The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
19th Sunday after Pentecost
October 4, 2015
Friday, December 18, 2015. This date should be on all your calendars. That is the day that the new Star Wars movie comes out. Don’t expect to find me at the church on Friday, December 18. I have already scheduled that as a vacation day. I will be at the movie theater.
The Star Wars movies have that classic introduction. On a starry field with a blue text it says, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” Doesn’t hearing that just make you want to watch it again? I remember as a kid watching Star Wars for the first time, and that line totally captured my imagination. This fantasy, this space drama with space fighters and Star Destroyers and light sabers, it all took place a long time ago. And I would think, “well, what about now? What’s happening now?” It always left me wanting just a little bit more. Clearly, I haven’t really grown up that much since then. That’s why I’m taking December 18 as a vacation day. I want to see what happens with the rest of the story.
There is a similar sense of this “long time ago” in our reading from Hebrews. The first line of Hebrews sounds like it’s straight out of Star Wars: “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets.” Long ago. In this mythical, distant past God spoke to the people of Israel. God parted the Red Sea for them. God gave them food in the wilderness. God delivered them from the Egyptians and the Babylonians. God did all sorts of wonderful things for the people of old. But that was all long ago. The author of Hebrews presumes that we are facing the same haunting question I faced after watching Star Wars: what’s happening now? Is God still active? Is God present in this world? Sure, God did many great things ages and ages ago, and in a land far, far away. But what about now?
And what about now? Sometimes it seems to me that God has abandoned our world. Mass shootings are routine. Boats full of hungry, hopeless, desperate refugees drown. Some people live in huge houses with all the newest toys and tech. Others can barely rub two nickels together. Sometimes it just seems that God did all sorts of things long ago and in a land far, far away. And now, it seems, we’re all alone.
This is exactly what the first Christians were thinking too. Jesus has ascended to heaven. Now what? The author of Hebrews goes on: “but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being. And he sustains all things by his powerful word.” He sustains all things by his powerful word. That’s it. That’s the assurance. Yes, it seems that God has left us alone. Yes, this world is decaying around us and it looks like it must be the last days. But God still lives today. God’s Son, Jesus Christ, sustains all things by his powerful word. Jesus, the Christ, is active and alive even today. Even in the midst of so much hopelessness. Long ago God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets. Today God speaks to us through his Son.
Beyond that, Jesus is alive and active in the church today. The Church, in the big and in the local sense, is often maligned. It has become quite popular today to say that the Church has nothing left for the world. It has become popular to talk about corrupt priests, about shady preachers, or about churches gone off the rails. It has become popular to say that you can connect with God just fine on your own without anybody else around. But what nobody is talking about is that Jesus is still active and alive in the church.
And I have to say, that I am humbled to be here at Holy Comforter while God is accomplishing so many wonderful things. God has not abandoned the Church, for I see the Holy Spirit here every single day. Five days a week, teenagers show up on our campus for school at the Archway Academy. These are kids who are addicted and who want to get clean. They can’t make it in public school. This is their last hope. And I see parents when they drop their kids off, and I have spoken with them. This place is the last hope for their kids. God, working through this place, is where they are pinning all of their hopes for healing. That is the work of Jesus.
I see the Holy Spirit alive and active in new partnerships in the community. Holy Comforter is now a partner congregation with Salyers Elementary School in the Spring ISD. At-risk kids at Salyers are crying our for mentors and role models. Through a partnership with Spring ISD, the Diocese of Texas, and Kids Hope USA, we are going to be those mentors and role models. That is the Spirit of God at work in the Church.
I see the Holy Spirit enlivening ministries that have been here for a long time, and ministries that are new. I see men and women give up their Saturdays to volunteer at homeless kitchens downtown. I see teenagers who have launched a support group for other teenagers struggling with depression and anxiety. They meet here every week to share their stories. In other words, I see Jesus sustaining this church with his powerful word.
I see a church with a vision for the future. See, our buildings and physical spaces are simply not sustainable for our long-term mission and ministry. Already, we are out of staff space. Our youth minister works in a converted classroom. Our newcomer minister works in a converted closet. Our Sunday School classrooms are tight. Our electrical wiring and our plumbing are aging quickly. We don’t have a single handicap accessible restroom. Our parishioners with walking assistive devices or wheelchairs simply cannot come to church. You might say, “well, I don’t see anybody at church who can’t come because of handicap accessibility.” Right, because they can’t come. And I see a church that has long dreamed of a permanent, beautiful, dedicated worship space. Without a holistic approach like we have now, Holy Comforter will be shackled by our buildings instead of enabled for ministry by them. In other words, without a holistic approach to build and renovate our physical spaces, Holy Comforter will not be able to serve as that place of hope, grace, and peace that we are for the community. Our buildings will deteriorate around us as our ministries, staff, and programs suffer from want of usable space.
And I understand your fears. Can we afford this? Because buildings are expensive. The price of oil is so low. We’ve talked about this years ago and nothing has happened. This money should be given to the poor. First of all, our current buildings are going to be very, very expensive if we don’t do anything. Because we’ll be behind the curve. We don’t have an option. Let’s face it, it’s far better to manage change than let change manage us. Economies come and go, markets fluctuate. But last time I checked, we don’t worship the dollar. We worship the Lord Jesus who is the same yesterday and today and forever. And yes, this congregation has laid these plans before and nothing happened. But we’re not going to let the past dictate our future. And we must be very, very clear. We are not building for ourselves alone. It’s presumptuous of us to say that the only thing the poor need is cash. The poor need a place to gather. The poor in spirit need a place to get sober and a place to pray. The poor need a place to learn about Jesus and work through their depression. This vision is not for ourselves only, it is for the poor in this community.
So we have a plan to ensure that our campus is sustainable, accessible, and visible. A plan that serves our community. We are doing this, because you have said that you want to do this. From the first day I stepped onto this campus, I have heard about this dream of ours. It’s time to make this dream a reality.
And we’re going to need it. I see a church in which visitors keep coming through our doors. New people committing themselves to Christ. You’ve seen it happen. Maybe it happened to you. And community groups and partnerships continue to want to use our space. Sadly, I am beginning to tell them “no, we don’t have room for you.” It’s time to dream bigger, and to make those dreams a reality.
In our financial pledge campaign this year, we are asking you to open your hearts and open your hands to all of this work that God is accomplishing in this church. This is your opportunity to partner with us, to partner with God, in the ministry and mission taking place here. Maggie and I have made that choice ourselves. We are financially committed to this church and to the work that God is doing here. We give ten percent of the money we earn to this church. That is a sacrifice. That is a lot of diaper money. That is a lot of college tuition down the road. But it’s worth it. Because we believe in this church and we believe in the God who sustains this church. We believe that the ministries, the missions, the things going on in this church matter. They matter to the people of Spring and to the people of this church. Imagine what Spring would be like without Holy Comforter. Kids hooked on substances wouldn’t have a place to get sober. Teens with depression wouldn’t have a safe place to find support. Students at Spring ISD wouldn’t have an opportunity to get a mentor. Our children wouldn’t have a place to learn about Jesus in uniquely Episcopal ways. The people of Spring wouldn’t have a church to worship God in the beauty of the Episcopal tradition. I believe in God, and I believe in the work that God is doing in this place.
And at the end of the day, all the money we have doesn’t belong to us anyway. It belongs to God. God has given us our money not to be owners, but to be caretakers. We don’t give our money to church, we return God’s money to the church.
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many various ways by the prophets. Today, Jesus Christ sustains all things by his powerful word. This is your opportunity to empower that mission, not only with your money, but with your lives so that the work of the Holy Spirit continues in this church.
Finally, I ask you to pray with me:
Almighty God, your Son Jesus Christ stretched out his heart and his hands on the hard wood of the cross so that we might be saved through him: Inspire us with your Holy Spirit that we too may open our hearts and our hands to this parish family and to the vision you have given to this church; all this for the honor of your Name. Amen.