St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Proper 29/A: Reign of God:11/30/14
The Rev. Dee Anne Dodd
St. Paul's Wallingford CT
As the Choristers sang earlier this morning:
"Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness,
and all these things shall be added unto you. Alleu, Alleuia!
The church has left the building.
That was the single most captivating sentence uttered
during two days of the Annual Convention
of the Episcopal Church in CT earlier this fall.
It was said by a woman describing the mission work of her parish.
The church has left the building.
But how could that be?
Isn't this the church? Didn't we "come to church" this morning?
Well, yes. And no.
We are extraordinarily blessed to gather as church in this spectacular place.
We have a beautiful sanctuary filled with the prayers of generations before us.
A cozy chapel. Rather nice offices. A toy-filled nursery.
Cheery church school classrooms,
complete with Bible murals in the hallway.
An elevator. Sunny Wilkinson Hall.
And . . . bats in the belfry.
We got it all!
But all this -- however beautiful, however inspiring,
however helpful -- isn't the church.
It's the physical plant in which we the church are privileged to gather.
And aren't we blessed to be here?
But the truth is, St. Paul's Church has been around
a lot longer than this beautiful place.
In 2016, we'll celebrate the 275th anniversary of this congregation --
our 275th anniversary of being the church in Wallingford.
We'll hear more about our amazing history between now
and the festivities being planned for the spring of 2016.
How Episcopalians have gathered in various locations --
including Pond Hill,
Christian Street (which may have been named after us),
in the basement of First Baptist for a short period
and a couple of different buildings here
culminating in this grand structure consecrated
just -- in the scheme of things -- 145 years ago.
For almost half of our history, this was not the church.
So that's today's history lesson.
But what about tomorrow?
What about the new church year which begins next Sunday,
and the new calendar year which begins just a month after that?
Well, by the grace of God, may we be faithful stewards
of this building that's become so familiar and beloved to so many of us.
As the faithful band that scrapped together $70,000 in the 1860s
to build this majestic place,
it's now our turn to provide adequate funds to sustain it and
the ministries which grow out of our life together.
That is, if we think it's important to have a safe place to gather,
to make a joyful noise unto the Lord together, to sit quietly alone,
to see friends in faith, to make friends,
to make music together,
to help the young and the young at heart perfect their musical gifts,
to study God's Word, to teach our children well,
to share birthdays, anniversaries of any kind and life's milestones,
to break bread together whether here at the altar or
downstairs at a potluck,
to laugh, cry on one another's shoulders and pray. Together.
As important, essential, as all these truly are,
they're not the sum total of what it is to be the church.
They are the great gifts which feed and strengthen and inspire and
help enable and empower us to be the church --
for the precious time we spend in this building,
and every other minute of our lives too.
We are the church. Period.
That's what this feast day, the culmination of the liturgical year, is about.
It's about claiming Christ as our King, our highest allegiance, our top priority.
It's about seeing God's Kingdom at work all about us,
and choosing to live under the Reign of God in Christ, here and now.
Feeding the hungry, as today's gospel tells us,
giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger.
Finding Christ in the most unlikely,
most vulnerable people and places --
including the most vulnerable parts of ourselves.
So the church leaves the building.
Because that's where God who calls us here together
needs us to go out to be the church.
Today's bulletin has three pages of announcements,
many of them about being the church outside this building --
at the Wallingford Emergency Shelter, on the New Haven Green,
in Camoapa, Nicaragua.
Even a lot of the announcements that appear to take place here
are really about bringing things in to give to folks who need them --
food for Master's Manna,
diapers for families who can't afford them,
Christmas gifts for children in need,
Thanksgiving fruit baskets to our own folks who don't get out much.
And as much joy as it is to share these ministries,
the church leaves the building
every time you walk down the street, get in your car,
go home, or to work, school, errands or volunteer.
The church is wherever you are:
whenever you make a decision; build a relationship;
spend, earn or donate a dime.
And that's what we call stewardship --
living in such a way that we know
that everything we have, everything we are,
is pure gift
intended as thank-offering back to God.
Because we're not ourselves alone. We're the church. Together.
Thanks be to God that a certain portion of us happen to be in the building now.
Please know how much you're missed when some of us are here
and you're not,
and tell others the same.
For we're all counting on you,
counting on each other,
to help us be the church,
whether inside this magnificent building or far, far beyond.