Thursday, October 10, 2019

God Has Brought You Together

It is really good to be here today.
Thanks to Trinity for hosting this great event.
And thank to Dave for inviting me to preach today.
For those that don't know Dave and I have known each other since 1996, but we became really good friends in the summer of 1998 at Camp Calumet.
That fall Dave invited me to live with him and his sister in a house they planned to rent in York, Maine.
It was during that year that Dave and I decided to go to seminary.
I will tell you that it was because of Dave that I finally made the leap.
We were living together in this house.
I was working at a home for abused and neglected kids in Portsmouth.
Dave was teaching math at a religious school.
I had come home from work, and Dave was sitting on the couch.
He said to me, "I am thinking of going to seminary."
And I said, "Oh yeah...I will go too that will be fun."
(If you ask Dave he will tell you a completely different story.
 It has to do with brunch at the cliff house, but I don't remember it that way."
You see I had been thinking of going to seminary for some time, but every time I went to visit and met other people at the seminary I just didn't see myself hanging out with the type of person that goes to seminary.
So when Dave told me that he was going I knew that I would have at least one person that I could hang out with.

I am suspicious of the idea that God has a plan for every little thing that happens in our lives.
If you take that position it leads down some fairly dark roads.
At its worst, It makes God into a puppet master, manipulating us to prove a point, or teach us a lesson.
The God that I know in Jesus Christ loves us too much to make life so difficult.
But what I do believe is that the people that come into your life are heaven sent.
And I am so thankful for Dave's friendship these many years.
I do believe that God put us together so that we could both hear the call to ministry.
Because I don't know if I would be a pastor today without Dave as my friend.

And I believe that Trinity Episcopal Church and Dave have been brought together by God at this time.
That here in this place you will do ministry together.
I ask you to believe in that today.
Because what we don't know is how it will all work out.
We don't know what that ministry will exactly look like.
We don't know all the twist and turns it will take.
We don't know all the ways that working together you will impact this community, and individuals within it.
We don't know all the ways that Dave will minister to you while he is your priest.
We don't know all the people that will come walking through that door who will need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.
All we know today is that right now God has brought you together.
We accept on faith that this arrangement is heavenly sent.

And in ministry these days we need that faith.
We are living increasingly in a post Christian world.
Less and less are people going to Church.
Recently, a chart came out that shows in 30 years the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA for short) will be gone.
I was talking about this chart with some of my Episcopal colleagues in Concord, New Hampshire, and they told me that they have seen the same chart for the Episcopal church in America.
Because of this, It is hard to be a person who likes to go to church.
It is hard to be a person who has given lots of their time, talent, and treasure over many years to keeping a church alive and moving.
I am assuming that there are people like this here at Trinity.
There are many of them at the church I serve as pastor.
And I want to say, "thank you and we need you."
I know that it is not what you remember it being, or that it is harder than it used to be.
We often feel like the disciples in our Gospel this afternoon asking Jesus to, "increase our faith".
I want you to know that pastors feel that too.
We are aware of the difficult nature of this work.
This is another reason I am so thankful for Dave, because we talk a lot about these challenges.
We have long conversations about all of the struggles that come with being a faith leader in this time and place.
But I want you to know that we still have faith.
I know that Dave and I have faith that even though the Church is struggling God is not going away.
We believe that God's grace and love are ever present for us, and for the people we serve.
I am asking you at Trinity Episcopal church to keep that faith with your new priest.
Believe what Jesus tells us in the Gospel today.
"If you have the faith of a mustard seed, you can  say to this mulberry bush be uprooted and it will be so."

I know we will hear this passage as Jesus saying something like, "With faith we can do anything!"
How we might hear this is, "If we just have faith God will give us more people in Church."
But I think Jesus point is much more subtle.
There are many obstacles in our way.
There are many hills to climb.
And it feels like we aren't doing anything.
Our congregation is shrinking.
We are losing money.
And all we have left is faith.
And my friends at Trinity Episcopal faith is all there is.
That is the point.
The reason for the church's existence is faith.
If everything went great all the time, if the building was full and the money plentiful would we need faith?

I hear this all the time in subtle ways from different church people.
They think, "if only we had a better pastor then we could really do something."
I also hear it from pastors, "If I only had better parishioners I could really do something."
Sometimes you hear it from both the lay people and clergy in the same church.
And this is exactly the problem.
We have taken God out of the equation.
Because our faith is never in us, it is always in God.
It is our faith that leads us to believe that we have been put in this place together.
You have called Dave Dalzell to do ministry with you in this place and time, because you believe that God has sent him to you.
He feels called by God to be here with you at this time and place, because he believes God sent you to him.
That is the gift.
Have faith in that.
Believe that God has placed you together now so that you can do ministry together.

With that faith here is what I believe you will do together.
Forgive each other often.
No pastor is perfect, no church is perfect, we only survive by forgiveness.
Love each other.
I can tell you that Dave will love you, and as his friend I ask you to love him back.
Act on behalf of the poor and left out.
Together figure out who in this community is hurting and what they need and act together to make a better world.
Worship together.
Celebrate the grace and mercy of God every week through the Lord's supper, and hearing the word of God.

I can tell you that it might not seem like enough.
You might not feel that the mulberry tree is being uprooted!
You might not grow.

Faith is not a magic formal for God to do what we want, but it is about being faithful to our calling as God's people.
We will leave the rest up to God.
Trinity Episcopal Church and Dave Dalzell.
God has put you together have faith that it is all you need.