Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit
The Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Sunday after the Ascension
June 2, 2019
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Earlier this week, I was having a conversation on the telephone with my priest from college. Some of you may know him. His name is Wells Warren, and up until last October, Father Wells was the priest and chaplain at St. Dunstan’s, the Episcopal campus ministry at Auburn University. He and his wife, Leigh, now live in Dillon, Montana, where Father Wells serves as the part-time priest at St. James Episcopal Church. I promise this isn’t the last time you’ll here Father Wells’s name. He’s been a close, personal friend and mentor to me for several years, and so much of who I am as a priest is because of his influence and encouragement.
In our conversation on Tuesday, we had a chance to catch up a bit, and one of the things I shared with him was my excitement about coming to Holy Spirit and beginning my time as your new rector. He shared my excitement and wished us many blessings as we begin our ministry together. Every time Father Wells and I share a conversation, he always ends our time by saying the same words. “Eric, I have such love and admiration for you and your family, and I’m so proud of the priest that you’ve become.” I have to admit that I’m at a loss for words every time he says that. I know deep in my heart that he means every word, but what I think Father Wells doesn’t fully realize is that I have the same love and admiration for him and what he’s done for me and my family in his ministry as a priest. I am who I am today because of his commitment to creating an environment of love and hospitality at St. Dunstan’s. I wouldn’t be standing here preaching to you this morning if it weren’t for his deep, abiding love for Jesus and the Episcopal Church.
One of the first things you should know about me is that I grew up mostly “unchurched,” which means that my family and I rarely went to church on Sunday mornings. We believed in God, and we believed that it was important to live a good life and to treat others with dignity and kindness. But, that was about it. That was pretty much the extent of my spiritual upbringing until I discovered the Episcopal Church during my junior year of college.
I was halfway through my program to become a choral music teacher. A fellow member of the Auburn University Concert Choir pulled me aside after rehearsal one afternoon to let me know that he was looking for a bass to sing in the student choir at his church. I was one of the bass section leaders, and he thought that I might know of someone who was interested. He told me that it was an Episcopal Church and that members of the choir get paid a small stipend each week for singing during Sunday services. At the time, I had never even heard of the Episcopal Church, but the possibility of having a part-time job and finally being part of a church was very appealing. So, I told my friend that I was interested and that I would be happy to come and meet the music director. Chelsea and I went together that first Sunday, and it was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. As I’m sure so many of you have experienced, discovering the Episcopal Church for the first time felt a lot like coming home.
For us, the experience was unlike anything we had ever witnessed. Members of the community at St. Dunstan’s displayed such affection and love toward one another, and they made no attempt to hide the fact that all were welcome. Regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or religious affiliation, all were welcomed with open arms and invited to take part in the life of the community. As we continued to grow in our relationship with St. Dunstan’s, what we came to discover is that it felt a lot like the earliest Christian communities. Each week, we came together for worship. We continued in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship. We broke bread together, and we offered our prayers to God for each other and for the world. Of course, St. Dunstan’s wasn’t perfect. There were moments when we experienced conflict, but for the most part, those moments were short-lived because we realized that unity and reconciliation were much more important than anything that might divide us. For the first time in my life, I felt as though I had found a community that was truly accepting of others and committed to building authentic relationships. St. Dunstan’s helped me discover the importance of living our lives of faith within the Body of Christ. It’s where I first learned that Church isn’t just about what we do on Sunday mornings. It’s where we come to be nourished by the sacraments and strengthened for the work we’ve been called to do as followers of Jesus Christ. St. Dunstan’s is also where I was baptized, but that’s a story for another sermon.
Father Wells and the people of St. Dunstan’s transformed my life and the lives of so many others, and I’ll be forever grateful for that special ministry. My hope, as your new rector, is that this parish will offer the same sense of love and hospitality to all people as I experienced in my first visit to an Episcopal Church. My hope, in our journey together, is that we will come to know more fully the transformative power of the Gospel and then learn to share that same transforming power with the world. The world is watching and waiting. They’re watching and waiting to see what we, as followers of Jesus, will do and say when faced with the choice of sitting back and saying nothing or standing up and speaking the truth in love when circumstances arise that call upon us to act.
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus is gathered with his friends in the upper room in Jerusalem. He knows that his time is short. Soon, he’ll be handed over to the authorities and sentenced to die on the cross. In his final words, he offers a prayer to the Father on behalf of his disciples and those who will come after. He prays, “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”Jesus’ hope is that, long after he’s gone, his disciples will continue to grow in love for each other so that others may come to know God’s love through them. He prays for his disciples, and he prays for us also. Jesus continues to intercede on our behalf, trusting that God will send the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us as we seek to fulfill God’s mission in the world.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, I hope you leave here this morning energized and excited by what comes next at the Church of the Holy Spirit. I hope you leave here encouraged by the fact that God will never abandon us in our ministries and that Jesus continues to pray for us, that we may become one as he and the Father are one. I hope you see and know that the only way to share God’s love with the world is by first sharing God’s love with each other. The world will know who we are, as followers of Jesus, through our words and actions. So, let us be bold and brave for the sake of the Gospel! Amen.