This sermon was preached on Sunday, March 1, 2015 at the 115 Anniversary and Rededication of the Episcopal Student Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The text was Matthew 28:16-20
By way of introduction, I am Jimmy Abbott, the rector of Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Spring, just outside of Houston. I also serve on the Advisory Board for the Student Center, and am glad to do so because this place means so much to me. I graduated from UT with a bachelor’s degree in history in 2006. It was this community, the Episcopal Student Center, that affirmed my call to ordained ministry and sent me to seminary. My wife, Maggie, was confirmed when Miles Brandon was the missioner here. And then a few years later, John Newton officiated our wedding right here. These twin communities of All Saints’ and the Episcopal Student Center are dear to us.
But these two communities got off to a rough start. The year was 1894 and Bishop Kinsolving was the second bishop of the Diocese of Texas. Bishop Kinsolving comes to Austin and sees that the University of Texas is growing quickly. He also recognizes that this an opportunity for the Episcopal Church to make an impact on the lives of the students here. So Bishop Kinsolving has a vision to create a dormitory for women attending the university and to provide religious education for them. He names it “Grace Hall” in honor of his wife. He has purchased this land that we are on now. He has students that want to be part of Grace Hall. But there is a problem. What Bishop Kinsolving doesn’t have is fifteen thousand dollars to get the school up and running. That’s a lot of money for 1894.
So Bishop Kinsolving did what Bishop Kinsolving did best. He raised money. He preached to local congregations, he appealed to wealthy Episcopalians in Galveston. He made fundraising sermon after fundraising sermon, all so that he could create an Episcopal environment for the University of Texas. When all was said and done, after three years of fundraising, Bishop Kinsolving had raised a grand total of sixteen dollars and forty cents.
Now we look back on one hundred and fifteen years of ministry in this place. Thousands of students fed by Word and sacrament. Many formed to be lay leaders in the Episcopal Church. Others, like myself, raised up as clergy. For starting with only sixteen dollars and forty cents, Bishop Kinsolving got a lot of bang for his buck.
This should not surprise us. This is precisely how the Kingdom of God works. There were eleven men on a mountain. And some of them were doubting. The risen Lord Jesus stands before them and charges them, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” On the face of it, eleven men on a mountain, some of whom doubted, should not be able to change the world. But they did. They preached the gospel to all nations, they baptized, they taught, they kept the tradition alive. What started with eleven men on a mountain, changed the world.
Bishop Kinsolving’s sixteen dollars and forty cents grew, because there wasn’t much room for less. And as the University changed, so did the vision. New leaders came in, they labored to create this place. What began as a ministry with barely enough money to buy a couple of drinks on Sixth Street, is now what we have before us.
Tonight, we are also baptizing and confirming new disciples into the faith of Jesus. Just as Jesus instructed those eleven men to do, we are baptizing Jenny in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Valerie, Kim, and Roxanne will be confirming their faith. The four of you are the answer to a prayer. You are the fruits of Jesus’ command to baptize, to make disciples, to preach. You are the result of Bishop Kinsolving’s vision. God has proved that what seemed impossible to eleven men on a mountain still happens today. God has proved that what seemed unattainable in 1894, was actually not too far-fetched. We should not be surprised, because this is precisely how God’s Kingdom works.
So why do we always forget that? We forget that God provides. Tonight, and tomorrow, we will go back to our own parishes and our own church homes with their own issues, with their own seemingly impossible tasks. I do not know what it is for you. For me, it’s redeveloping a seven acre church campus in the heart of Houston’s new energy corridor. For the Student Center, it might be making disciples on an increasingly diverse campus. God is calling each of us to do something extraordinary for the Kingdom of God. But in the face of such grand visions, we forget that God provides. You have heard the fear, and the lack of faith, probably in your own church and in your own head. When given a grand vision to proclaim the gospel, we say to ourselves: “That sounds great, but we don’t have enough people. We would love to do that, but we don’t have enough money. We don’t have enough whatever…” But one hundred and fifteen years of ministry at UT shows us that that God provides.
That’s not to mean that the seemingly impossible tasks that face the Church today will be easy to accomplish. It was not easy for the first disciples. They were killed. They were martyred. But they didn’t give up. It was not easy for Bishop Kinsolving. He was fourteen thousand nine hundred eighty four dollars and sixty cents short. But he did not give up. Over the course of one hundred and fifteen years here, there have been tough moments, but we didn’t give up. And in the next one hundred and fifteen years, hard decisions and hard moments will surely arise again.
And for you, Jenny, Valerie, Kim, and Roxanne. It will not be easy. All along your Christian journey, you will want to give up. You will want to take the easy path. You will say to yourself, “I don’t have enough faith. I don’t have enough discipline. I don’t have enough whatever…” That’s true, you don’t. God does. Eleven men wouldn’t change the world, God did. Sixteen dollars and forty cents wasn’t going to shape the future of the Episcopal Church at the University of Texas, God did. And today, does the Episcopal Student Center have the courage, the guts to share the gospel with your fellow students at the University of Texas? No, God does. Do you have the insight, the wisdom to address your home church’s laundry list of issues? No, God does. Do we have the stamina, the creativity, the wisdom to recreate the Episcopal Church for the twenty first century? No, God does. That’s the point. Saying to ourselves that we don’t have enough whatever, is a convenient lie we tell ourselves when we don’t want to believe in God’s Kingdom.
Tonight is the celebration to remind us, that what we see as an impossibility, God sees as an opportunity. A growing university was an opportunity for the Episcopal Church, not an impossibility. Coming up fourteen thousand nine hundred eighty dollars and sixty cents shorts was an opportunity to continue preaching. A whole world waiting to hear about God’s love was an opportunity for eleven men to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus. When you are lying awake at night, worried about your ministry, worried about what you will do after graduation, worried about your church; those are opportunities, not impossibilities. And when you leave tonight, to go back to your homes, your churches, your classes, your work – Jesus will be going with you. As you leave this mountaintop, the promise that Jesus made to his disciples is the same promise he makes to us – “Remember I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Amen.