Sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Second Sunday after Pentecost – June 10, 2012
Did you hear it? “He’s out of his mind!” That’s what his family and friends say about Jesus in the Gospel we read today. In the original Greek, the word used was existemi – εξιϭτεμι. “He’s crazy. Off his rocker.” Jesus is back in the old neighborhood and his family wants to be proud of this young, articulate rabbi. To their chagrin, they are embarrassed by the reaction of the crowds who shout: “Existemi! He is out of his mind!”
That’s what happens when Jesus proclaims a very different sort of reality, one that is counter to our expectations and to our cultural norms. In fact, Jesus is not only out of his mind, he is in another frame of reference: the Kingdom of God—a place, a system of values, an ethos, a set of assumptions, a way of conducting business that is counter to, and often in conflict with, the way we think the world works.
This story is also about how family can be divided and how division in the household can do great damage. Often, it is around money. Is there anyone here who is not at least remotely familiar with a situation where a loan or inheritance or will or monetary gift did not cause an uproar or a major rift in the family that lasted for years, perhaps never resolved? Money has a way of doing that better than most anything else.
I raise this concern today because as the household of God, the Body of Christ, this community of faith, we have been reading inserts for the past few weeks that outline some basic facts about our precarious financial situation. The harsh reality is that good church, good ministry, good worship is expensive.
Those of you who have searched for a place like this for any length of time or come from a church that has not fed you spiritually or, even worse, harmed your spirit in some way, know well that St. Paul’s is a rara avis—a rare bird. In fact, too rare. The most difficult task I encounter is finding a church for someone who is relocating or has visited friends here—a church that even remotely resembles this place.
On the heels of a wonderful and memorable celebration of our 275th anniversary, I call our attention as the household of God, as those who come regularly to this neighborhood to hear their “rabbis,” to the issues we face as a community. At the risk of having some say, “He is out of his mind,” I will respond to a question that a number of you have asked me over the past few weeks: “What can I/we do to help the financial situation?” If you have never filled out that little blue card that identifies the regular commitment you can make to support God’s work here, you can do it today—this morning. If you have read about our deficit issues and realize that it would not rain on your parade to “up the ante” and give a little more than you have already committed to giving, yes, that will help. The benefit is multiplied if a number of folk do it.
Scotty Galganowicz and Louise Truax have offered a $10,000 challenge through September in the hope that a number of others might huddle together offer what they can and try to match it. Yesterday, someone suggested that a one-time love gift of $275 to celebrate our anniversary would be a great boon. All true.
What good would that do us? It would greatly slow down the rate at which we are drawing on the Warner Bequest and it would buy us time. Time for what? Time to systematically evaluate our staffing and program needs so that cuts in those areas—and they will come from those areas—will not be made through anxiety, without understanding the impact on our life as a church, and without letting you know exactly what we’re in for when those reductions in the budget are made. The vestry plans to identify possible staff and program reductions next Saturday and, if and when, they occur they will affect all of us.
There are positive things happening. The Finance Commission has been meeting every two weeks to examine every aspect of the budget. We have renegotiated office equipment at a substantial annual savings, are very close to achieving the possibility of converting to natural gas throughout our plant, and, by the generosity of new members, have received $16,000 in new pledges since Easter. Now that’s all the information I’m going to give you today.
The connection to the Gospel I want to make this morning is around how issues around money can be the source of division in the household and I ask for your faithful commitment not to let financial issues be the cause of disagreement, but rather a rallying together to create, godly solutions. We are the household of God and need to think about God, the world, and ourselves in a different way. Like those people who heard Jesus speak in his hometown, we can be distracted and influenced by the noise of the corporate world. Christians, however, march to the rhythm of a different drummer.
I suspect you know that all this has weighed very heavily on your staff. The church is not only their livelihood; it is their life. I am not only their boss. I am their pastor as well. Another priest sent me something recently that I believe is good for us to hear once in a while and I offer it today for your reflection and understanding. In its unedited form, it focuses on clergy but I have revised it slightly because it applies to all church staff.
First, just like you, we have a personal life. We have family issues and car trouble and bills and dishes that sit in the sink far too long and we all pledge and we all take our turn at hosting coffee hour. Our life can be joyous and overwhelming. And we often are not able to share that with parishioners
Sundays are long days for us. We are on, and I mean “Beyonce at a concert on”, from the time we step into the church until the last person leaves. We are responsible for the liturgy, the sermon, and everything that happens in between. People tell us things, from random comments about the football game to significant news about their lives. A retired priest once said every hour clergy work on Sundays is the equivalent of working 2.5 hours any other day.
We have to flip switches in ways that are not good. Every priest has stories of going from a parishioner’s hosptital room where the family has gathered to say goodbye to a finance committee meeting. It is the nature of what we do.
We miss the parishioners we bury. Just because we’re preaching the sermon and celebrating the liturgy or playing the organ like we’re totally together doesn’t mean we aren’t crying on the inside. We do not live day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year with the people we serve and not grieve when those beloved people die.
We are not particularly good at disappointment. Perhaps it’s a personality type, but most church staff I know will work until their fingers fall off for the community they love and serve. Just a note – this is not good. We only have a certain amount of energy, which means we, like the rest of humanity, have to make choices about where and how our energy can be shared. This will always mean something that someone really, really wants to see done in the church will not be done.
Life happens at the church every day of the week: planning liturgies, writing sermons, taking phone calls, meeting with people who need to be heard, visiting those who are sick, working with community groups, dealing with the physical plant, reading emails, and rearranging schedules when the unexpected happens, as it often does. Churches are busy, busy places every day of the week.
We don’t remember what you tell us on Sunday. Please, email us or write it down.
And finally, we make mistakes. Yes, indeed. Forgive us when we do. Love us anyway.
Even when you may think we’re out of our minds!