7 Epiphany C.22 (Annual Meeting)
The Rev. Melanie McCarley
Each year on the date of our Annual Meeting, instead of a regular sermon, I deliver my address to our congregation. As I see it, my task isn’t to review the past year (because you can read all about that in the Annual Report). My goal is to look ahead. Think of this as a bit of biblical prognostication for the coming year (because, after all, I’m a preacher and I can’t leave the Gospel behind).
Today we listen to Jesus as he continues his Sermon on the Mount. He concludes by saying “…give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
Isn’t this what we hope for? A good measure—a cup of blessing which overflows. It would be so simple if this were all there was. We’d simply hold out our cups, request what it is that we want and receive. But these words are bracketed by more challenging lessons: pray for those who abuse you. Bless those who curse you. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do good and lend, expecting nothing in return. That’s a pretty big ask.
And yet, today’s lesson concludes with a reminder that ours is not a paltry god, but a God of abundance. A God who, in response to the generosity of our hearts, bestows upon us in return a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over. That’s something to anticipate!
Now, I admit, considering what we have been through over the course of the past two years looking into the future is something of a fearful business. Certainly, we’ve learned the ability to pivot—to roll with the punches and chart a course different than what was anticipated. However, as I look at the days and months ahead, I believe there is ample reason to be optimistic.
To begin, we are blessed with able leadership and an excellent staff. Your Wardens and vestry (including those who are rotating off and others who will be joining us this year) are people with extraordinary skills and faith. They are creative, reasonable, thoughtful and far-seeing.
As we look to the year ahead, I anticipate more in-person gatherings, as well as ways in which we can gather together in-person as well as online. The tremendous blessing of being able to stream our services during a time in which it has been difficult to be together in person (kudos here to our Technology Team) has led us to the conclusion that streaming our services is something which will continue indefinitely. We understand there will always be those among us who cannot be with us in person. What’s more, we have people who join us in worship each week from different states. They, too, are a valued part of our faith community. With all the challenges wrought by the pandemic, one gleaning is that our sense of community has expanded rather than diminished.
Outreach will continue to be important to us in the coming year. Building upon our remarkable congregational response and ecumenical endeavor in assisting a family from Afghanistan to relocate to Massachusetts this past year; my hope is that we will be able to continue to refocus our attention from the pandemic in order to engage with important issues facing our world such as climate change and racism. I’m happy to report that our Lenten Series, beginning on March 6th, will focus on a congregational discussion of racism.
As we anticipate the pandemic lessening its grip, I’m excited to see changes in our worship. At 8 a.m. we now come to the rail for Holy Communion. Nursery Care is available and our Sunday School is up and running. Today, you will see a return of coffee and other beverages! And later this afternoon, our Confirmation Class will be able to gather in-person to begin a series focused on creative engagement with our baptismal covenant. What a joy it will be to see, over the coming weeks and months, a return of some of the aspects of our life together that we have missed so much: Processions, receiving communion at the rail, in-person gatherings of the Book Group; a regathering of our Movie Group.
There are new things as well—a focus on inter-generational offerings such as a handbell choir, and creative fellowship opportunities as we resume the joyful task of being together.
This year we will begin a capital campaign—designed to address issues far reaching into our future. This will be an important time in our life together—one, I anticipate will be filled with a renewed appreciation for what our faith is calling us to become as people of God. It will be a large ask—of all of us, but with a faithful response, we can ensure a vibrant future for our parish.
Listening again to the Gospel passage for today we hear our Lord calling us to lives of discipleship—discipleship defined by lavish kindness, of finding our joy in God; of discovering a delight in serving others and living with faith and servitude.
As individuals and as a community of faith, we are vessels. We’ve spent the past two, plus years struggling with fear and loss, engendered by a pandemic. Our world has changed, and this hasn’t been easy on any of us—from our youngest members to those who have grown to become pillars of our church. I suspect there isn’t a person among us who hasn’t, on some level, been afflicted with loss. In other words, if I had to guess, I would say that each of us here knows what it feels like to be an empty vessel.
Here—in the gospel lesson for today— Jesus speaks, and tells us that we are called to a life of discipleship, defined by radical love of God and our neighbor. That we have challenges ahead of us in the coming year is certain—that the grace and goodness of God are more powerful than the difficulties ahead—this is sure as well. As we look to the coming year, our God, the Lord of Life, tells us how to live and how we might be filled. Nancy Spiegelberg writes: “Lord, I crawled across the barrenness to you with my empty cup, uncertain in asking any small drop of refreshment. If only I had known you better, “I’d have come running with a bucket.”
This is what I see for ourselves in the coming year. Not simply people holding cups to be filled with the abundance of God’s blessings—but buckets—filled with a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over into our laps. This is a vision worth living into. In Jesus’ name. Amen.