Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
October 26, 2014
A few months ago Maggie and I went clothes shopping for me. I loathe shopping for clothes. It just reminds me of how desperately out of style I am. But I did bring myself to buy a new pair of pants. They are stylish. They’re pretty hip. But I don’t feel hip. I mean, I’m a priest. And the first time I wore them, I felt real stupid. Cool pants. Dorky priest collar. Yeah, it just didn’t go together. But then I saw a picture of my pants online. And some fashionista said that everybody should be wearing these pants. Then I saw another guy wearing almost the same pants, and I went from thinking that I looked stupid to being smug real quick. I thought to myself, “man, I was wearing those pants before they were cool.”
This week, I learned that I was part of something else long before it became cool. See, this week, Deacon Bob and I went to our annual clergy conference. And at clergy conference every year, Bishop Doyle tells about his expectations for us. So, this year, Bishop Doyle said that he expects every congregation to create one, smaller, mission focused community that meets away from the church campus. These communities must be for people who are not already in church. And these communities must be committed to spreading the gospel. That’s it, Bishop Doyle. That’s his expectation. Wait. What? Was that the big thing? Because, Bishop Doyle, Holy Comforter has been doing that long before it was cool.
Every Sunday morning, John Vancamp, a layperson, leads Morning Prayer or takes communion to a local physical rehabilitation facility. Peggy Brast plays the piano for them. They’ve created a community of ten to fifteen worshippers every Sunday in that place. Or, you know that for six months I hosted a meet up at a local Starbucks every Monday afternoon. Anywhere from fifteen to five people would gather for a conversation on spirituality. Sherry and Ora Godden host a weekly bible study and prayer group for people who live in their apartment complex. And starting in November, Deacon Bob will gather with a group of residents at a local nursing home. These aren’t traditional small groups of parishioners or congregational bible studies. These are communities with the expressed intent of bringing new people to Christ. Look, we’ve been doing small, missionary focused communities long before it was cool. And Bishop Doyle, my boss, said that he expects each church to begin one new community each year. That was easy. So maybe I’ll ask him if we can take a break from doing this until 2018. Just kidding.
Now, I want to be clear as to why we’re creating these small communities. It’s not because Bishop Doyle is telling us to. Even though he is my boss. And it’s not because this idea is like buying a cool new pair of pants. This isn’t a fad. We’re planting these communities because we’re listening to the commandments of Jesus. For Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” These communities are putting those words into action. The purpose of these small communities, these off-shoots of Holy Comforter, is to love God and love neighbor. They are expressing a love of God by worshipping. They are expressing love of neighbor by going to where they are; not just expecting our neighbors to show up to 2322 Spring Cypress Road.
I’ve said this many times before: I sincerely believe that Holy Comforter is becoming one of the most exciting churches in the Diocese of Texas. But we’ve still got work to do. So I am asking each of you to consider becoming a missionary. To consider planting one of these mission focused communities. I don’t know what it looks like for you. Maybe you spend a lot of time at your kids’ soccer practice or at their swim meets. Why not be the local missionary and start a prayer service right there on the sidelines? Or do your kids’ baseball tournaments take place on Sunday morning? Even better. We’ll send communion out to you. Or, maybe you want to start your own meet up at Starbucks. We’ve got a grant of money from the Diocese to help you do that. Maybe you want to start a prayer group at the gym where you work out. Some of you are retired or are thinking about it. Can you think of a better way to spend your retirement than by being a missionary for the Lord Jesus? To love God and to love your neighbor in a very real way? I don’t know how you can be a missionary, but the Holy Spirit knows.
I can see the look on your faces. Some of you are getting very worried. Not everybody is supposed to be a missionary. Some people work here in the church, some people work out in the world. It’s a both/and proposition. We work in parallel. Loving God and loving neighbor aren’t always the same thing, but they are parallel. Our small, mission plants and our parish home will not be the same thing, but they will be parallel. It’s like, it’s like a bad sci-fi movie. These six and a half acres on Spring Cypress Road are the giant mother ship UFO. Our mission plants are like the little UFOs.
And, if you haven’t heard, we plan on building a church here. It’s a both/and. We are planting communities out there, and we are building right here. These are not exclusive, they’re parallel. I think that the better job we do out there, the better job we’ll do right here. And it’s all because we love God and love neighbor.
Notice that Jesus isn’t giving a list of do nots. In my own life, when I have tried to avoid evil things, that only makes me think about the evil thing more. So flip it all on its head. Think about doing the positive thing. The right thing. We’ve probably all been in churches or heard preachers give their list of things you must not do. You must not dance. You must not swear. You must not buy new pants. Or, we can’t build that. We can’t do that. We don’t have enough money for that. But that’s not how Jesus talked. And that’s not how we talk. His commandments are positive commandments, love God and love neighbor. So let’s talk about the things we should do, not the things we should not do. Can we plant a church in a nursing home? Yeah. Can we host a conversation in Starbucks with a bunch of atheists? Yeah. Can we do a bible study at an apartment complex? Yeah. Can we love God and our neighbor? Oh yeah.
It all comes down to this – are we willing to take a risk for the Kingdom of God? Really, will we take a risk for the Kingdom of God? Your pledge cards, the ones that are on the altar and the ones still in your hands, those are risky. Aren’t they? Because you’re stepping out on faith to do something for God’s Kingdom. Because loving God and loving neighbor requires risk taking. Because love makes us vulnerable. It opens our hearts. Loving God and loving neighbor means that we have to let go of our pride and our want to control things. You already know this. Rolling down your window to hand a bag of food to a neighbor is a risk. Who knows what’s going to happen? Showing up to church to worship God is a risk. Because who knows – it might just happen that God will speak to you one day. It might just be that God tells you to buy a new pair of pants, to try something radically different.
But at the end of the day, whether you help out with one of these new communities or not; whether your ministry is here or out there; just remember two things: love God. Love neighbor.