January 14, 2018
Like much of North American Christianity, we are having to redefine what it means to be a people of faith in a 21st century context as we live into our call to be disciples of Jesus. We do this work knowing that there are no easy answers or any quick fixes. What we do know is that we have a God who desires to be in relationship with us and is always calling forth our trust in the possibility that God’s dream can be made manifest, an epiphany, in you and in the life of this parish for the sake of the world.
I want to tell you about a faith community that was wrestling with its identity and what God was calling them to be. They had fallen on hard times as they were once full of life and vitality, but the rise of secularism, along with shifting demographics and a loss of vision had taken its toll. They had declined to a point of four people and the occasional presence of a priest.
Every now and then there was a visitor who, while traveling would come for worship, about once per year. The priest went to him and shared his concerns and asked if the visitor had any advice. All he said was, “I know how it is. The spirit seems to have gone out of the people. They have forgotten why God put them here.” They wept together. They prayed together. Upon leaving the priest asked if the visitor had anything else to offer and he said, “No, but I can tell you this, the Messiah is one of you.”
The priest went back to the faith community the next week and said, “He couldn’t help. We cried. We talked. We prayed. But he did say one curiously cryptic thing. ‘The Messiah is one of us.’ I don’t know what he meant.”
Well, days and weeks went by and each of them wondered who it was. Was it the priest? He was a holy person and their leader. Was it Thomas who was always reminding them to pray? Or maybe Bob, but nah, it couldn’t be him, he’s so crotchety and gruff and always giving everyone a hard time. How about Mary? She doesn’t ever say much, but she tries hard to keep the peace.
Yet a strange thing began to happen. They all began to treat each other with a new respect on the off-chance that one of them was the Messiah. They got a new sense of purpose as a renewed center of faith and the village around them saw a new vibrancy and hopefulness in them as they ventured out into the surrounding neighborhood.
I am not saying that this story describes specifically the reality of All Saints. It does, however, point to the center of our faith in Jesus the Christ. We must never fall into the trap of acting like functional atheists, that is, behaving as if there is no God. Just a few weeks ago we celebrated our God who became flesh, has come among us, and has promised to be with us always, even unto the end of the age. We heard in I Samuel this morning that hearing “the word of the Lord was rare in those days.” At the same time we get a wonderful word of hope: “…the lamp of God had not yet gone out.” The living God is always bringing what appears to be hopeless into new life, despair to renewal.
Eli and the boy Samuel were guarding the Ark of the Covenant at a sacred site, the sign and symbol of the presence of God, yet God seemed silent for Samuel did not yet know the Lord. What did he need? He needed someone, in this case the old priest Eli, to point to God and help him distinguish what was God’s voice and what was not. Samuel discovered that God was already among them and became a powerful voice for God, showing forth a different reality of faithfulness and hope born of God, rather than the voices of violence, separation and domination that had seduced Eli’s sons.
All of the data tells us that faith communities that are the clearest about their identity, that is, why they exist, and that have a passion to make a difference in the world around them, are the ones that tend to be most alive in God’s Spirit. In John’s Gospel, Philip was going about his every day business and needed the presence of the Messiah to call him forth to a new way of life. “Follow me,” Jesus said. Philip then went and found someone else, Nathanael, and on it goes through the centuries until we find ourselves here.
Nathanael asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” We might ask, “Can anything good come out of Hampton?" Of course it can! And does! God has found us. The Messiah is one of us. God is at work among us. Our response is to seek him with all of our hearts and recognize the possibility of the new creation God wants to bring about in you individually and in this parish as a community.
God’s Spirit is calling you to be an answer to what we prayed together in the Collect at the beginning of this service. “Might you shine in the radiance of Christ’s glory, be a light in the darkness of this world, and through you Christ known, worshiped and obeyed to the ends of the earth.” The story continues right here through the ministry of this parish community, for God desires to change the world through you. It can only happen, however, if you decide to be the answer to the prayer and make it your mission to do so.