Friends, I am sorry to have to say this, but for what I think is the first time in 13 years’ worth of Sundays, I’m going to punt on this sermon.
After having had a very stressful week, no day off, and a full range of intense emotions from yesterday’s celebration of the end of sanctuary for Lucio Perez, I found myself last night feeling both wired and tired. I was struggling to focus, and all too aware that I was about to lose at least an hour’s sleep to the dreaded Daylight Saving Time spring forward.
And for quite a while I continued to struggle. This idea of purpose is something I am passionate about (I love helping people discern and re-discern their purpose or calling) and something I hope our church will focus on this year as we think about our future. I really wanted to write a good sermon about reimagining our purpose—both as individuals and as a church.
It was weeks ago that I decided I would preach today on purpose, drawing from our lectionary readings’ discussion of what we were created for. At the time, I had no idea that today would be the day after Lucio left sanctuary or that, with the end of sanctuary some among us might be feeling a certain loss of a very material and particular purpose.
(That is something we will need to address in the coming weeks and months.)
For me, one of the reasons I find it hard to preach anything less than a fully developed sermon is that I don’t want to let you down. More than that, I’ve always felt a special responsibility to anyone who might be visiting us for the first time. In the before times, I would think, Well, if someone comes and hears an awful sermon they might never come back to discover what a wonderful church we are. For today, it occurred to me that some people who learned about us from yesterday’s celebration might come on line this morning to check us out.
But then I read our scripture again. And then I remembered: I am saved by grace. Not by what I do or don’t do, not by what I believe or don’t believe, but by grace.
And, not only that, but you, too, are saved by grace.
Which is to say: Even as your pastor, I am not entirely responsible for your spiritual well-being. Oh, I care about you a whole lot, and I take your spiritual well-being very seriously, but ultimately I am not responsible for it. That is God’s job—one God has been doing quite well since the beginning of time.
It was at that point that I decided to just go to bed. And, having let go of at least some sense of obligation, that was when, of course, that ideas started flowing. I jotted a few of them down, but decided I should still go to bed. Unfortunately, I could not stop thinking about yesterday’s joyful moments, including many that happened away from the camera.
I will save most of those for sometime later because, frankly, I am still processing my feelings and all our many learnings from and experiences with Lucio, his family, and the whole sanctuary journey. But I will share one thing with you that is still making me smile this morning, and that is this:
After the crowd had dispersed yesterday, after the television cameras had left, after the family had come back inside the building, after Ralph Faulkingham had dismantled and put away or restored all the sound equipment he had disengaged and taken outside and set up (which makes it possible for us to worship this way this morning), after I had had many wonderful conversations with different people, I headed downstairs to say a see-you-soon to Lucio and his family.
What I found was Lucio and his sons Tony and Jordan, his daughter, Lucy, his niece and nephew, the family’s puppy, Luna, and our own Toby Bobbitt eating lunch in the Hawley Room. I decided to linger with them awhile. Meanwhile, Dora and her mother and stepfather were eating in the Dining Room and, as I later discovered, doing a little “shopping” of some second-hand clothing.
What struck me is that Lucio and his family felt comfortable and at home in our big, old, mostly empty building. What struck me is that, beyond all the legal and political and logistical aspects of sanctuary, beyond all the government-imposed heartbreak for that family and all the angst and difficulty and occasional disagreement we experienced as we tried to keep Lucio safe while abiding by various regulations and while we tried to continue to be the church and not let ourselves be subsumed by an amazing but aggressively political and sometimes dominating outside organization …
Grace was at work—sometimes with us and sometimes despite us. God’s Spirit of love and power and presence was at work—sometimes in us and through us and all the many other people who were involved in sanctuary, and sometimes despite us.
And by that grace, by the Spirit, and with so much love and care, this big old building became a home. It became home to a family our government had tried to destroy. We became home to a family that felt abandoned and scared and sad. This is where they celebrated birthdays, this is where they marked Thanksgivings and Christmases, this is where the kids did their homework, kicked a soccer ball through the halls, and played basketball on a hoop we put near the playground outside.
And so it was that while the crowds and cameras were all gone by 1:30 or so yesterday, and I headed home about 2:30, the family was here until 3:30.
Because they knew they were still welcome. Because they new they were loved. And because they were comfortable and happier than they had been in three-and-a-half years.
Beloveds, this, too, is what it means to be the church. This, too, is about purpose. Thank you for opening yourselves and our church to be that home. Thank you for letting me be a part of that and for letting me witness some of you blossom in the doing and being of that.
It has been quite a journey and, again, there is much more to be said about that. I hope we will find a way sometime soon to come together and share our feelings and learnings and experiences about sanctuary.
Some of you may be familiar with the Heidelberg Catechism. I will confess that I had never heard of it until I was in seminary and, even then, didn’t think much about it until I was taking my UCC polity course for the ordination process. The Catechism, which dates back to 1563, is essentially a set of questions and answers designed to educate and inform, if not indoctrinate, individuals and churches in some of the theological underpinnings of Christianity. But it is not all doctrine and intellect.
There is one answer in the catechism that I dearly love. It is the response to this question: “What is the chief end of humanity?”
The answer: “To glorify God, and to enjoy God forever.”
“To glorify God, and to ENJOY God forever.”
How great is that? To enjoy God! To, as the poet William Blake said, “learn to endure the beams of love.”
Take that, Puritan work ethic! Take that, guilt and obligation.
And still, it turns out that one of the ways we glorify God is by becoming who we’re meant to be. It turns out that one of the best ways we can enjoy God is by living out our God-given purpose, by living in harmony with the Mystery Who is Love and joy and creation and community, by living in the God who is love and community.
Purpose is worth reimagining and regularly evaluating and refining and adjusting not only because it makes us a better, more effective church or other organization, but also because—especially because—it’s what we were made for. To do good things, as Paul tells the Ephesians, not because they’re what saves us, not because it is our duty, but because that is who we are. When we can live on purpose, in purpose, we will be enjoying God and we will be beginning to discover the joy and fullness of life God intends for us.
Well, it turns out I have much, much more to say about this—an entire decent sermon’s worth, but I ran out of time this morning.
So I’ll leave you with these words about grace from Frederick Buechner:
A crucial eccentricity of the Christian faith, he says, is the assertion that people are saved by grace. There’s nothing YOU have to do. There’s nothing you HAVE to do. There’s nothing you have to DO.
The grace of God means something like: “Here is your life. You might never have been, but you ARE because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you.”
There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it.
Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.
Beloveds, we are saved by grace. Let’s enjoy it, shall we?