Come Back Home

Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit
Alabaster, Alabama
The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18C)
September 8, 2019

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 1
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

10001841_H11907626-600x350In September of 2016, a video was released on the Episcopal Church’s website featuring our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry. Of course, this was before the world knew him as the charismatic bishop who preached at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. In the video, Bishop Curry talks about the Jesus Movement. Now, this should come as no surprise to any of you who have heard our Presiding Bishop speak or deliver a sermon. He loves to talk about the Jesus Movement! Everyone in the Episcopal Church has been talking about it. In fact, the phrase has become so popular among Episcopalians over the past four years that it’s even shown up in our merchandise. Yes! You, too, can buy a bumper sticker that says, “We are the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement.” 

But what, exactly, is the Jesus Movement? We use that phase a lot, but I think it’s important that we talk about what it really means. In Bishop Curry’s video, he paints us a picture of the Jesus Movement by reflecting on a pivotal moment that occurs every week in our worship when we celebrate the Holy Eucharist. Slowly walking in the midst of the noise and commotion of Manhattan, the Bishop describes that moment in our liturgy when we stand and sing praises to God as we prepare our hearts and minds to receive God’s Word through the reading of the Gospel. We stand, and we sing. The Gospel Book is held high as the procession moves from the Altar to the center of the Nave where the words and teachings of Jesus will be read in the midst of the people. And, as all of this is happening, everyone in the congregation re-orients themselves in order to see the place where the Gospel will be proclaimed. Quite literally, we turn toward Jesus, and in that moment, according to Bishop Curry, “the Church has become the Jesus Movement, with life re-oriented around the teachings of Jesus and around his very spirit— teachings and a spirit that embody the love of God in our lives and in this world.”

I love Bishop Curry’s message in the video. It’s still available, by the way, in case you want to watch it on your own, and I highly recommend it. All you have to do is go to YouTube and search for “Jesus Movement…Michael Curry,” and you shouldn’t have any problem finding it.

Normally, when we hear about a “movement” taking place in our society, we think about an event of some kind, such as a rally or a march, or a series of events taking place at a specific time and place in history, usually focused on matters of equality or social justice. I think about the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s or the movement for women’s voting rights in the early part of the twentieth century. But, what I love about Bishop Curry’s video is that it invites us to think about the Jesus Movement not as a single event or series of events in history but as something that’s been going on for thousands of years, a movement of the heart that we, as members of the Body of Christ, have been called upon to continue and share with the world. The Jesus Movement is what happens when the people of God stand up and re-orient themselves toward the Gospel. It’s the path we’ve been called to walk as followers of Christ.

Bishop Curry’s video reminds us that there’s a great deal of beauty in the way we worship, not only in the words we speak but also in the way we use our whole bodies to express our love of God and our commitment to Christ. And, what’s even more amazing about the way we worship in the Episcopal Church is that it actually prepares us for the work that God has given us to do when we leave this place. So, there’s a reason why we stand and turn our bodies to face the place of the Gospel. Not only is it a sign of reverence for the words of Jesus, but it also prepares us to stand and turn toward Jesus in our everyday lives and to get back “on track” in those times when we’ve fallen short.

Today is Rally Day at Holy Spirit, the day when we encourage everyone to come to church and celebrate the beginning of a new program year. It’s no secret that Episcopalians are notorious for taking at least a portion of the summer off from coming to church. So, Rally Day is our way of saying, “Come back home.” “Come back to church.” Perhaps you’ve been away for the past couple of weeks or perhaps you’ve been away for the past several months. Maybe the only time you’ve been to church in the past year is to celebrate Christmas or Easter or maybe it’s been even longer than that. Maybe this is your very first time attending a worship service with us. If so, welcome. No matter where you find yourself this morning, no matter how long it’s been since you’ve been to church, I want you to know that we’re happy you’re here. Not only that, but I want you to know that you belong here. You belong at Holy Spirit, and you’ve blessed us with your presence this morning.

Rally Day marks a new beginning. It’s an opportunity for us to start fresh, to re-examine our lives and our priorities, and to turn toward Jesus. Part of what makes this day so special is that we spend time helping each other discover how God may be calling us to use our gifts and talents in the various ministries of the church. That’s why we have a Ministry Fair in between our two services today. The Ministry Fair is an opportunity to learn about our ministries, to ask questions, and to get connected in some way.

[At 8:30] I hope you’ll take advantage of the Ministry Fair following our service this morning, but if you’re unable to make it, I hope you’ll take the time to think about where your individual gifts and talents may be used as we seek to draw closer to God as a community and fulfill God’s mission for the church.

[At 10:30] If you weren’t able to make it to the Ministry Fair this morning, I hope you’ll take the time to think about where your individual gifts and talents may be used as we seek to draw closer to God as a community and fulfill God’s mission for the church.

If it’s possible, I hope you’ll invest a portion of your time each week in the life of our parish, whether that’s on Sunday mornings or some other time during the week. Come for worship. Come and volunteer in some way. Come for a Bible study or a Sunday school class. Come for fellowship. Be present and grow with us in God’s love. Exactly how much time is between you and God, but I ask you to prayerfully consider it. Our time is a precious commodity, especially when our calendars are filled with so many other commitments, but it is a gift that we can give back to God. By committing ourselves and offering our time and talents to the service of God and God’s church, we can work together to share God’s love with the world.

Is it difficult sometimes? Yes. Does it require us to let go of some of the old habits we might’ve fallen into? Yes. Jesus said to the crowd in today’s Gospel lesson from Luke, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” In other words, this way of following Jesus isn’t easy. Sacrifices must be made along with a commitment to a particular way of life. As one author wrote, “One cannot merely give lip service to walking in the way of Jesus—it requires an examination of priorities, attachments, and patterns of living. The good news is that doing so lightens our load for the journey so that we are freed to pay attention to where God is moving and how we might join with others in God’s work in the world.”

Dear friends, on this Rally Day, let us turn toward Jesus. Let us recommit ourselves to walking the path that he’s laid before us, and let us open our hearts and minds to new possibilities in ministry, trusting that the Holy Spirit is always present, ready to lead us and guide us in all that we do. Amen.

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