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My beloved sisters and brothers,

This morning at the 10 AM worship I delivered the following sermon. Please read it carefully.

In deep peace and with unwavering love,
"Jesus said to the disciples, 'But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.'" [Matthew 24:36-44]

I’m sure that many of you have heard of—or perhaps have even read some of—the “Left Behind” series of books, written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Statistically speaking, someone in here is almost guaranteed to have, because that series sold almost 80 million copies! But if you’re unfamiliar or if it’s been a while, let me remind you what it’s all about. The book takes place in an imagined future where the “Rapture” has occurred, where all God’s faithful have been swept up, plucked out of the mire of sin and death, leaving behind those who didn’t know Jesus as their savior.
Apart from their attraction as compelling works of fiction that can be enjoyed as such, I am convinced that the theology they promote is based on an uncareful and inaccurate reading of Scripture. If we look at what Jesus is actually saying this morning in our selection from the Gospel of Matthew, those being plucked up are being compared to those who were swept away in the flood narrative of Genesis. In Genesis 6:11-14, it says, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth. And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth.’” Those Jesus is referring to as being suddenly swept up are following the same path as those who were swept away by the floodwaters—a path of violence.
But (and I say this all the time!) Jesus came to destroy the system of violence. To show us that we don’t become “worthy” by defeating others, that we don’t raise ourselves up by putting others down. Jesus was born into this world to show the world that the only true path toward God is one based on the complete and total rejection of violence, competition, and creating classes of people.
The ones who are “left behind” are those who aren’t swept up in the floodwaters of violence, one-uping, competition and creating systems that determine who gets to be “in” and who is forced out.
When I arrived at St. Peter’s almost 5 years ago, I wasn’t sure what our relationship was supposed to be. I was newly ordained, and the phrase “finding my sea legs” doesn’t even begin to describe the process of living into a new priestly calling. But something about the core identity of St. Peter’s began to become very clear, very quickly. This is a spiritual home for all comers. This is a place for the “left behind.” Not in some strange apocalyptic, half-baked end-of-days way. Not in any sort of “leftovers” or “tattered remnant” sense, either. Rather, this is a place for those who choose to not participate in and get swept away by the culture of competition and by the violence of thinking that human worth is based on whether or not we’re better than other groups of humans.
St. Peter’s has discovered her voice in this community. This is a place of safety. This is a place of refuge. This is a place of complete and total acceptance and deep love for all God’s creatures.
Probably the biggest part of discovering who you’re called to be in this community has been recognizing your own true identity as beloved children of God. Today is “Root of Jesse” Sunday in our extended 7-week Advent season. Let me re-read the collect that we began worship with this morning:
“Almighty God, you brought forth a royal branch from the ancient stock of Jesse’s line: Grant that we who have been grafted into this heritage may bear fruit worthy of Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and forever. Amen.”
Grafted. We have been grafted onto Jesus. The very fiber of our being has become inseparable from that of the Messiah, the one who is coming. And it’s because I know that you know deep down in the very fiber of your being that your purpose is nothing less than being Jesus’s voice of radical and transformative love in this community, that I can tell you this next thing, not with fear, embarrassment, or worry, but with assurance that the Spirit is guiding all our actions.
Yesterday morning the Vestry received my resignation as Priest-in-Charge at St. Peter’s. I have accepted a call to join a parish in the Diocese of New York, and we will be moving to New York in February. My last Sunday as your priest will be January 19, at which time a representative from the Diocese of Southern Ohio will join us for a liturgy of leave-taking. The Rev. Canon Jason Leo will join you the next Sunday, January 26, to preach and preside, and then will meet with the Vestry to plan for what happens next. There are many possibilities for clergy leadership moving forward, so this will be a very important meeting for the Vestry.
I know this probably comes as a shock, but I want to assure you of two things. First, this decision was not made lightly. Steven and I spent many days and weeks prayerfully discerning what God is calling our family to do. Second, this is absolutely not driven by any negative feelings about St. Peter’s, a lack of faith in your God-given mission in Gallipolis, or any “writing on the wall” about this parish’s future. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I can honestly say that my own sense of who I’m called to be as an ordained minister has been honed by your own honing. And I can also say that this is the direction that God is calling both my family and the St. Peter’s family.
We have walked together during a hugely transformative time for this parish. A time when that deeper sense of calling that God has given this church has come into focus because it has been prayerfully and deliberately sought out. You—we, together—have faced immense challenges, especially in the last two years. And we have done so with aplomb and grace. And with the assurance that Christians can keep moving forward because we know that the goal we move toward is the loving embrace of God.
As the most prominent example, the flexibility with which you have and will continue to face the structural issues in the sanctuary is a powerful testament to your deep understanding of the vital and life-giving role that St Peter’s plays in this community. You understand that your purpose in Gallia County has very little to do with the building in which you meet and everything to do with whose you are and whose unconditional and infinite love we share with each other and the world.
I wrestled for a while about how to best communicate this news to you. Should it be through a letter? An email? Maybe an announcement at the end of the service? How about at coffee hour? But what I realized—no, what God showed me—is that there is no better place to talk about these things than in the context of gathering around the Holy Table. Because this is where we are truly who we are called to be. This is where all those tendencies toward violence, othering, and setting up ridiculous hierarchies melt away. This is where the floodwaters recede and what is left behind is our true selves: totally reliant on God, totally reliant on God’s unconditional love, and totally prepared to face the future. Prepared to show the world just how much God loves all creation, us included.
For the next few minutes, I’d like to offer space for us to just talk informally. Over the next eight weeks, we will be experiencing a wide range of emotions. Life is complex. There is very rarely—if ever—a time when we are 100% happy or 100% sad. There’s rarely a time when we can face something without a beautiful mix of emotions: fear and happiness, anxiety and excitement, joy and anger. I would like us to remember this as we move forward over the next two months. All those emotions are created by and are gifts from God. We ignore them or pretend they don’t exist at our own peril. Today is only the first time of many to come when we’ll have an opportunity to talk about the future of St. Peter’s. Please don’t think that whatever you’re feeling, thinking, or wondering isn’t important. Share yourself in love and make a commitment to hear others with that same deep respect and love.
Let’s begin our conversation with prayer:
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP, 291)
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