Sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany
January 18, 2015
2014 was an amazing year for Holy Comforter. In 2014, we provided a place to sleep for the homeless through the Interfaith Hospitality Network. We gave nearly thousand meals to the homeless through our Lazarus Project. We had our biggest Vacation Bible School in a long time. We partnered with the Archway Academy to provide a place for teenagers with addictions to go to high school. We grew by eighteen percent. We started another worshipping community at a local rehab facility. We provided one ton of peanut butter and jelly to hungry seniors during Lent. 2014 was an amazing year for Holy Comforter. But the best is yet to come.
We, this parish, is like Nathanael standing under the fig tree. Nathanael says to Jesus, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”Nathanael has seen Jesus, but the best is yet to come. Jesus replies, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” You will see greater things than these.
Holy Comforter now has a master plan to build on our campus and to renovate our existing buildings. We are doing this, because we firmly believe that we will see greater things than these. Holy Comforter also has plans to extend our ministries. To enlarge our positive impact on the community, and to show even greater love for our parishioners who are sick or homebound. God will bless us in 2015 and beyond with new ministries, new people, and yes, new buildings. We will see greater things than these.
Last September, the Vestry and Building Committee met with Donald Romanik of the Episcopal Church Foundation. The ECF is an organization of the Episcopal Church that helps congregations grow and develop best practices. Donald has seen a lot of churches and has a lot of experience. But this is what he said in his report about us:
“Unlike the overwhelming majority of congregations in the Episcopal Church, Holy Comforter has a unique opportunity of responding to demographic changes in the area that have and will continue to result in significant growth. This opportunity requires thoughtful, prayerful and strategic approaches to responding to the needs of newcomers, enhancing the physical plant and providing appropriate programs and ministries. In reality, Holy Comforter has no choice. Growth and change are coming. You can either try to manage the growth and change or just let it manage and overwhelm you.”
This is the hard news – that growth means change. It always does and always will. The church that is doing what it was doing five years ago, is probably a church that has not grown. It is important that we keep in mind why we want to grow. We do not wish to grow as a congregation in order to feel good about ourselves, or have a larger budget, or a bigger staff. The point of growth is spreading the good news of Jesus Christ. Inviting other people into a life of discipleship. Remember our gospel lesson. Philip meets Jesus and his life is changed. The first thing he does is to go and get someone to join him on this new adventure. Philip says to Nathanael, “Come and see.” Being a follower of Jesus and being a missionary for Jesus are the same thing. So if we are truly followers of Jesus, then our church will have to grow because we are that committed to being missionaries for Jesus. Philip was changed. Nathanael was changed. The small little band of disciples was changed. If we are serious about knowing Christ and making Christ known, then our church will always be changing.
We will have to focus outward – our mission and ministry can not be for ourselves. Everything we do must be committed to sharing this life in Christ with people who are not already here. William Temple said that, “The Church is the only institution in the world that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.” This will be a change for us. And we will manage that change rather than letting the change manage us. Holy Comforter will always be a family, it will just be a much larger family.
In 2015, I am asking each of you to make four commitments to Jesus and to the Church. These four commitments will build a solid foundation, sending down deep roots for us to continue growing, and launch us into this much-needed building campaign.
First, I call upon each of you to worship more than you don’t. Worship more than you don’t. Of course, I would like for each of us to be here every Sunday, but this is what happens. You say to yourself, “I’m going to be at church every Sunday.” Then you miss one Sunday, and since you have already missed your goal, you find it easier to stop coming in general. “More than you don’t” is also a tangible goal. Some of you math whizzes have figured out that worshiping more than you don’t means twenty-seven Sundays or thirty-six Sundays, depending on if you figure it monthly or annually. But either way, worship more than you don’t.
Second, give so that it affects you. Give so that it affects you. If our entire life has been redeemed by the Lord Jesus, and if God has truly created the entire universe, we can respond to God in gratitude with a free gift of our money. And I’m not talking about giving up Starbucks once a week and giving that money to the church and calling that a sacrifice. I’m talking about real, sacrificial giving that impacts your family budget. Maggie and I give 10%. Believe me, that’s a lot of diaper money. But in comparison with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, 10% is nothing. As we grow, we will fund new ministries, and we will fund a building project. Not for our glory, but for God’s glory. Give so that it affects you.
Third, serve at least once a month. Serve at least once a month. Maybe that service is here serving communion. Maybe that service is helping plant a new Episcopal community on the campus of Lone Star College, which desperately needs to happen. Maybe you’re on the Altar Guild, maybe you take communion to the sick. Philip and Nathanael gave their entire lives as a service to Jesus, so it is possible, no matter how busy you think you are. Serve at least once a month.
Finally, pray everyday. Pray everyday. Pray in thanksgiving for the marvelous things God has accomplished at this church. Pray for those in our community who have not yet heard the gospel, or whose hearts have been hardened. Pray for the poor, the homeless, and the addicted. In all things and at all times, pray.
The church is not a building. Though we are going to build. The church is a community of faithful believers, like us, who commit ourselves to a life of discipleship. The church is people like Philip and Nathanael who believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that everything else in life is just details. The church is people like me and you, who believe that we will see greater things than this. During 2015 – Year of Commitment, I ask to join me in this adventure. Come and see.