The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 15, 2017
After my sophomore year of college, I spent the summer in northern Maine as a canoe river guide. You’ve heard me talk about this before. My job was to take crews of nine Boy Scouts, two adults, and me on two week canoe expeditions in the middle of nowhere Maine. And I realized, like many outdoorsman do, that there are two types of fun. Type One fun is the kind of fun that is fun while you’re doing it. Taking a canoe down some rapids is actually a lot of fun. Or, when we would be out on the big lakes in Maine, we would set up a sail and hold our canoes together and go flying with the wind. That was the kind of fun that is fun while you’re doing it.
But then, there is Type Two fun. This is the kind of fun that is miserable while you’re doing it, but once you look back, it makes for a great story. Any time we had to portage that was Type Two Fun. That’s when there is a waterfall on the river so you have to carry the ninety pound canoe on your back and walk. Miserable while you’re doing it, fun to sit around the campfire afterwards and retell the story.
This past year at Holy Comforter, our Year of Joy, we’ve had Type One joy and Type Two joy. Type One Joy – the kind of joy that is joyful while it’s happening. The capital campaign kickoff. Christmas. Easter. The groundbreaking. God was close to us while it was happening and we felt God’s presence.
But you know, we’ve also had our fair share of Type Two joy. The kind that wasn’t so joyful while it was happening. We had Sunday services out in the Parish Hall, because the church was damaged from the rain, but actually it was nice to be so close to each other. We came close to, but did not fully achieve our capital campaign goal, yet we are still able to build. We had our groundbreaking in June for the new church, and since then, it’s been a whole lot of waiting. That’s Type Two joy.
Now Saint Paul, Saint Paul has a third gear. He has Type Three joy. Type Three joy is when things are miserable, you are joyful anyway. Think of it – he’s writing the letter to the Philippians while he’s in prison. Prison in the ancient world was horrendous. You were usually chained to a wall or a post. Prisons were usually in a dungeon or a place with no ventilation. You weren’t given food by the prison – you depended on the kindness of strangers and friends to bring you food. If you didn’t have any friends, you would probably starve. So there’s Paul, in prison, hungry, thirsty, in the dark, chained to a wall; on the face of it, he should be absolutely miserable. But what does he say? “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplications with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Those are brave and joyful words for a man in a tiny prison cell with no air to breathe who is constantly hungry and thirsty. Those are brave and joyful words for a man who is in prison precisely because of his faith in Jesus Christ. Imagine Saint Paul, with the prison stench, with rats and vermin crawling all around, with hunger pains, and he says, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” That, my friends, is joy. Not the fleeting happiness of type one joy, not the pessimistic pain of type two joy. Saint Paul is neither saying he enjoys his situations, nor does he deny his pain. He sees through his situation, and he sees that God loves him and that Jesus is with him despite his circumstances.
Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice. It puts a perspective on things, doesn’t it? Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice. As we begin our pledge campaign this year, our Year of Joy, that’s where I want us to start. We do not prayerfully consider our financial gifts to the church out of a place of scarcity. We don’t sit down and figure out how much money we’ll give based on what we think the Church deserves. No, we give out of joy. A deep sense that God loves us and that Jesus is with us and that the money we give to the church is our way of saying, “thank you,” to God for all that God has done for us. We give out of joy for the eternal life given to us in Jesus Christ. We give out of joy.
Think about it, think about the joy in our parish family. A church that turned out immediately to help our friends and neighbors who were flooded. A church that gives of itself by worshipping with the elderly, by mentoring students. A church that opened its doors to the public library. A church that is so joyful that we are not afraid to give our money to build a church.
Now I wish, I wish I could stand here this morning with great joy and tell you that the construction trucks arrive tomorrow. But I can’t tell you that. This is what I can tell you – the building contract is signed. Frost Bank is ready. The builders are ready. You’re ready. I’m ready. And still we wait for we’re on the backlog of building permits from Harris County. We will start as soon as we have that little piece of paper in hand. It could be this week, it could be next week. That is simply the reality of it.
I wish that wasn’t the reality. I’ve had over one thousand separate email conversations about this building project, so yeah, I am ready. But here’s another piece of the reality. At the very beginning of this process, way back in January of 2014 I said that this whole timeline was going to be a spiritual journey. In fact, here’s a line from that very first sermon.
“I am resolutely convinced that this vision of building a church is a vision to which God is calling us. But it will not be easy. This process will take everything we have and everything we are as a congregation to accomplish. This process will not be a mere fundraising campaign or building plan. This process on which we are embarking will be a spiritual exercise. We will learn how to corporately trust in God, trust in one another, and give of our time, gifts, and money to the mission of this church.”
I never knew how true those words would become. And so of course we should expect another spiritual lesson at this moment. The lesson we are learning is how to find joy despite the present circumstances, despite the waiting.
You might think I’m saying this because it’s convenient. That it’s a nice, clever way to tie a bow on this. It’s not. I actually do believe in God, I believe in Jesus Christ who teaches us spiritual lessons through the circumstances of life. And I realize that we need to learn this lesson of looking for joy even while we wait. We gripe all the time of this culture of instant gratification and how people should learn how to wait. Well, here is our opportunity to learn the lesson for ourselves.
And more than that, this is a spiritual lesson that we can take into our personal lives. There has been some point in your life when you had to wait for something, or maybe you’re waiting right now. You had to consciously look for joy. It’s not enjoyable, and you wish you could speed up time. Sometimes this lesson has real world costs. I have given my money to this capital campaign, you have given your money, we have talked, and dreamed, and labored, and we wish that right now, it was different.
I’m sure that Saint Paul wished it was different, too. I’m sure he wished that he wasn’t chained to a wall and didn’t have rats crawling all over him in the dark. I’m sure he wished he had all the food and water he could want. Yet there he sat, waiting. But that never stole his joy.
Saint Paul knew that God was with him; his fellow Christians were with him. Look back to what Paul says about his friends. He talks about Euodia, Syntyche, Clement, his co-workers, and his loyal companion. Who were Euodia, Syntyche, and Clement? We’ll never know. But what we do know, is that even Saint Paul could not do it by himself.
The Church is a living example of this. We need each other. I cannot have Holy Communion by myself. We cannot gather in worship if there is no one to gather with. This is a community – we need each other as loyal companions. Or think of our new building – there’s wood, and concrete, and brick, and drywall. There’s no one thing – each material needs each other, like loyal companions.
This is also clear in a pledge campaign. We need each other. One of the wonderful things about Holy Comforter is that no one person can fund it. It takes everybody, as loyal companions, together in this thing to be the church. The beautiful thing, is to see all sorts of people from all walks of life commit themselves to each other to be loyal companions, to make this thing work. Our companionship means that we’ll pray for each other, care for each other, worship with each other, and yes, to give our money together. I give my money to Holy Comforter because I believe that God is present in this church. I give my money to Holy Comforter because it gives me incredible joy to be part of a church that has chosen to be loyal companions.
And now, more than ever, in the waiting, we need each other. And a year from now, when all is said and done, we will give thanks to God for this collective moment. Because God has given us this time, this waiting time, as an opportunity; so that we can see what we’re really made of as a church. Not Type One joy, not Type Two joy, but the joy that comes from Jesus Christ.
Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice. As you consider your financial gifts to this church, I ask you first to rejoice that God has given us this church, this community. Rejoice that we are one church of loyal companions, sharing Christ’s message of hope, peace, and grace with all.