Some "Norms" @ St. Paul's
Sermon preached by the Rev. Lowell E. Grisham, Rector
January 22, 2005; 3rd Sunday after Epiphany; Year A
Matthew 4:18-22 As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his
brother, casting a net into the sea--for they were fishermen. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for
people." Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of
Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they
left the boat and their father, and followed him. Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming
the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
Here at the beginning of the gospel of Matthew, we see Jesus calling his disciples to follow him in a new way of
life. The rest of the gospel will tell the story of how they experienced the living presence of the grace of God through
Jesus, seeing him bring healing and reconciliation through the gift of acceptance for those who had been hurt, judged or marginalized,
and ultimately changing all things through an ethic of love lived out in service toward others. Peter and Andrew, James and
John were on a new journey of grace, acceptance and love.
After the resurrection heritage
of that journey was passed along to Paul and others. Today we just heard the introduction to a long letter from Paul to the
little church in Corinth, a letter that spells out some of the norms and expectations for that congregation's life.
want to do something like that today. I want to talk about some of the norms and expectations of our life here at St. Paul's,
and how we try to live together as inheritors of the same way of life and the same journey that began with Jesus and the apostles
two thousand years ago.
Several years ago our Vestry summarized our congregation's mission
in a statement that appears a lot of places around here. "The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church is to explore and celebrate God's infinite grace, acceptance and love."
We are explorers, seekers. That means we believe that we are always growing and learning. And we are a celebration
people. We celebrate what God has done and is doing through the grace, acceptance and love of Jesus as manifested in this
community. So we say to each other and to our friends, "come and see." Come and see what God is up to through this peculiar
thing we call the church where we seek to explore and celebrate God's infinite grace, acceptance and love.
We think of the church as an organic, living being, not just an organization with a set of beliefs to subscribe
to. That's part of why we say you can belong before you believe. You belong so that you can grow in understanding and in
We also like to say that everyone has a ministry. Every human being is created
in the image and likeness of God and endowed with God's divine spirit. Every human being has been given gifts -- natural
talents as well as spiritual gifts -- to be used for the sake of the world. So we
begin with the assumption that everyone in this church has one or more ministries to exercise. The church's job is to give
you the authority and resources you need to do your ministry, and to connect your ministry with the rest of the work the church
But it is your responsibility to claim your own ministry. St. Paul's expects
you to take responsibility for your own spiritual growth. St. Paul's will give you resources, but you are responsible for
the exercise of your spiritual gifts in ministry and for your own spiritual growth.
I hope everyone will adopt a Rule of Life
as an expression of your intention to live a disciplined life. When Scott Robinson was with us as a McMichael speaker recently,
he shared a simple five-point Rule of Life that he promotes to his congregation: worship weekly, pray daily, learn constantly, serve joyfully, live generously. I like that.
First -- Worship Weekly. The Holy Eucharist has been the act that has constituted the church since the resurrection
of Christ. We experience Christ truly present with us in the sacrament of communion. We welcome all to the Eucharist.
No matter who you are and where you are in your spiritual journey you are welcome at this table. We welcome children to
communion, and we ask parents to decide whether you would like your children to receive as infants from the time of baptism,
or to postpone regular communion until they join you at the family table or later. We teach the children a lot about communion
in our Christian Education classes.
A lot of people don't realize it, but in our Prayer Book, baptism
is expected to be an adult sacrament. However, if children will be brought up in the life of the church, we have provision
for infant or child baptism based on the promises made by their parents and godparents to raise the child in the Christian
faith and life.
As you worship weekly, the stories of our Biblical faith and the rhythms of
the Church Year will sink deeply within you. We find that faith is caught even more than it is taught. Worship weekly.
Pray Daily. We offer Daily Morning Prayer in the Guild Hall each weekday at 8 a.m., and we print the week's Daily
Office readings in each Sunday bulletin to make it easier for you to pray the office at home or work. I have an email list
to whom I send a Morning Reflection each weekday based on that day's Bible readings. We also have centering prayer here at
the church each morning and afternoon. We intend to model a practice of daily prayer. We also offer regular teaching to
support people in their life in prayer.
Learn Constantly. We encourage every person to study continually. To that end we have lots of classes and groups
to support your growth and understanding. I particularly want to encourage every person to attend some Christian Education
offering during the Sunday formation hour at ten o'clock.
I'm proud of our Catechesis of
the Good Shepherd curriculum for our children, and our music and youth programs that help children become formed in the faith.
But I want to remind parents and godparents of the promise you made when you presented your child for baptism: "Will you
see that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life?" The ultimate responsibility for our children's
nurture belongs to their parents and godparents. And the best way to give a child faith is to have a rich and growing faith
of your own. Learning is a lifetime journey.
Serve Joyfully. Our church doesn't
exist just for its members, but for our whole community. From our Church of England heritage, we inherit a tradition of being
a parish church, we serve our geographic parish. People otherwise unfamiliar with St. Paul's know that we offer our facilities
generously for non-profit groups. We also recognize the work that our members do on Monday through Friday as a significant
aspect of our parish's ministry.
One of the things I especially like about St. Paul's is that you don't have to be a member
for a long time before you can be involved as a leader. If you are attracted to some program or ministry that we have, you
are welcome to join immediately. And if there is something we should be doing that we are not doing, you are urged to help
create a new ministry. As long as it is consistent with our values and mission our default position is to say "yes" to your
calling for ministry.
Most of the exciting, creative things that are part of our life here started
that way. Someone said, "We ought to do this," and we said "Yes." That's how the Community Clinic at St. Francis House and
Seven Hill and dozens of classes and other ministries had their beginning. St. Paul's has a deserved reputation as a "can
Live Generously. One of the reasons there is a great deal of energy
in this church is that people give sacrificially of themselves on behalf of our work together. St. Paul's people volunteer
their time and talents to make good things happen in this church and in this community.
We ask every member to invest in our church with your time, your talent and your treasure.
We ask each member to commit a percentage of your income as a gift to God through St. Paul's. We leave that percentage to
you, but we know that the national average of gifts to churches is about 2.6%, and we think St. Paul's is a little bit above
average. So if you don't know what percentage of your income you are giving to St. Paul's, we suggest you start by considering
3%, and see what that looks like. Some of our parishioners have adopted the Biblical tithe as their benchmark for giving,
and every person I have ever known who does that finds it a meaningful and satisfying practice.
We also ask every parishioner to remember your church in your will, maybe with a percentage of your estate to be
left to the church as a permanent legacy of your care. Talk to a financial advisor. There are many creative ways to make
a significant planned-giving bequest, and many of them have very attractive tax benefits. Whatever you give, do it gratefully.
So there is a basic Rule of Life: Worship
weekly. Pray daily. Learn constantly. Serve joyfully. Live generously.
We are about to enter into the church's annual observance of Lent. It is a good time for self-reflection. A time
to look at your Rule of Life. A time to re-commit to your discipline of prayer and worship. A time to make a commitment
to your own spiritual growth and to meaningful service. A time for almsgiving and acts of charity.
I am glad you are here. I am glad you are part of this remarkable community. This is your church. Explore
and celebrate God's infinite grace, acceptance and love through the worship, prayer, teaching, service and generosity of this
vital, organic part of the body of Christ. It is a good place for you to respond to Jesus' words to all of us, "Follow me."