have my heart strangely warmed. I needed to worship God.
I sometimes feel like I would rather worship God than do any other thing I know of in this world. Worship is not about me, it’s not about you. Worship is about God. It’s about praising God and enjoying God forever. May God’s name be magnified, and our lives be sanctified when we gather in this place.
2. WE ARE HERE TO MAKE DISCIPLES.
In Lewis Carroll’s book Through the Looking Glass, Alice wanders aimlessly through a strange kingdom until she comes to a fork in the road. She looks left, she looks right, then exclaims, “Which way shall I go?” That’s when a Cheshire cat with a broad grin inquires “Where are you going?” Alice replies, “I don’t know.” “Well,” says the cat, “then it doesn’t matter. If you don’t know where you are going any road will get you there.”
Disciples of Jesus Christ know where they are going. They are following Christ. They have made a commitment to live for Him and for what he stood for. They may not know the details, but they know their destiny.
Are you a disciple of Jesus Christ? What is at the center of your life? Is it money, work, possessions, pleasure, family, yourself? Why not be Christ-centered? Why not put Christ at the center of your life and let everything else fall into place around it? Believe it or not, I believe that every one of us here was made for that purpose and to that end. That is why we are here. Other people have been drawn to other traditions or other places, but we have been drawn here and I do not believe that was a mistake.
I was stuck in Chicago a few years ago trying to get to New York. My flight into Chicago had been delayed and I missed my connection. The terminal was packed with people who were delayed just like me. Some had been there all night. Tempers were flaring. People were cursing. Cell phones were ringing. As I sat next to the ticket counter, I noticed the clerk to be unusually calm and courteous to customers as they ranted and raved to her about their dilemma. The lady wore a beautiful ichthus pendant. Icthus is the Greek lettering for the Christian “fish” symbol that many people wear. As I got up to board the plane, I said to her, “That was a difficult time back there. Thank you for practicing what you wear.” With a big smile she said, “I try live as Jesus would have me live every day.”
That’s what disciples do. We’re not perfect, we’re just forgiven. We’re not proud, we’re just grounded; we’re not wandering, we’re just following the One who called us to be His disciples. We just try each and every day to do our best to live as Jesus would have us live.
3. WE ARE HERE TO SERVE THE WORLD.
Last Monday was the day when we celebrated the life of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. Martin Luther King had a dream for all of humanity. I’m sure you all know it well. Because of his faith, Dr. King believed people could turn mountains of despair into mountains of hope, and transform the discord of our nation into a beautiful symphony. We are better people because Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream.
Well, I have a dream too. A dream that Christ Church will take this coming year to find new ways to reach out to the people of Sausalito and Marin City to discern where the needs are that God is calling us to meet. In what ways is God calling us to serve our community?
Jesus said, “I have come to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, the recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” If we are to be followers of Jesus, we need to do those things too
4. WE ARE ALSO HERE TO EXTEND AN INVITATION.
In a Seinfeld dialogue between Elaine and her boyfriend, Elaine asks, “Do you believe in God?” Her boyfriend replies, “Yes.” “Is it a problem that I am not religious?” continues Elaine. “Not for me,” replies her boyfriend. “How’s that?” she asks. Her boyfriend replies, “I’m not the one going to hell.”
Now, I’m pretty sure that’s not a theological position that most in our church would take. But there is some truth to the fact that if you believe having a relationship with God in Christ has changed your life and made your life better, you must wonder at least on some level whether other people could benefit from that same relationship.
Today in Marin County the “nones” (those who when asked about their religious affiliation check “none”) outnumber those who affiliate with a religious denomination of any kind. We no longer need to send people around the world to find people are seeking some deeper relationship with God and who just might benefit from finding that relationship through knowing Christ. They are our neighbors.
To invite is to ask, to attract, it is to beckon and to bid, to request and to receive, it is to welcome. There are no finer words in the English language than those which say, “You are invited” or “The honor of your presence is requested.”
We should be asking ourselves, who in our community is God calling us to reach out to and invite to join us at Christ Church? How is God calling us to change and grow so that we might be vessels to share God’s love with this part of God’s creation?
I have a favorite statistic that I like to quote. The Alban Institute once surveyed members of faith communities, asking what brought them there in the first place. Out of 10 people, somewhere between one and three came because they saw an advertisement, came across a website, or just decided they wanted to look for a church. But of that 10, no fewer than 7 were at that church or house of worship because someone invited them personally.
So this morning I ask you to consider a simple question. Why are we here? For my part, I believe we are here 1) to worship God, 2) to form disciples who follow Jesus, 3) to serve those who are in need, and finally 4) to invite others to join us on this wonderful journey of faith that we share.
May the coming year be a time for us at Christ Church to discover new and exciting ways to do all those things and more. In Jesus’ Name.