Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Annual Address

Turning water into wine is the quintessential Epiphany story because it is the first miracle (John calls it a ‘sign’) Jesus performs and as such begins to show us who he is.  It may just be Jesus’ best known miracle.  Even as biblical illiteracy grows in our society, most people seem to know about this one because jokes based on it run rapid.

Case in point:  A nun is driving down the road when her car runs out of gas.  She walks to a nearby gas station and asks to borrow a container so she can buy enough gas to get her car started.  The attendant apologizes profusely, saying the station’s only gas can is out on loan.  All he has for her to use is a hospital bedpan.  She fills it with gas, walks back to her car, and proceeds to pour the contents of the bedpan into the gas tank.  Just then two men happen to pass by.  One turns to the other and says, “I know the bible says Jesus turned water into wine, but if that car starts I am converting to Catholicism.”      

Turning water into wine also may be Jesus’ most curious miracle in that, unlike healings and feeding the masses, it seems to serve no real immediate purpose other than to save a bride’s family from embarrassment.  At a deeper level, it signals Jesus’ intent in life to transform the ordinary into the exceptional, to convert lack into abundance, to replace anxiety with celebration, and to turn mourning into dancing.  As such, it is a wonderful way to begin to pivot the liturgical year from stories about Jesus’ beginning to stories about his actions and purpose.

It also provides a wonderful backdrop for reflection on the occasion of today’s Annual Meeting.  Our parish is a place where God consistently takes what we have and uses it to provide what we need.  We are truly blessed in that as a parish we lack for nothing.  We have everything we need and more to offer thanks to God on a weekly basis, to care for one another through life’s ups and downs, and to offer witness in our community and throughout our world to God’s compassion for the entire human family and all of creation.

We hear St. Paul state this morning something we recognize as true in our parish family… “there are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit.”  Take a moment to ponder the assortment of gifts utilized here on a weekly basis.  We have singers and people who love to be with children and teens.  We have folks who care about linens and beauty, about organization and spontaneity, about hospitality and about safety.  We have people who give an extraordinary amount of money while demanding nothing extra in return and we have people who give an extraordinary amount of time without concern for recognition.  On mornings such as today, a handful of people gather before the sun rises to prepare a breakfast for all.  Other Sundays someone brings some kind of food to share.  We have ringers and readers, ushers and servers, greeters and door-lockers.  Dr. Seuss would have a field day writing about our parish!  While we always can use more, the joyous truth is we lack for nothing.

Now, you my counter that every church has the same variety of gifts we have here… and you might be right.  But I have never been around a parish where people offer more and complain less than here at St. Paul’s.  We value one another and appreciate what each person has to offer.  We have a common respect and appreciation for one another that is anything but common in today’s society. 

St. Paul’s has been blessed over the course of the last year to be led by two wonderful wardens – Bill Peachy and Dan Jones.  Bill began his service noting he has done just about everything else in the parish (and, I might add, in our community) other than serving as a warden so he figured it was time for him to do that.  Dan writes in the Annual Report he has put his whole heart into keeping St. Paul’s a beautiful place, utilizing gifts and skills he has developed throughout his life.  Bill and Dan are wonderful examples of the kind of ministry so many of us offer.  We sense a responsibility and obligation to a place that means so much to us.  We sense how our God-given gifts and talents can be put to service to keep God’s house up and running and witnessing to God’s love.  We owe Bill and Dan a debt of thanks, not only for what they have done, but also for what they represent in our common life.

I am grateful to our parish staff and deeply honored to serve with them.  Al joined us in December 2007, just a few months after I was hired.  While his puns may be old and stale, his ministry and music remains fresh and joyous.  He continues to lead and encourage our choirs in ways that bring out the best of their gifts.  He does the same with our congregational singing.  And for all his talent, Al is an amazingly easy to person to work with.  He is a delight who adds immeasurably to our common life.

Cindy’s work here reminds me I am terrible at enforcing her job description.  It is not that I can’t get her to do her job, it is that I can’t keep her from doing everything else.  She pours her heart and soul into this place.  She takes care of everything, finds ways to save money, peruses innovation, cheerfully greets every visitor to the office, and lends a helping hand in ways we don’t ask or require.  I am exceedingly grateful for Cindy’s help this fall while my health waxed and waned.  I never once worried the church was not in good hands.

Juel, Christa, and Julia continue to offer loving, thoughtful ministry to our children and young people.  I am grateful to Sarah Blake for all she contributes, to Debbie Askew, Kitty Quillin, and Lee Cross for helping with St. Paul’s Youth Group, to Macey Olenjack for leading our confirmation class, and to Joby Webb and Wanda Rector who guide our acolytes.  I am pleased our children have such wonderful examples of Christian living working with them.

I am grateful to Miko for all she does for St. Paul’s, especially her work as our Sexton.  Every Sunday morning when I walk into the sanctuary it radiates with her love and care for this place. 

Over the years of my time serving as your rector I have been delighted with the make-up of our Vestry, which has been comprised of long-time members and people new to our community.  This pattern continues with today’s election of Jan Gates, Chris Johns, Bob Leonard, and Dee Sage.  Our parish leaders help us to see new possibilities while remaining true to our identity and tradition.  Many of you have served on the Vestry and know firsthand it is a ministry of service, giving, and guidance.

I will be interested to see where we are in three years when we gather as a parish, in part, to thank today’s class of 2021 for their time on the Vestry.  Will the wine have run out of this place?  Or will water already present but unnoticed be transformed into something life-giving and energizing for our parish?  If the next three years are anything like the last three than there will be leaks in the roof to fix, finances will be tight, but adequate, and a bear or two will roam through the parking lot.  And, if the next three years are at all like the last than new faces will adorn our congregation, new ideas and initiatives will fuel new avenues for ministry and adventure, and a spirit of joy and goodwill will permeate everything we do in and through this place. 

I look forward to being with you on that day and being a part of all that happens between now and then.  I look forward to all that God has in store for us.  I even look forward to Al’s next pun (but don’t let him know!).