Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 22, 2021
As we packed up to move from Spring to Galveston, I took great care with some of my things. The little doo-dads and souvenirs I’ve picked up along the way, the trinkets that my daughter made me in pre-school. These are my most prized possessions. I wrapped them up neatly, placed them carefully in cardboard boxes, and I labeled them “fragile.” Because I love those little things.
But the funny thing is that once you move into the new place, those little treasures aren’t the things that you need. What did I really need when we moved into our new house? I needed a fresh pair of socks and a phone charger. But could I find them? Of course not! I had chucked them unceremoniously in a random box marked “closet.” Even though they’re what I really needed. We hold on too tightly to the those things that we don’t need and we play fast and loose with what we do need.
As it is now, so it was then. We, as God’s people, always get confused about what we think we need and what we actually need. It’s right there in the gospel lesson for today. Jesus is sharing with the people that he is in himself the bread of life given for the world. All who eat of his flesh will live forever. Imagine that grace, that mercy, that love. Eternal life freely given through Jesus Christ. All we have to do is accept it. Eat it. All we have to do is let that grace and mercy and flow through our hearts. But how do the people respond? They say, “this teaching is difficult. Who can accept it?” And many, it says, turn back from following him. Jesus offers what they need, but they’re too wrapped up in everything else to see it. Jesus turns to his closest friends and followers and asks them, “Do you also wish to go away?” And Peter says that fateful words, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:35-69). And that, that is where I want to begin my ministry at Trinity Episcopal Church – with the words of eternal life.
We gather here day by day, week by week, not to take in the stained glass windows or to hear the organ or to marvel at this church. No, we gather here day by day and week by week to hear the words of eternal life. We come here to join with our brothers and sisters in Christ in love and fellowship so that we may then leave these doors as better people, as more faithful disciples. The point of church is not to draw people in. No, the point of church is to send us out in order to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. So that the world may look more and more like this place – a place of love, and beauty, and fellowship, and unity. So that everyone would hear the words of eternal life.
And that, that is what I hope for all of us as we begin this new tenure of ministry, and as you begin this school year. That you would be the salt of the earth and the light of the word in your schools, in your classrooms, and in your offices. Leave this sacred space and go out there and in love, and peace, and in hope; take the beauty and the grace you have found here out into this ugly, cold, and divided world. Because that is what this sin weary world needs. It needs love and hope. It needs Christians like you to offer peace. You don’t have to hear it from me. You already know. The world is pitted against itself. Brother against brother, sister against sister, family against family. Ideology against ideology. We are tearing ourselves apart. Our purpose, our duty as Christians is to shine the light of peace, to be the salt of reconciliation; to be a people of unity in the face of so much division. To be the voice of love in the midst of so much rancor. To show compassion and understanding in the face of so much animosity and strife. That is our purpose.
This is what the world needs, that it may not know it. The world is hanging on too tightly to its little trinkets and doo-dads that don’t mean a thing. You see it everyday in your conversations, in the news, in your families. We take great care with our preconceived notions, with our worldly allegiances, with our ideologies. We pack them carefully and wrap them up neatly because we think those little things matter. But those little trinkets that you think you need – your money, your opinions, your status – they are nothing. What we actually need is not nearly so glamorous – what we need is a fresh pair of socks and a phone charger. Faith, hope, and love. The words of eternal life freely given by God. The very things that are given to us so freely that we unceremoniously chuck into the back of our minds.
What we think we need and what we actually need. This is a lesson that we must learn again as our forebears at Trinity Church learned it. See, they had a tough go of it, too. Those faithful Episcopalians who called themselves Trinity Church, Galveston erected their first worship space in 1842. It was promptly blown away by a hurricane in 1843. Can you imagine that? To have raised the money, planned, and built the first church in Galveston only for it to be blown away within a year? And then you know what happened? They faced yellow fever outbreaks, the economic rollercoaster of the 1850s, more hurricanes, and a Civil War. And yet somehow they kept on with their mission because the church building was never what they needed though they had so carefully built it. No, what they really needed was each other and Jesus’ words of eternal life. And so they ministered and labored among the people of Galveston, and eventually built this place, in the face of all that adversity and all that animosity. The first bishop of Texas, Alexander Gregg, said that this worship space was the “pride and ornament of the Church in Texas” (The Episcopal Church in Texas: 1828-1874, Brown, 184).
The pride and ornament of the Church in Texas. I mean, he wasn’t wrong. But you know, there’s more to it than that. This is a nice place to have, but it’s not what we need. No church, or temple, or building is God’s pride and ornament. No, you are God’s pride and ornament. You are the one created, redeemed, enlivened by the living God. You have been purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ upon the cross. Yes, we love our things. Yes, we love our church with its bricks, its windows, its organs, but we must not hold on to them too tightly. At the end of the day, these aren’t the things that we need. I know it’s sounds cliche, but the church is not the building. You are. You are God’s pride and ornament. You are what this church needs, and not the other way around. One of you actually put it best – you said to me that Trinity must make the conscious decision – will we be a church in a historic building? Or will we be a historic building that was once a church?
And, that’s what I commit myself to as I begin my tenure of ministry here at Trinity Church and School. I see it as my duty and as my joy, to remind you day by day, week by week, that you are God’s pride and ornament; to preach the words of eternal life. I will offer that hope to you, because I need it too. I’m not here to tell you how beautiful this church is. I’m not here to be a museum curator. No, I’m here to be a pastor, priest, and steward. I am here to tell how beautiful you are in the eyes of God. I am here to send you back out into the world so that you can help the world unpack its boxes; so that you can help the world figure out what it thinks is important and what is actually important. Yes, the world will knock you around because it doesn’t want a message of love. Yes, the world would prefer division. Yes, the world will turn away. Yes, the world will say that a teaching of grace is just too difficult. But this is exactly what the world needs from us even if they don’t know it. I ask you to go out there and take the world what it needs – a fresh pair of socks and a phone charger. Go out there and tell them what we already know – that we are the pride and ornament of God’s very heart.