The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Second Sunday after the Epiphany
January 15, 2017 – Holy Comforter Annual Parish Meeting
2017 Year of Joy – Come and See
Last Sunday was Katie Pickering’s first time to acolyte at Holy Comforter. I think she was a little nervous, a little excited, a little curious about how it all worked. She needed some training. And who better to train her, than a fellow acolyte? Jacob Faasse walked Katie through a rehearsal of the service. He showed her the ropes. He helped her get fitted for the right vestments. And when the time came, Jacob was the one who helped Katie get through her first worship service as an acolyte. “Come and see,” Jacob said. “I’ll show you how it’s done.”
“Come and see.” It’s what Jesus says to Andrew. “Come and see.” It’s what we imagine Andrew then saying to his brother Peter, inviting Peter to join him on this journey with Jesus. “Come and see.” Come and see this life-changing, life-giving love. Come and see.
But first, notice the question that Jesus asks of the disciples. He turns to them and says, “what are you looking for?” We imagine the disciples are looking for the Messiah, the Lord, the one to deliver them. It is a question that the Lord asks also of us. We have now decided to follow Jesus, have that question asked of us. “What are you looking for?” Why are you here? Why do you worship at Holy Comforter? Why have you chosen this church to be your family? For just a few minutes, I want you to turn to the people next to you and answer that question, “what are you looking for at Holy Comforter?”
Thank you all for the conversation and the sharing. I know that many of us are looking for many different things. I cannot go into the details of every ministry, group, project, fellowship, and worship service at Holy Comforter. I cannot discuss every single thing that people are looking for. But I can give you a broader view of what’s happening, my view from this pulpit and this altar. I invite you to come and see Holy Comforter from my perspective. Come and see the life-giving, life-changing work that took place last year. Come and see the boundless riches of God’s grace. Come and see the joys, the sorrows, the worry, and the faithfulness. Come and see what 2016, our Year of Gratitude was all about.
We started off with a bang when on our first day back in the office in January 2016, the local MUD bought a front easement of our property. The money that they gave us was nice, the digging equipment in front of the church was a little loud. But the best part was I remember Sam Sampson, our Junior Warden, doing a little happy dance when they said that they would create a sewer connection for us without charge. This will be a huge help to us in our building project moving forward.
But, Sam, you were not doing the happy dance for long, were you? A pipe in our Parish Hall rusted all the way through, causing significant water damage to our maintenance closet, restrooms, and work room. Sam and the staff were managing a four ring circus of plumbers, insurance adjustors, state inspectors, and church events. It was not a pleasant time at Holy Comforter. Not only did they have to repair and replace everything that had been damaged, but many plumbing fixtures had been improperly installed years ago. That all had to be fixed for safety reasons. Everything has its silver lining, I suppose. From my perspective, we all came and saw that Holy Comforter desperately needs new and renovated buildings or these things will keep happening and our ministry will be hindered.
From my perspective, I also saw a congregation that was joyful, grateful, and flexible during this unpleasantness. We got to know each other, maybe a little too well, while we sat elbow to elbow in the Education Building during our Shrove Tuesday pancake supper. We crammed into the Education Building for coffee hour, Sunday School, and for everything else. “Come and see,” I thought, “a congregation that is flexible.” What I saw was a congregation that realized that a church is its people, not its buildings. Yes, functioning buildings and facilities are great, but only insofar as they are avenues to bring people together for the work of the church.
And then it rained. And it rained and it rained and it rained and it rained. Overnight Holy Comforter became a flood relief center. Come and see a congregation whose heart beats on the outside. Come and see a church that gives itself away to its community. Come and see a church that is willing to set aside a Sunday morning to serve its community. The Church Has Left the Building was an incredible day. Come and see a church that is planting worshipping communities in local nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities. Come and see people who spend their weekends praying with the residents of these places. Holy Comforter had the courage to say that worship is more than what takes place in here. Come and see a church that gives itself away.
Come and see a church that is growing. It’s almost hard to wrap my mind around it. The Holy Comforter that called me as rector in 2012 is not the same Holy Comforter that I serve in 2017. We now have three services. The number of people worshipping with Holy Comforter has doubled. We have four simultaneous Sunday School classes; and if the Adult Sunday School class keeps growing, we’re going to outgrow the Parish Hall. Or just think back to Christmas Eve. The six o’clock service was so packed that ushers were putting chairs in the back. I see a church whose staff has expanded. This year, we added Mike Adams as our Parish Administrator and Kessler McClanahan as our Children’s Minister – two areas in our church’s life that will build a foundation for our future.
Come and see. Come and see a church that is hungry for mission. Hungry to raise the money needed to build a church. Hungry to start worship services in even more nursing homes. Hungry to mentor more kids, hungry to help refugees, hungry to start new ministries. Hungry to share Christ’s message of hope, peace, and grace with all.
You and I are not the only ones who have noticed what’s happening at Holy Comforter. The Episcopal Diocese of Texas knows exactly what’s happening here. That’s why we have received an unprecedented gift. A gift of $1.88 million for our building project. It still gives me goose bumps to think about it. And when I say unprecedented, I really do mean unprecedented. You know, I am the official historian for the Diocese of Texas. And I can tell you, with authority, that this has never happened before. 2016 – a year that filled me with gratitude.
But I call to mind the words of Jesus, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” (Luke 12:48). Holy Comforter has received immeasurable gifts – gifts of the Holy Spirit, gifts of money, gifts of joy. And from those gifts, much is required.
2017 is not a time to congratulate ourselves, it is a time to renew ourselves for mission. 2017, our Year of Joy, is a year in which we will have to show each other how to do it. We can learn a whole lot from Jacob and Katie. We have to be willing to show up and help each other. We have to care for one another. We have to commit ourselves to the church. And we have to be willing to learn. We have to know and understand that we don’t know or understand everything.
And if you thought that a little leak in the Parish Hall was a headache, just you wait. You haven’t seen anything yet. Rick, Linda, and Danny will fill you in on the details of our progress and our plans in the building project, but it’s going to get busy. It’s going to be a headache. But I know that in the church, in a life with Jesus, you cannot get to the empty tomb without first going through the cross.
Now, I sense a few challenges coming up for us in 2017. First, there will be the temptation to lose heart. When it starts raining, or when it seems that the builders should be moving faster, or when we’re trying to figure out parking for a big event and there isn’t any parking, we can lose heart. We could get despondent. We could be tempted to pull back on our financial commitments. But just because Katie had never been an acolyte before doesn’t mean that she didn’t try. She got up, she learned, and she did it with courage and enthusiasm. She is an example for us when we are tempted to lose heart.
The other challenge for us will be to walk and chew gum at the same time. Just because we are in the throes of construction does not mean that there aren’t hungry kids in Spring, homeless people living in the woods, people who have never heard the gospel. We will do bible study with the sound of jackhammers. We will pray with dust in the air. We will say to our friends and neighbors, “come and see” what all the fuss is about.
Another challenge for us will be to continue learning how to grow together. We are what’s called a transitional size church. We were a smaller church where everything could be run by word of mouth. But now we’re moving into a larger church with multiple cells and oftentimes multiple things taking place at once. This is a good thing. It doesn’t mean that you are going to get lost in a huge crowd of people. It means that there are more programs and offerings for you to create tighter, more intimate relationship. This means that the way we live together has to grow. We cannot rely upon word of mouth. Everybody has to read their emails, listen to the announcements, take the announcement insert home. This is one of our growing edges. Things that are said must also be heard. And the reverse is true. If there is something that you want to talk to me or Deacon Bob about, or if you get sick and are in the hospital, or anything else – please do not assume that I can read your mind. I cannot. I’ve been ordained as a priest, not as a wizard.
And that takes us to the final challenge for this year. The challenge of simply showing up. You need to show up. Andrew gets his brother Peter to come and see Jesus. Peter shows up. But it’s only because Peter shows up that Jesus can change Peter’s life. It’s only because Peter is there, standing before the Lord, that Peter becomes the Rock upon which the church is built. I ask you, I challenge you, show up. To church, to your ministries, to your small groups, to your classes. I’m sure Peter could have come up with all sorts of excuses for his brother, Andrew. I’m really busy with all this fishing stuff. I don’t have time. I got in late last night. It’s too cold. It’s too hot. It’s too wet. It’s too dry. It’s too…whatever. You cannot grow in your relationship with Jesus by keeping the church at arm’s distance. If you have made a commitment to Jesus, I ask you to also honor your commitments to the church. I draw us back to the words of Jesus, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”
I’m not asking you to show up in order to boost our numbers. Or to grow the church. It’s not about that. It’s about our spiritual depth. A vibrant spiritual life, a life with Jesus, entails a life of discipline. Of disciplined prayer. Disciplined worship. Disciplined study. Disciplined fellowship. And I believe that the church is the place for spiritual growth because in the church we have the blessing of learning from other people. Just as Katie learned from Jacob, we learn from each other. Cultivating spiritual friendships and communities takes time and it takes work. It takes showing up and being present with each other. Church is not just a place to worship, it’s not just an outreach organization, it’s a gathering of people who come together to grow closer to Jesus.
And that gives me a deep and abounding hope and joy for this year. Because you have already proven yourself to be a community committed to Jesus. And from that commitment comes joy. Joy is not simply happiness, or mirth, or a good time. Joy is not something that passes away, something that is here today and gone tomorrow. Joy is what undergirds the Christian. As I said on Christmas Eve, a miserable Christian is a contradiction in terms. Joy is something that other people can see, it’s an external thing. Perhaps that’s why Peter listened to his brother Andrew. It was because Peter saw just how joyful Andrew was after meeting Jesus.
And buckle your seat belts, because 2017, our Year of Joy, is going to be a thrill. We will have a construction project on our campus. ExxonMobil will continue to drive growth in Spring. HP, the computer company, just announced that it is moving its offices to only two miles north of Holy Comforter on the Grand Parkway. Kroger plans to build a Super Kroger across the street from HEB. Buckle your seat belts. As people continue to flood into Spring Holy Comforter will be a beacon of light, of love, and of joy.
Finally, I want to say thank you. Thank you, for making Holy Comforter the place for me and my family to worship God. It gives me great joy, and it is my honor to serve alongside you in God’s Kingdom. Amen.