Climbing from Height to Height
“Climbing from Height to Height”
by The Rev. Tracy Dugger
Proper 25C* Sir 35:12-17* Ps 84:1-6* 2Tim 4:6-8,16-18* Lk 18:9-14
Our psalm this morning focuses on how precious it is to dwell in the house of the Lord. We long for the day of the heavenly banquet when we will see God face to face. But we also celebrate and have joy in the here and now. We are in the dwelling of God here and now, Jesus teaches us that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” All of us know the when two or three gather, but how often have we heard the emphasis on being in agreement, and asking God the Father for our needs?
I’ve spent the past few weeks meeting with wardens, vestry, finance committee, and leaders of ministries, and I have even more still to go. I have spent these past few weeks getting to know you, and sharing who I am and we’ve been dreaming about and coming to agreement about who we are called to become together in the coming year. I believe firmly that we are poised to as the Psalmist says “climb from height to height”. We have a foundation of faith to build on, but we’ve got some work to do: we need to orient our strength and reliance on the God of gods, the true God of hosts, our heavenly Father, made known to us in Jesus Christ, and empowering us through Holy Spirit. We need to be a people that gather to worship in joy, to rejoice in the living God. We need to be people capable of traveling through a desolate valley, and even still there, finding the springs of living water. So let me share a bit today how I, the vestry, and other leaders see us getting there in the year to come.
Firstly, We are a parish family that wants to be united by God’s grace. I say wants to be united, because we are not yet, because we are not yet using all the means of grace given to us by the power of the Holy Spirit in the name of Christ our Lord. We will be united when we know one another by name just as God knows each of us by name. We will be united when we regularly fellowship across the 4 services, not just to have fun and fundraise, but also to bear one another’s burdens and to lift one another in prayer. Jesus is calling us to be one as he and the Father is one…And our mission is to love and serve ALL in Christ’s name. But how do we do that?
How do we go from a people committed to love and serve, to a people that are actively loving and serving all people? Our vestry is working on organizing our ministries into categories like: Worship, Fun & Fellowship, Education, and Outreach. Our vision for the next year is to have a vestry person from every service, generation and racial group. We need your help to achieve this however. Our vestry members will then each chair as a liaison a category of ministries so we will have clear and direct lines of communication and representation on our vestry. So that we can make well informed decisions for our common good.
We also need to revitalize many of our ministries. In particular, we need to revitalize and re-imagine coffee hour. How are we to get to know and love one another if we only have coffee hour for one or two services a month? All of our services need to have times to fellowship and connect with one another on a regular basis. Because the fun and fellowship we share lays the foundation for us to bear one another’s burdens when life is not so fun.
Additionally, most of the ways we serve outreach to our community are focused on food. And that is wonderful. And yet man cannot live by bread alone. And I wonder how we can use what we’ve been given, these 5 acres, this facility, and our many talents and time to give people outside our walls the bread of life…. How do we do more than wait for hungry and lonely people to come in…How do take Jesus out to them?
Our vision for this place is to be a Christ centered oasis. A place for people to experience the acceptance and radical life changing love of Jesus Christ. And looking around I think we’re almost there, but we’re not quite. An oasis is defined by the dictionary as a fertile spot in a desert, where water is found. So how do we get there? How do we truly become a Christ centered oasis where living water is found, where all can find refreshment?
As a newcomer in your midst I have an interesting perspective, and fresh eyes to see opportunities abound for us to grow, and not just grow numerically, but even more importantly to grow in the gifts of faith, hope and charity. You see unless we grow our faith in Christ, unless we see the world through the lens of hope, that in Jesus, all created things are already being made new, that all knees will bow and all tongues will confess, until we put on these lenses to see the world as God sees it, we will not grow.
Through these lenses of hope, we can see that this broken and weary world is being remade and transformed by the blood Christ. And it is when our charity grows that we will grow. But charity is not simply giving to those in need. Charity or caritas in the Latin is actually love. To grow in charity is to grow in the love of God and loving our neighbor as our self. But Jesus gave us an even higher command than that. Jesus said, “My command is this, love others as I have loved you. (John 15:12) To love as Jesus has loved us, is to give of ourselves so that others may live, be made whole, and reconciled with God.
That is what it means when we invite Jesus to give us the vision. This stewardship season we are asking you to dream big. To dream of how our work here together can shine the light of Christ to the world. I want to shine so bright that this place becomes a beacon of hope. A place where lives are changed by the power of the Holy Spirit. So that when people meet you, they see the light of Christ shining forth. How do we become this Christ centered oasis? How does this vision become a reality? Well like everything else in this world it’s going to take money. I see the light is beginning to dawn and a few of you have just realized, “oh no this is one of those stewardship sermons isn’t it…” Yes it is, because we have to talk about money…why? Because Jesus did! A lot… Jesus talked more about money than he did Heaven and Hell combined. Eleven of the 39 parables He tells are about finances.
Jesus talks about money this morning in fact when he tells a story…A story that says giving a tenth of your income to the Lord, but being a self-righteous jerk isn’t going to get you anywhere…because none of us are righteous in ourselves, and none of us can buy our salvation. Instead it is important to have contempt for no one, and instead to humble ourselves. We humble ourselves by giving up our time, our talents and offerings so that others can receive love. To love as Jesus has loved us, is to give of ourselves so that others may live, be made whole, and reconciled with God.
I have made a commitment to tithe 10% of my family’s income to the church, and then we give sacrificially above that to 2 church planters in the diocese, to see the gospel spread, and we also foster a child through Compassion International. We can do that because we’re debt free. If you want to learn more about becoming debt free so you can be free to give like this talk to my husband Will Dugger. We together have taught and lived the Financial Peace University Program and we’d love to start one here. Maybe you can give more than we can, maybe you have wealth stored up for just such a season as this and a one time gift of $2,000 to rebuild the website, or $5000 to catch us up on basic repairs, or $500,000 to pay off the mortgage…
Maybe you’re at the other end and laughing thinking yeah right, for you right now maybe giving ten percent seems impossible… Regardless of your financial situation, we heard great wisdom from Sirach this morning. Sirach or the Wisdom of Sirach is also known as the Book of Ecclesiasticus, and it is a work of wisdom teachings from the Jewish tradition in the time between the Old and New Testaments. It is part of a series of ethical teachings that aren’t included in the protestant bible. So why did we read it in church this morning if its not in the Bible? The Canons of the Church say that we should not use the book of Sirach to establish any doctrine, but it should be read “for example of life and instruction of manners…”.(Canon VI. Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for salvation. The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion., n.d.) Essentially, while you won’t find the source of your salvation in Sirach, you will find wisdom in how to live a godly life and to be wise. And don’t we all want to be a little wiser? So what does Sirach have to say…
Give to the Most High as he has given to you and as generously as you can afford. For the Lord is the one who repays, and he will repay you sevenfold. Do not offer him a bribe, for he will not accept it and do not rely on a dishonest sacrifice…Give to God as he has given to you, be as generous as you can afford, and God will reward you sevenfold…I truly believe generous giving will change your life. But this is about more than just giving so that we can be blessed. The root of our giving is found in loving others as Christ has loved us.
I believe your giving will change the life of the world through the ministry of the church. To run this ministry, to fulfill our mission to love and serve all…well we have to be able to pay to keep the doors open, the lights on, the ac working, and put a bulletin in your hands. But its so much more than that. We are called to do so much more than just maintain…We were made to thrive, we believe we are called to be an oasis where people can come to be refreshed, renewed, cleansed, made whole, and restored to continue on this journey. But as I prayed over accepting this call, and as I prepared my heart to come here I became deeply convicted of this….
We HAVE to do more than just invite people to COME here. We have to be MORE than just a pleasant rest stop. We HAVE to be a people radically transformed by the love of Christ who are just crazy enough to believe that we have something here that the rest of the world needs.
And once we are deeply convicted that we have what the rest of the world needs we have to do as I asked in my letter to you all…We have to dust off the welcome mat and revamp our digital welcome with social media and the website. We have to open up the doors to make it actually possible for all to come in. And we have to get this place company ready. I’m sorry but green faucets and water spigots and locked up toilet paper and cast off furniture does not say oasis of renewal. So yes let’s shine our light, but let’s make it a beacon of hope and renewal found and rooted in the love of Christ, love of one another, and love of our neighbor.
Canon VI. Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for salvation. The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. (n.d.). Retrieved 10 23, 2019, from Church Society: http://www.churchsociety.org/issues_new/doctrine/39a/iss_doctrine_39A_Arts06-08.asp
Harrington, D. J. (n.d.). Invitation to the Apocrypha. Eerdmans. Retrieved 10 23, 2019, from https://books.google.com/books?id=L6zJG9BZMQC&pg=PA90&lpg=PA90&focus=viewport&vq=%22The+book+of+Sirach+is+regarded+as+canonical%22&dq=Invitation+to+the+Apocrypha+1999#v=onepage&q=%22The%20book%20of%20Sirach%20is%20regarded%20as%20canonical%22&f=false