Monday, October 28, 2013

The Sunday Sermon: Stay Dangerous.

The Rev. Canon Allisyn Thomas
preaching her last sermon as SubDean
27 Oct 2013

Sirach 35:12-17 2 
Timothy 4:6-8, 
16-18 Luke 18:9-14 

  I am already being poured out as a libation,
and the time of my departure has come. I have fought
the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

A little over a month ago I met with Brooks, Colin, Laurel, and Rebecca to go over the readings assigned for October in anticipation of our preaching this month. I was still on the fence about whether or not I would preach today, my last Sunday as Subdean, fearing it might be one page of content and several pages of sobbing (which it still may be). But then I saw today’s reading from Paul’s second letter to Timothy and thought, “Really God? Really?”

I still don’t know if it is just a coincidence or some kind of weird preordained thing, but here I am up in the pulpit so I trust by the grace of God all shall be well. And if not, I have a bunch of tissues in my pockets.

The time of my departure has indeed come and it is bittersweet. I am looking forward to this next phase of my life working with Bishop Mathes and the people of the Diocese to help bring about what we all hope to be an increasingly vibrant community of faith. And using whatever gifts God has given me in new ways.

But to do so, I am also leaving the closest place to home I have ever known. Approximately 26 years ago I walked into this sacred space for the first time, and knew almost immediately it was home and always would be. After the service I went up to the newcomers table which was staffed that Sunday by Anne Walter who very kindly answered all my questions.

What I didn’t know at the time is that Anne can have very specific ideas about how things should be. You really have to keep your eye on her. Anyway, apparently after we spoke she got the idea it would be good for me to get as involved in the Cathedral as soon as possible, in any way possible.

So, not knowing Anne’s plans for my life, I returned the following Sunday thinking I was relatively safe in my anonymity. But as it turns out that was not the case. Anne came up to me after the service and asked if I would be willing to serve coffee and tea at the reception following the upcoming Armed Forces Evensong. And I thought “why not?” so I accepted. What I didn’t tell her at the time was that I didn’t even know what Evensong was, let alone Armed Forces Evensong. But I figured it was church, how dangerous could it be?

Well, I got through the Evensong and reception just fine, but have since learned church can be very dangerous. After all, there are few places in this world that will take all comers—people at their very best, at their very worse. It will take the open-hearted, the close minded, the spiritually rich, and the spiritually bereft. Nice people, mean people, brave people, scared people, people who are upright and compassionate. People who are dishonest and unethical. Pharisees and Tax Collectors.

But what really makes church dangerous is that in addition to “whoever we are, and wherever we find ourselves on the journey of faith,” we also bring along our hopes, fears, desires, resentments, ability to love, ability to be petty, along with some fairly interesting personality quirks. It can be a fairly volatile mix, and sometimes it is. But at others, it is nothing short of glorious. Because church done well, allows people to be real, to be who they are, and know they are still loved deeply.

Which is not to say this kind of openness isn’t rather frightening. It is because it exposes our deepest vulnerabilities.

We certainly see this at play in the parable we just heard of the tax collector and Pharisee in the temple. The tax collector, part of generally reviled group—and for good reason—more often than not they stole from their own people, is standing far off from the others, probably out of great shame, and is openly praying for God to forgive him. Even being in the temple took courage because he could be sure others would look at him and judge him just as the Pharisee had. However, while the Pharisee is not shown in the most positive light here, it is good for us to remember we generally have more in common with him than the tax collector. Pharisees by and large wanted to do the right thing, usually for the right reasons.

But if we’re honest with ourselves, there are times when our thoughts and prayers have probably been like his. Times when we have felt somewhat critical of those we think could do better and feeling good about whatever it is we are doing. It is hard to admit.

But Jesus’ admonition to the Pharisee is one all of us need to hear and pay attention to: in essence, be humble. Because when we are humble, being open to God and to each other becomes much more possible. Our vulnerabilities can become assets because they help to point us to where we need to go, so that the church can become the dangerous place it is meant to be.

 This Cathedral has been and by the grace of God, always will be, a dangerous place. A place where we can come as we are and be transformed into the people and community of faith we are created to be.

A place that witness to the all-encompassing love of God: speaking the truth in love; doing all it can to make the kingdom of God a present reality to a world in dire need of Good News; acknowledging all of us are capable of being tax collectors and Pharisees; but nonetheless learning to see, and love others as God does.

But to be such a place also means there will be change from time to time and today marks such a time. First, it is the opening Sunday of our Stewardship season, with its theme, “All Things New.” And really there are many things being made new: the love and enthusiasm of this place only continues to grow and evolve; the Chapel is being redone and it is going to be beautiful.

With Colin and Laurel, we have two new priests in our midst who have such great depth and so much to teach us. And of course our new Dean will be with us shortly. It is an exciting time, daunting, and a bit dizzying.

But hear again the words from the book of Ecclesiasticus, “Give to the Most High as he has given to you, and as generously as you can afford. For the Lord is the one who repays and he will repay you sevenfold.”

We have all seen the truth in these words and how our generosity has been repaid sevenfold. This place, and all of you, are such a great gifts. But remember, never take any of it for granted. So, keeping all these things in mind, trust God, be generous, and then prepare to be amazed.

And, the time of my departure has come. But before I leave this pulpit I want to share a story with you. It’s one I told the last time I left St. Paul’s (which says something . . .). Anyway, as I mentioned a couple of minutes ago, the Cathedral in many ways is the closest thing to home I have ever had. I grew up as an IBM brat which means we moved every couple of years. And by around the 3rd grade I had learned the drill on how to handle these moves.

We had just moved to Saratoga, up in northern California. I got up early on Saturday morning, had some cereal, watched some cartoons on TV, got dressed, and started to walk out the front door. My mother, who had just gotten up, asked where in the world I was going so early and I told her, “I am going out to make new friends,” and marched out the door.

I am going out to make new friends. But I couldn’t do it if I didn’t have this Cathedral as a foundation: a place that has continually showed me what it means to love Jesus, be loved by him, follow him, and remain humble because I, like all of us, have so far to go in order to be more like him.

I am grateful beyond words for all of you and this place. My only request upon leaving is this: whatever you do my beloved community of St. Paul’s Cathedral, stay dangerous.

The Rev. Canon Allisyn Thomas, Subdean
27 October 2013

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