St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
The Rev. Barbara Hutchinson
Proper 13 Year B
August 5, 2018
In our Epistle this morning, we hear the proclamation and directive to “Live a life worthy of our calling”. Understanding what our calling is, as individuals and as parish members as well as part of the larger Body of Christ, seems to be a necessary first step to doing this. Let’s begin this exploration with Frederick Buechner’s famous line that states “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
I invite you to close your eyes for a moment, to draw your attention into your heart center — you may want to actually place your hand over your heart to focus your intention there– and take a deep breath, and then allow the space for God to raise up in you a place, or a moment, or an experience you’ve had of deep gladness, for it is from this place that you will discern your calling. This may be a moment of intense joy; it may be a moment in your life when you suddenly knew with clarity a deep truth of life; it may be a moment on a mission trip, when you connected with someone very different from you in this heart-space of God; it may be a threshold moment, when you stepped into a new way of being. Most of these moments of deep gladness reveal or instill in us a sense of hopefulness, an awareness of the presence of God, a clarity of our purpose, an opportunity for transformation, a sense of “coming home”.
The one moment of deep gladness that arose in my heart when I drew intention around this exercise in my own life was sitting on our couch in our family room, quite a few years ago, with my boys on either side of me, and I was able to draw them both into reading a story, that had become our favorite, without our younger one, Phillip, rapidly and earnestly flipping through the pages of the book to rush our way through, but both of them, with me, centered in the same space, the same intention, the same grace of sharing. My deep gladness was in the experience of gathering, nurturing, and drawing my loved ones into a moment of grace that changed our hearts. The image of Jesus as the mother hen who gathers her brood under her wings came to mind and heart and I could see how my place of deep gladness pointed me toward my particular calling lived out in my priesthood.
What is your moment of deep gladness? What is your story of intense joy? What particular gifts does it call out in you that can give you a glimpse of your particular calling? Ponder this for a moment.
One of the gifts of Frederick Buechner’s statement is that it speaks of a deep rhythm of faithful life, which is that we begin in a place of gladness, of gratitude, of feeling joy – and from that holy space, we give back, we change the world, for the second part of Buechner’s statement is recognizing how our deep gladness intersects with and meets the world’s hunger. We are grateful, we give thanks for our gladness, and then we give. What a wonderful way to parse out the word “thanksgiving”. We experience thankfulness – and then we experience giving.
So, to live a life worthy of our calling, somehow must mean experiencing thankfulness for our moments of deep gladness, and then responding by offering our particular gifts and calling raised up in that moment to something larger than us, to the needs or hunger in our world. We give thanks, and then we offer ourselves to something beyond us. It is a deep rhythm, set within our faithful lives, which connects us to the Kingdom of God. Our growth in faith can be seen as a journey toward becoming both more responsive and attentive to and congenial with that larger purpose, that is to build up the Body of Christ, that is to bring near the Kingdom of God.
The letter to the Ephesians is also constructed in this pattern of thankfulness and then giving. Our passage this morning acts as a hinge between the part of the text we’ve been hearing over the past few weeks, which shares the good news of what God has done in the larger picture of the cosmos, drawing us into that place of thankfulness, of deep gladness, and now in our text this morning, opening up for us the generosity of our response.
We also experience this giving of thanks and then in return, this giving of ourselves to the Kingdom each week in our Holy Eucharist which, as noted in each week’s bulletin, we refer to as the Great Thanksgiving. There are two parts: the drawing of our hearts into the deep gladness for all that God has done as we lift up our hearts in praise through words and song, singing “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory, hosanna in the highest,” and then when we hear the glorious story of God’s salvation of God’s people, and are asked to respond. Each time we stretch out our hands to receive, each time we are filled with the outpouring of Jesus’ love through the sacrament, each time we sense the real presence of Jesus in the bread and wine, each time our hearts move a bit more toward the Kingdom, we are fueled to be sent out into the world, suddenly with abundant resources, to build up the Body of Christ, to draw the Kingdom of God near, to meet the hunger in the world.
We can suddenly understand that God is not asking us to stretch and give and offer our gifts and calling to meet the hunger in the world by ourselves, but with the strength of Jesus within us. This makes all the difference in the world. It is what redirects our life’s purpose and resources to something larger than us, to this parish and our ministries, to the needs in our community, to the hunger across the world. We can answer the invitation to maximize, not withhold, the offering of our gifts for our parish community, we can trust that God will give us all we need, if we only give away all that our hearts tell us to, we can rely on each other, we can enter into that place of common vulnerability. When we are thankful, we can give, and we can enter into living a life worthy of our calling. We do this, because the Lord needs us, the Body of Christ needs to be strengthened, the Kingdom of God needs to be realized. In a profound moment a few years ago, one of our confirmands heard these exact words from the bishop who had laid hands on him. “The Lord needs you”. It was one of the most profound moments I’ve experienced as the presence of the Holy Spirit radiated through the whole being of this person and through all of us witnessing to this act of grace. “The Lord needs you.” This phrase redirected this person’s purpose in life toward something larger than himself, with a heart ready to give it all, to live a life worthy of his calling.
It is important that we each discern that place of intersection of our deep gladness with the world’s hunger, and it is important that we know what the deep gladness of our parish is and that we offer our gifts freely toward that place of joy, and it is important that we know that together we can answer the calling of all of God’s people toward peace and reconciliation, for that’s what Jesus was all about and therefore that’s what we’re all about. Our recurring question is: “Where can I, from my place of gratitude, give to a vision much bigger than my own life, my own needs, my own concerns? How can I connect my calling and gifts to the building up the Kingdom of God?” We don’t do this alone. We do this with Jesus, who in the Eucharist touches our hearts, meets us in our places of deepest need, and mends our brokenness. Sometimes our giving in response is quite frankly our openness to allow that real Presence in – to open ourselves to be touched, to be healed, to be made whole, so we can offer our more complete self faithfully to the world.
Today is Episcopal Home Mission Day, a day when we celebrate and offer thanksgiving for the wonderful residents who live there, who worship with us, and for whom we care deeply. One of my places of deep gladness these days is our weekly Holy Eucharist and healing service offered each Wednesday at the Episcopal Home. I find Christ present there in a unique way, through the presence of the residents, through their profound questions and reflections, through their care for each other, and through our holy time sharing the sacrament. I am asking you today to pledge your heart toward their care, in two very simple ways – through our uploading of your photo to the diocesan photo collage expressing the depth and breadth of support for this ministry throughout our diocese and by your writing a postcard which will be read at dinner time to them, expressing our thanksgiving for their presence among us and the faithful ministry of the Episcopal Home. Often, we correctly and faithfully look at the Episcopal Home through the lens of how we can help the residents, how we can provide comfort and care or financial means to assist some residents who have out-lived their financial resources. It is right and good to do this for they are God’s people and therefore they are ours to care for and to love and to share our resources with. And the other reason we are called to be in connection with the residents at the Home is that the Kingdom resides there. We have much to learn from them for these are people who know God. These are people who live faithfully, who have given their all to a life worthy of its calling, through letting go, through showing up, through loving when living in community is really hard, and by being generous with one another. This is where the Kingdom is and each time we connect with the ministry of the Home, we are touched by the grace of God.
God’s invitation to us is always to grow into holiness, to live a life worthy of its calling. We know from our scripture today and from our connection to the residents of the Episcopal Home that we do that first by finding our place of deep gladness, connecting with our story of joy, offering our thanks to God for that grace – and then to give, to give ourselves to something much bigger than us, to the Kingdom of God.
Let us allow our hearts to be opened by this prayer written by Ignatius of Loyola, a 15th century Spanish priest and theologian, and allow it to become the source of our deep gladness–
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
all I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only love and your grace,
That is enough for me.