Text of the sermon preached on Proper 24B (October 18, 2015) by the Rev. Katie Hargis at St. Cornelius Episcopal Church in Dodge City, KS.
Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37b
This past Friday and Saturday we had the 45th annual Diocesan Convention for the Episcopal Diocese of Western Kansas that was held in Salina at Christ Cathedral. John Seatvet, Tom, Butch, and I were the delegates we sent from St. Cornelius and Nan came with us, I think to try to keep the 4 of us in line. Every year the youth of the diocese elect 2 representatives during their annual Youth Convention and we were lucky enough to have both of the youth representatives come from our church, in Sophie and Elena. Corrina, Amy, Vincent, and Chantel also came and had a table where they offered several items for sale to raise money for the next pilgrimage to England. Needless to say, St. Cornelius was well represented.
There is always a little bit of business to be done at convention. One of those things being that we elect people to serve on different committees for the diocese. Lori and I were elected to the Diocesan Council and will be serving along with Mike and Nan on that board. The Diocesan Council deals with some oversight things for the diocese as well as for our annual convention. Nan was also appointed to serve on the Commission on Ministry, which deals with people who are in the process for Holy Orders in the diocese. We should be proud as a congregation to be so well represented on diocesan committees. I think we have more people than any other church in the diocese on these committees.
This leads me to the overall theme of convention this year. The Bishop asked us to read a book, “Big Lessons from Little Places: Faithfulness and the Future in Small Congregations” by Kay Collier McLaughlin. I highly recommend that everyone read it. It is a really wonderful book written by a phenomenal lady out of Kentucky who has spent a few years working the the Episcopal church there and has noticed that often smaller congregations are pretty down on themselves — and there really is no reason for them to be! There are wonderful, wonderful ministries going on in small congregations. We may not compare in size or number to the larger churches, but our faith is just as vibrant and so are our ministries.
Now how many of you think we would be considered a small congregation or a normal sized congregation? Raise your hands for if you think we are a small congregation. Now those of you who think we are normal sized. Would you be surprised to know that overall if looking at all of the churches in the United States, we are a very normal sized church. Which means, that the larger churches and how they do ministry, is really the exception to the rule.
The Bishop in his annual address to the convention reminded us that we all have gifts to offer to the world as followers of the Resurrected Lord who lives in our midst, Jesus Christ. Kay, the author of the book, reminded us that size doesn’t matter. No matter how small or how big we think we are, we have something we can offer to the world.
Over the two days we were in Salina, we heard stories of how there are churches in Western Kansas feeding the hungry. Stories of how churches are showing Christ’s love to others by sitting at a laundromat once a week or once a month and paying for others to do their laundry and offer them some detergent and fabric softener. And if you haven’t had to do your laundry at a laundromat recently, let me tell you how important of a ministry this is. It is expensive to wash your clothes! And everyone deserves to have clean clothes. Also, there is Camp Runamock that brings youth from the inner city out to a farm and they get to experience things like riding horses and camping. Another wonderful way of showing Christ’s love to others. We have helped send youth on a pilgrimage to England. People are clothed. Bills are paid for
those in need. And the hungry are fed. In every nook and cranny of Western Kansas, Christ’s love is being shown to others. Our diocese is truly living out the Mission of the Church, “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” by praying and worshipping, proclaiming the Gospel, and promoting justice, peace, and love through the ministry of all of our members.
If anyone has said or thought to themselves that the Episcopal Church in Western Kansas is dying — well it’s time for us to open our eyes again.
And what a Gospel reading for this Sunday after hearing all of those things. I’m curious how everyone reacted when they heard just a few minutes ago the story of James and John making the outlandish request to Jesus for space by his side right after he has announced that he will be killed. Did you want to laugh at the question? Gasp in amazement? Stare at them in shock?
But in all reality, are we really all that different from James and John? We might not make outlandish requests — like they did, but in our hearts we often covet the best of the lot, the top spot, the place of recognition. We always want to come out in first place and not last. In the immortal words of Ricky Bobby, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” I believe that indeed, the idea that we should always be on top, is a part of the human condition.
However, it is only when we are able to face our own tendencies to be like James and John — making outlandish requests for things that we covet — that we are able to come to terms with our humanity and are able to live the new life of discipleship. Henri Nouwen once wrote, “Only those who face their wounded condition can be available for healing and so enter a new way of living.” It’s when we are able to be honest with ourselves about our condition, we can begin a journey toward wholeness.
And for us, Jesus is that model of wholeness, coming “not to be served but to serve.” When we are able to overcome our insecurities that drive us to greed and coveting, this is when we are able to be like Jesus and serve others at least some of the time and not be served by others all of the time. Jesus is telling us that we need to strive to be the servants of others.
Transformation for us in our humanity, happens through servanthood. When the man with many possessions last week asked about eternal life, Jesus invited him to “follow me.” Following Jesus in a life of servanthood transforms us unto eternal life. Following Jesus, even in unorthodox ways, can lead toward wholeness. Servanthood means grace.
One of the last resolutions that was passed this weekend at convention had to do with the Bishop’s Address. It read, “Be it resolved, that each congregation in the diocese look outside itself in an intentional way to discover God’s call to be welcoming, accepting, loving, and serving.”
“Let us be the church no longer afraid, for Jesus is in our midst.”
Welcoming. Accepting. Loving. Serving. Those all sound like things that happen through our servanthood of Christ. Those sound like things Jesus could get behind. So let us show up this week and live into our servanthood and mission.