The Rev. Melanie McCarley
As he came out of the temple, one of Jesus’ disciples said to him: “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
I must say, that if given my choice of readings from which to choose to preach my Stewardship Sermon, this would not be my choice. Upon reading the lessons for today I glanced again at the long list of projects facing our Property Committee that is presently sitting on my desk, and slowly set it aside.
Yet, the more thought I gave to these readings, the more it seems to me, that they make perfect sense for what we are really about here at St. Paul’s. For our church is far more than a building. Above all, we are a community of faith, and the work, worship and fellowship that occurs within these walls is about much more than stone upon stones. St. Paul’s is about something more vital and fundamental to our well-being than the building in which we worship; it is about coming to now our Savior; it’s about living into the ministries to which we have been called in our daily life and work; and discovering our sense of worth in the eyes of a loving God. In the end, the walls which grace this community of faith are as much a tool as is the lectern from which we read, the prayer book from which we worship and the instruments and hymnals that guide us as we sing.
As Jesus and the disciples walked away from the impressive temple complex, James, John and Andrew asked Jesus privately: “Tell us, when will this be?” In other words, when will the destruction take place? In truth, it wouldn’t be long—just a few years after the time in which the disciples received the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, to be exact. But, at the moment when the disciples asked their question, it must have been difficult for them to imagine that anything could reduce the Temple to rubble. The highest walls of the temple mount reached an impressive 165 feet. In fact, the philosopher Philo reports that when Marcus Agrippa visited Jerusalem, he could talk of nothing else “but praise for the sanctuary and all that pertained to it.” Those buildings, they elicited pride and a sense of security for the Jewish people. Not only were they beautiful, they were also the place in which it was believed that god dwelt.
In this passage, Jesus is challenging not only what the eyes of his disciples beheld, but what they believed about the nature of God. The truth might have eluded them at this precise moment when Jesus was speaking. However, in time they would come to understand. Following the death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord, that band of disciples would learn the lesson that God, who is the very Lord of Life, cannot be contained in a building.
St. Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, bestows upon the church perhaps its best description when it calls it the body of Christ—one body, composed of many members. And that fledgling church as described in the Book of Acts, it describes itself as a praying and singing fellowship—a community of faith supporting one another in times of difficulty, and rejoicing with one another in times of gladness. And what is true of the time of St Paul, well…it is also true of us, who bear the name of this saint some two thousand years after he penned his letters.
And this, ultimately, is why I, as your Rector, am asking you to pledge to St. Paul’s, as my husband, Phil, and I have done. Because our community of faith is more than a building, it is indeed a fellowship. This past year our worship has been enhanced by beautiful music, such as we hear last Sunday from our Choir and talented Minister of Music, David Tierney. Each week we are blessed with the work of our Altar Chapter and enjoy the creativity of the Flower Guild, whose artistry brings to mind the joy of the God of life. What’s more, our worship is enlivened by the talent of our acolytes, Lay Eucharistic Ministers, Lectors and Sound System Volunteers.
Over the past year several parishioners have participated in a pilgrimage to Spain; celebrated the Royal Wedding, blessed animals and backpacks, sold lemonade to support the Dedham Food Pantry, celebrated the Eucharist at our weekly Thursday Morning services and bi-monthly services at Fox Hill, and participated in monthly gatherings of our Book Group and Movie Reflection Group. We have begun Foyer Groups, joined a bowling league and begun making plans for a new playground for our children.
And we’ve learned a great deal at St. Paul’s as well. Our Bible Study at Fox Hill has continued; and this past year we instituted a Wednesday Conversation Group as well as an Adult Inquirer’s Class, to complement our Youth Confirmation Class.
Our outreach has been substantial. In a cooperative venture with St. Susanna’s Catholic Church and Allin Congregational, we welcomed our Refugee Family from Burundi, raised thousands of dollars for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico, gathered funds for the Merrimack Valley disaster, provided lunch to needy children at the B-SAFE summer enrichment program, and just yesterday morning, baked 40 pies for Thanksgiving dinners as we continued our support of the Dedham Food Pantry.
So, I urge you to think about what church really is. We are one of the last places in our society where people of all ages are together in one place, engaged in the same work of praising God, and are equally valued. We offer an opportunity to be known by one another in a place where eyes meet eyes and hands touch hands. What’s more we teach a rigorous theology based upon an understanding of Holy Scripture, a tangible connection with a Tradition of faith and worship reaching back thousands of years; and an emphasis upon Reason, an approach to understanding oneself and the will of God which places a tremendous emphasis upon free will, and the capacity of each individual to understand God for him or herself. Within this space we offer a place of acceptance and belonging in an increasingly fragmented and polarized world. And we offer the possibility of teaching spiritual disciples such as prayer, sacred conversation and gratitude—life-long lessons designed to enable us to become more loving, curious and empathetic individuals.
And yes—we also have this building, a tool for our ministry, with a long list of projects that need to be taken care of—furnaces that need to be replaced, roofs to be repaired and signs to be updated.
And so, today I urge you to be good stewards of what has been placed in your care. Nos so that these stones will stand, one upon another, until the end of time—but so that something more valuable can be handed down to succeeding generations—and that is faith; a lasting faith, built upon the never-failing promises of God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.