Before I begin to wrestle with this Gospel, may I make some observations:
Observation: on occasions such as this there can be a haunting and yet unspoken concern within Vestry and Search Committee members: “Have we chosen wisely?” You have! Here is a person with all the genius, goodness, energy and faithfulness to guide this parish to new heights of witness and service. And, apart from all of his extraordinary gifts – make no mistake about it –he has clearly out-married himself! And perhaps best of all: they both love easily and are easily loved.
Observation: while I will say more of this in a few moments, and you may not be aware of it: the entire Episcopal Church is indebted to this parish for the manner in which it has met crisis, persevered and triumphed.
Observation: a word about bishops! Or, better yet…your diocesan bishop. When you utter his name in the intercessions, do not be matter of fact or cursory for you have so very much to be grateful for in the person of this one: Peter.
Now, to this business at hand:
“And, the rains fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall…for it was built upon the rock.”
This is a parish church that understands what it means to “build.” How downcast I was to see that cover of the Living Church and this place framed in ruin. How deeply inspired everyone was to have regular word on “Phoenix Saint James‘s” rising magnificently from the ashes!
“Builders”…it is an ordinary enough word,oft used, but tonight I would like to take it out of its ordinary usuage, dust it off, shine it, polish it and let it gleam in light of three imperatives for this happy occasion.
Builders! Builders make things happen!
The most visited site in Washington is the black granite memorial to the 58,000 Americans killed in Vietnam. Today so greatly valued, the original idea was vigorously opposed, even despised! One person led the struggle to build it: Jan Scruggs, an infantry corporal, haunted by the memories of his dead comrades and determined to do something significant to their memory. With no money or influence he made things happen. He put to work, fought the opposition, raised eight million dollars and built! Builders have what Peters and Waterman in Pursuit of Excellence call a “bias for action.”
The Christian understands this…knowing that any valid encounter with the Lord Christ results in deliberate efforts to throw off creeping complacency, replacing it with a passion to make things happen in accord with His heart and mind of love.
Builders! Builders take risks!
In the days and weeks and years ahead may this be a parish willing to risk – fearing nothing save the possibility that at the end of this earthly life there will be no voice saying “well done, good and faithful servant.”
Do not lose sight that every truly worthwhile project carries with it some risk of failure or intimidation: some possibility motives will be misinterpreted or plans not perfect or missteps costly.
But, the Church has always been strengthened by its ability to risk and be as those Theodore Roosevelt described as the ones who “come up short” but keep on going! For the Christian it is to act out the doctrine of the Resurrection: fearing little else other than the knowledge that we have sought to be totally responsive to our good God.
Builders! Lastly, Builders construct vision!
People of Saint James’s, never, never underestimate the value of dreaming God’s dreams! These are moments when we allow ourselves to be romantic, realistic and faithful all at the same time! And at the center of any visioning there must be a desire to build nothing less then the Kingdom of God!
Big phrase “the Kingdom of God.”
My best understanding of these words is traceable to the beginning of my ministry. Until the day I married Peggy, the closest friend I had in this world was my father – like his father before him, a priest of this church. Until his death, we would speak long distance, with great regularity! Now, my parents nickname for me was “Doode” (finding its origins in the fact that my mother had been raised in Oklahoma and Texas and the term was a part of her endearing usage of that culture’s language.)
When his calls would come there was never any “hello” or “hi” but these words: “Doode, how goes the building of the Kingdom?”
“How goes the building of the Kingdom?”
How goes the resettlement of refugees…the welcoming of new persons into the body of the faithful…the marriage classes…the tensions over Prayer Book revision…the shelter ministries…the long hours…the staff challenges….and, for him the two most important things: the pastoral care of those entrusted to you and ‚ the maintenance of spiritual balance.
“How goes the building of the Kingdom?”
What is the Kingdom…in your life and mine…in the life of this great parish and this superb priest? What is at the epicenter of every vision you create? It is to want all that God wants; to always want it every day of this life; at great cost to ego, pride and selfishness; without reservations; devoid of excuse. It is to be submissive to the love and high mindfulness and peace and forgiveness and generosity of our God; to surrender repeatedly and willingly and often to God.
It is to build – day in and day out – “upon the rock” knowing “the rains will come and the winds will blow…but it will not fall, for it is build upon the rock.”