"On their way"-A Sermon for St. Julian's 10th Anniversary, June 30, 2019
So happy anniversary y’all! Today is the 10th anniversary of St. Julian’s first official worship service at Henry Middle School on the last Sunday of June in 2009. What a journey it has been. There really aren’t words. I am going to try and provide some…you all know better than anyone after 10 years…that I tend to not be at a loss for words. But, I really mean that it is near impossible to express my gratitude to God and to each of you for the journey we have shared…which in so many ways is just at its beginning. So, here at the outset, I will just say thank you…thank you, first, sweet Jesus, thank you for calling us into being…for providing the lives we live…that have led to the ministry we share in this place…a ministry that has blessed, with your grace, countless folk over the past decade…for the friendships forged…for the partners to laugh together in times of celebration and cry together in times of pain and loss…for the opportunity to be your heart and hands, as we have been given the gift to lift others up when they have needed it most…and for the other hearts and hands in this place who have lifted us up when we have needed it most. Thank you for the vision you have placed before us and the resources and wisdom to actually en-flesh it, in the life we share and the good work, your work, that we have been able to accomplish together. Thank you for what still lies ahead as the journey with you and each other continues…that the vineyard you have planted in this place may thrive and grow and produce good fruit to feed the bodies and souls of all those you have and still will entrust into our care. We love you. We love you…and our hearts overflow with gratitude…as we receive your grace upon grace that makes the life we live together…full of meaning and promise and potential. Thank you…we love you. And perhaps we should all now say together…amen.
And now I want to say thanks to you…meaning you, the people of St. Julian’s, who have walked alongside me, as together with God’s help, we have forged this family of faith. Thank you for your words and your hard work and your generosity and…most of all…your love. I like to call us a family of faith…because that is really how I feel about us. For me, it most appropriately describes what we have become…a family…brothers and sisters…parents and children…not by blood…but by the, even, stronger bond of mutual affection…of lives mingled by choice rather than circumstance…bonds forged in rites of initiation…like Baptism…and in shared rituals…like Holy Communion…that connect us beyond flesh…in spirit…the unbreakable spirit of God’s own love…God’s own, eternal, love. So, for your choice to take your place at this family table…and for all the gifts you have sacrificially laid on it…thank you…with all my heart.
There is indeed much to celebrate together on this day, and so I hope you will remain for lunch, so that we can continue to both look back and look forward…giving thanks for the road we have traveled thus far and continue to dream about what is still to come. I also want to officially announce here…that today’s celebration is just a foretaste of what is to come. Recognizing that it is summer, which means many who would like to be with us are likely away, we are planning a significant 10###sup/sup###anniversary bash for the fall. For, if St. Julian’s knows how to do anything, it is to throw a great dinner party. There will be much more info forthcoming. So, shine up your dancing shoes and start remembering your favorite or most meaningful St. Julian’s stories…for an evening that I trust will be well worth your time and presence.
And, if all of this wasn’t enough to get us fired up, we also have the chance today to welcome the Rev. Jonathan and Lizzie McManus-Dail to our family of faith. They join us, officially, today on our continued journey into our bright and hope filled undiscovered future. And, I think it could not be more appropriate that today, on this 10###sup/sup###anniversary of our shared life and ministry together, that St. Julian’s, that we, welcome for the very first time a second full-time clergy person to our staff...and I say second…cause your still stuck with me as well. And, their arrival is more than just an opportunity to expand the scope and impact of our ministry in this community and well beyond…but a powerful witness to the fact that, as I have said continually, we are really just beginning to live into our full potential as a God’s own lovers and life-givers…God’s own redemptive power at work in this part of God’s world. Though I am an admitted and unapologetic optimist, I believe, in my innermost being, that God intends to use us, for God’s own loving purposes, to shape the community around us in remarkable and miraculous ways…that we and those who live around us might form more perfectly the very image of the God of love…manifest in real human lives…especially for those who most need to be heard, seen, and lifted up. So, indeed, much remains before us…and Jonathan…we are so glad you are here…to handle it all for us…just kidding…to join with us as we live more and more into the vision to “grow in relationship, love all well, and seek intimacy with Christ”…this life-giving and miraculous vision that the living God has set before us.
So, once again, I will say…we are in so many ways just at the beginning of our shared journey. And just to put our infancy into perspective, I looked it up, St. Julian’s Church in Norwich, England, where our own Patron Saint Julian lived and served and for whom she is named…a church that continues to exist to this day…is thought to have been built prior to the Norman Conquest of England…which was in 1066 AD. Now I don’t know if St. Julian of Norwich Episcopal Church in Williamson County will be here in a thousand years…and if so…hopefully not in this particular space…but, again, we have only just begun. We are on the journey. We surely have not arrived at our destination…which means there is still a lot of fun to be had…but also a lot of hard and creative work to do…and that hard and creative work will be done by people…by human beings…infused with the Spirit of God…by us and those who will surely follow after. Our church, our family of faith, has always been and will always be made up of people…not bricks and mortar…but hearts and bones.
I told this story two Maundy Thursdays ago…but I think it bears repeating and describes the point I hope to make. So, I will never forget a particular Sunday back at our beginning…in the first few months that St. Julian’s existed…when we were still worshiping weekly in the cafeteria of Henry Middle School. It was All Saints’ Sunday, and I was so excited to celebrate our first All Saints’ together…to claim and celebrate our shared sainthood as followers of Jesus…to remember the sacred work of being Jesus’ heart and hands, feeding a hurting world, as his saints, the people of God, alive and active today. I had created a liturgy with special prayers and images of saints for the screens. I had included a renewal of our Baptismal Vows, which we commit to in the sacrament of Baptism, and which defines for us what the life of a saint of God really looks like. I was planning to do it up…celebrate big time…all the pomp and circumstance that our transcendent, ancient and beautiful Episcopal Worship could provide…at least all it could provide in a middle school cafeteria and not a gothic cathedral.
So, I arrived at the school that Sunday afternoon…pulling our trailer that contained all our gear and supplies to turn a cafeteria into a church…excited…ready to worship. But when I arrived, I noticed that our dutiful and long-suffering set-up team was sort of milling around outside the doors to the school. Which was unusual…for they would typically be inside already moving things around as needed to turn the cafeteria into church. So, before I began to back the trailer up to the doors of the school, I got out of the truck to see what was up…and the answer was that the doors to the school were locked. Apparently, the custodian who typically met us to unlock the school had not arrived…and, at least that Sunday, never did.
So, what to do! I quickly moved into problem solving Miles mode. Wondering if there was a power outlet outside so we could still project the liturgy on the patio…even if the sunlight dulled the images on the screen…all the while hoping someone from the school would show up…again they didn’t, and there were no power outlets outside. So, how would we have church without all our holy hardware? How would we have church without screens or prayer books or a printed liturgy? How would we have church without our electric keyboard for hymns? What about the beautiful liturgy I had planned and prepared for All Saints’ Sunday? And, what would someone think if they were visiting St. Julian’s for the first time that day and things were in complete chaos and total disarray? Would they ever come back? Surely, they would think we were a hot mess and never come back. I was totally freaking out.
And at that very moment, God sent to me one of his saints. You know him, Jack Ely, who happened to be on the setup team that day. He approached me with calm and a smile on his face…and said something like, “Do we have bread and wine…are God’s people present…can we still pray and listen and speak and sing.” And, I said yes to all of that. Then he said, “Great we’re fine. We have everything we need. Calm yourself.” And, of course, he was entirely right. We had everything we needed and more. We gathered around the picnic tables outside the cafeteria, we sang hymns unplugged, we offered prayers, which most of us know by heart, I preached my All Saints’ sermon, we gave thanks to God for Jesus’ life among us over bread and wine…and we fed it to each other…and Jesus was indeed present…and we were all indeed filled. In fact, it was a glorious day.
We are in so many ways still just at the beginning of our journey, yet we have everything we need, as I learned on our very first All Saints’ together, we have always had everything we need, to be the church…to accomplish everything that God has and will ever set before us…for the next decade and well beyond. For all God needs, and has ever needed, to realize his loving purposes for us, for those who will join us, and for the precious human lives that surround this family of faith…is us…our both broken and beautiful saintly lives…our very own God created and shaped lives…our own hearts and bones. Amen.