The Rev. Elizabeth A. B. Tesi
Proper 24: The Twenty Second Sunday After Pentecost
Genesis 32: 22-31; Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8
When I was a little kid, we had these books called "Choose Your Own Adventure". The books started like a normal book, for the first chapter, and at the end of the chapter, the character would have to make a decision. You turned to different pages based on your choices. The story could be very different every time you read it. Usually, my character made terrible decisions that resulted in it falling off a cliff or getting eaten by lions. But it was still fun.
Recently, I have felt a little like I've been living out a real-life "Choose Your Own Adventure" story. If I chose the breezy Oregon hills, I could have a life surrounded by rolling green space. If I chose DC, I would be steps away from a city I love and back together with my spouse, full time. But, being a priest, part of the driving force of my life is that I don't believe I should be the sole decision maker. The nature of this job involves the notion of call- the idea that God calls us into different ministries. Through the sacred story we are told in Scripture, I have this crazy idea that God loves us and blesses us. It makes sense, then, that I was struck by and struggled with the Epistle this week. The Second Letter to Timothy concludes with the admonition to "be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, [and] carry out your ministry fully". What does it mean to carry out our ministry fully, what does it look like, and how can we bear it?
This epistle is a letter to a young disciple walking with a community through many of their own struggles. Like us, Timothy and the people he worked with struggled with constantly rising costs, a people living their own complex lives, and a challenging society. The letter, to me, calls for steadiness and hope in challenging times.
I do think of St. Mary's as I write this. There is so much ministry happening here. We are in the middle of our parish hall remodel that will expand and strengthen our ministries. Our days are noisier as we finally see this project- several years in the planning- taking shape and growing up around us. The financial gifts received meant that this project could leap off the drawing board and become possible. In fact, we get to dream a little more. The parish hall is one chaotic, dusty model of full ministry in our midst.
We are also into the middle of stewardship season, that season when you get your pledge packets and are invited to think about supporting the church through a financial pledge. Usually this makes me squirm- financial stewardship has been a real growing edge for me throughout my ministry. I've learned to become a giver and then I've learned to become more comfortable talking about it. But I've never been great with the idea oft asking about it from the pulpit. And here I go into the middle of this year, throwing in the news that I am moving far away. Believe me, the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series would now include the question: "Do you choose to use the time machine to freeze everything in place?" Having to decide on a path that I knew would take me away from this beloved place almost paralyzed me with stress and sadness. Paul tells us to "endure suffering", but there must be more to this story than just hanging in there by our finger tips, right?
Instead, I find myself fixing on the phrase about "Carry out your ministry fully". St. Mary's is beloved to me, first because of its people- from our guests who stop in the door to the many leaders and participants I see every week to you, here with me this Sunday. It brings me hope in this conversation about how our ministry evolves. The clergy live in this odd, liminal place. We are rarely natives of the places we serve. Bingham and I don't serve our home parishes. Most of our deacons are people who choose to be uprooted from their home parish to be willing to go forward and serve in other places. You are such fortunate people, because you choose St. Mary's, and you can choose to invest your spirit here so you can see the lives of people unfold and grow. For me, for many of the deacons, even for Bingham, and Neff, and Ted, "Carry out your ministry fully" means uprooting. For me right now, "carry out your ministry fully" means "Go back East." But for you, how do YOU hear that charge, "Carry out your ministry fully"? With this, I believe that God is calling to YOU as well, to live your lives fiercely as God's people. You are being called to engage in the work of God's church. What can that look like to you?
Stewardship season is unique here. I think we are fortunate and unique in that we start off our season with a spiritual letter talking about how giving and finances can actually be part of our spiritual life, and we end the season with thank you notes- hundreds of them- sent to each person. To me, it is so precious that we bookend stewardship with thanks. When I hear "carry out your ministry fully", I am so glad that here, our ministry involves a constant giving of thanks to each other for each other. There are so many tangible examples of ministry here, but that blessing of thanksgiving is perhaps most special right now in this season, of thanks and of giving.
In a way, perhaps this stewardship sermon- my last stewardship sermon to you- should be more like those thank you letters that Bingham and I write each year. We are going to have more time to say goodbye to each other, but I want to take some time to simply give thanks. Because you have been such full participants in this community, It was possible for us to be in each other's lives for a while. It breaks my heart to leave my Oregon, truly it does, but I feel good about the work we have done. I feel that together, we did a great deal, I hope we all became stronger because of it, and I wish you courage and strength now to continue to "Carry out your ministry fully". I am glad that I am able to say to the people of St. Mary's, "Thanks be to God."