[Sermon preached on Sunday, January 21, 2018 (Epiphany 3, Year B) at Saint Paul’s Church on Lake of the Isles – Minneapolis, Minnesota]

For the present form of this world is passing away.

1 Corinthians 7:31b (NRSV)

When was the last time you were confronted by the truth of the Gospel in a way that challenged you?

When was the last time you heard the Word of God and you went away thinking, “hmm, I might have had it wrong this whole time”?

When was the last time Love called you by name, summoned you at the fundamental level of your very being, spoke so profoundly that it resonated with poetry inscribed upon your, and you dropped everything to follow?

Summoning humanity – indeed all of creation – to the higher, more excellent way of love has been the work of God from the very beginning. Starting with the first human beings – adam or “earthlings” – in the Garden of Eden, continuing with the wandering people of God at the foot of Mount Sinai or the returning exiles in Jerusalem, including the twelve disciples gathered by our Lord to inaugurate his movement of love, God has always been in the business of gathering a transformed people into a transforming community. Beloved in Christ, the goal of our being together – of our worship, our fellowship, our formation – is to become transformed members gathered into this transforming community called the Church, the Body of Christ.

First, we are transformed because in the Incarnation, God chooses to be known to us, to come to close to us that we might be drawn closer to God, to give us a close encounter of the God-kind. This mysterium tremendum et fascinans (the terrible and fascinating mystery), the presence of God leaves nothing unchanged. Idols crumble, empires fall, hearts change, eyes open, ears are unstopped, walls collapse, the dead are raised to new life whenever God draws near.

Second, we are transforming because, if we are indeed the Body of Christ, we are called to go where he goes and do what he does – enter the world’s deepest pain and transform it in the light of the Kingdom of God. Speaking in the face of Jim Crow segregation, hyper-militarism, and exploitative capitalism of his day, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King suggested that the “salvation of humanity lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.” The “creatively maladjusted” are those who see the brokenness of our world and employ their God-given creativity, their moral imagination, to see this world through the eyes of God.

Idols crumble, empires fall, hearts change, eyes open, ears are unstopped, walls collapse, the dead are raised to new life whenever God draws near.

The Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglass, Episcopal priest, Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary, and author of Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, defines moral imagination as being “grounded in the absolute belief that the world can be better. A moral imagination,” she says, “envisions Isaiah’s ‘new heaven and new earth,’ where the ‘wolf and the lamb shall feed together,’ and trusts that it will be made real… With a moral imagination one is able to live proleptically, that is, as if the new heaven and new earth were already here.”[1] If we are to be heavenly yeast to leaven the world’s brokenness with the power of God’s love, we must first believe that, in the words of our Savior, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near!” We must believe that the downtrodden are lifted up, the poor and hungry are filled, and broken communities are reconciled. A moral imagination changes us by changing how we see the world.

When I consider those whose lives reflected the transformative power of a moral imagination, I think of people like Dorothy Day. Raised in a family of nominal Christians, she came of age in a time of great transformation and social movement. While her conversion from a nominal  an active, transforming Christian faith was the process of a lifetime, it is very clear that, in the face of growing poverty and social inequality, her faith compelled her to action. “The Gospel takes away our right forever,” she says, “to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.” The Gospel provoked a change in her that propelled her to change the world around her. A moral imagination begins with changing how we see ourselves in relation to those around us.

In the face of the all the brokenness we see around us, it can be tempting to see the Church of the living God as an escape from the real world. Faith can become nothing more than an excuse to put our heads into the sand and to ignore the world spinning apart around us. But this would be an inappropriate misuse of the gift of faith. Rather than inviting us to hide, faith ought to send us out to serve. The community of faith is where we hear of visions glorious – angels ascending and descending, humility and love triumphing over pride and hatred, the eventual death of death itself – in order to fire up our moral imaginations. Faith isn’t about hermetically sealing the faithful away from the sickness of the world. Faith is about sending us into the sickness to heal it.

In his recent book called Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life, Archbishop Rowan Williams writes against the idea of holiness as withdrawal, choosing instead to frame holiness as “going into the heart of where it is most difficult for human beings to be human.”[2] That means entering the darkest, most depressing, most dehumanizing spaces to change them. No, being the Church isn’t an escape. It’s the opposite. Faith in God thrusts us into the thick of it. It is an excuse to make good trouble for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

God has come to make all things new, to raise up things that were once cast down, to restore things that are now broken, to raise to new life things that are now dead. Those are the hallmarks of the Kingdom of God. That is what is unfolding in front of our eyes as we watch the convulsions of a dying world give way to the endless life of God. The “creatively maladjusted” people of God, you and I, are called to employ our moral imaginations to reconstruct this world using the original blueprints of goodness written by the finger of God.

But the first people we must allow to change is ourselves.

We cannot hope to change the world when we haven’t allowed ourselves to be changed.

Being the Church isn’t an escape. It’s the opposite. Faith in God thrusts us into the thick of it. It is an excuse to make good trouble for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

In a famous quote attributed to Lao Tzu, Taoist philosopher, we find that the change we seek in others must begin within.

If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.

Dear friends in Christ, the world isn’t make of abstract concepts, theories, and systems. The world we live in is comprised of an endlessly complex network of living, breathing, creatures of a loving Creator. Therefore, to change the world is to be changed.

God is calling us to walk this transformative journey, to stick with it when times are tough, to press and pray through it even when it doesn’t feel like it is worth it. Not only do we make this road by walking, but the road makes us.  Every step we take towards God transforms us into who God already knows us to be.

And as we make that journey, the black and white world around us gives way to reveal the technicolor truth of the compassionate community of God.


[1] Kelly Brown Douglas. Stand Your Grand: Black Bodies and the Justice of God (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2015), p. 225-226

[2] Rowan Williams. Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life (Grand Rapids: Wm. Eerdmans Publications Co., 2016), 50.

Letter from Your Wardens (click to view)

 


August 29, 2019
Dear Saint Paul’s Parish Family,

We are sorry to share so early in our journey with Father Marcus that he has submitted his resignation and will be leaving us October 6, 2019. He has accepted a position at the Diocese of Connecticut. In his new position, he will be the Dean of Formation and will also be working as a Missional Priest-in-Charge of a faith community. This is a wonderful opportunity for him allowing him to continue to strengthen his gifts. The Diocese of Connecticut will benefit as we have from Father Marcus’s passion. Although it is hard to see him go, we have learned and done wonderful things as a parish with his leadership and guidance over the past 2-1/2 years. It will be exciting to watch his continued growth from afar knowing we were blessed to have been part of his early career. Father Marcus’s letter to the parish is included in this email.

So now we begin to look forward. Beth and I will be in contact with ECMN and Bishop Prior to plan for an interim priest and to look at putting together a search committee. We will gather together and consider what we have learned about ourselves during our time with Father Marcus. This is a chance for us to evaluate where we are and to make plans for moving forward: what we want to be sure to carry forward, what things we might want back that have changed, and yes, what might not have been tackled yet that we want to explore? We ask that each of you give prayerful consideration to these questions. They will be foundational to our Rector search.

We know the amazing strength of this parish and are confident we will become even stronger from the challenge that has been put in front of us. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns.

Blessings,
Meredith Johnson, Senior Warden (meredithvj@gmail.com) Beth Carlson, Junior Warden (pbcarlson@comcast.net)


Dear Saint Paul’s,

It is with a mix of sadness and joy that I inform you that I offered my resignation to the Vestry on Monday, August 19. My last day as your priest will be Sunday, October 6, 2019. I have accepted a call to serve as the Dean of Formation for the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, a position that will also include serving as a Missional Priest-in- Charge of a faith community there.

Throughout my time as your Rector, I’ve tried to preach, teach, and exemplify a consistent message: each of us is called to grow in Christian maturity to meet the challenges and opportunities of being the Church in this new missional age. Our patron, Saint Paul the Apostle, calls this the “full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). This means taking seriously our individual and collective calls to be leaders, not only within the walls of our parish but also in the wider community. Leading, especially in times of great change, means taking risks, being open to failure that leads to learning, collaborating with others, and standing firmly in our identity and purpose.

People across Saint Paul’s Church have heard this message, stepped up, and stepped forward. Together, we have faced down a major challenge head-on –tackling our budget deficit– and as a result are experiencing a renewal of energy and spirit. We have new ministries popping up all around, a greater capacity for innovation, and deeper commitment to Christ and the mission of God he invites us into. There are others who are still afraid to step forward or unsure where they fit, and that’s okay. Saint Paul’s moves forward together.

My new role will give me the opportunity to help form other ordained leaders in what we’ve done together: translating an age-old faith to a contemporary context. I am excited and honored to be asked by Bishop Ian Douglas to serve the Church in this role.

None of this takes away the anxiety, sadness, or grief that many will feel at this time. Transitions are always hard, especially when it comes when things are going well. I have not served as your Rector for long, but we’ve done a lot together. I will pray for you as you discern what leadership model God might be inviting you to try and who might best step into that role to walk alongside you as you continue engaging God’s mission. Your wardens are two of the most capable people I’ve ever met and together with your vestry and the entire community, as it has for the last 139 years, your journey continues.

There will be time to say goodbye, and I will continue to serve faithfully until my final day. In the meantime, the mission of God calls us onward. There are individuals and communities in need of the Gospel – and it is our job as followers of Jesus Christ to proclaim it, in word and example.

Faithfully, Marcus+

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