Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A People of Purpose

That phrase has become the way in which you will find all intentional characterizations of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Augusta expressed.  It is a natural growth from learning -- like we have just learned -- that they are engaged in an enterprise much larger than the one someone would first assume based on their physical plant. 

As we said goodbye to our friend and brother, Deacon Charles we were lifted with him to a higher seat of honor and sharing.  Honored to host as much of Madison as we could host and with our friends from beyond our membership to share our grief as it turned into alleluias. 

We had a very focused purpose and it carried us through on one of the hardest days many of us have known.  So when Good Shepherd says they are a “people of purpose,” I have to wonder how hard that is sometimes for them.  They, like us have a beautiful, compact physical plant, one that is often stretched to accommodate larger gatherings. 

Part of how I see that phrase borne out in their lives is in how some people come and go.  Seems like there’s always someone new on staff.  Whether fresh from seminary as I was in 1993 or raised-up through some parish discernment process.  New people caught up in a grand and holy purpose. 

We have not adopted that phrase but it is still true about us as well.  The pieces change as vestry rotate on and off, as new members join us in worship and activities, as outreach ministries grow from birth to autonomy like Matthew 25 and Joseph’s Coat.  

The people come and live and grow.  Sometimes we get to share a final salutation, other times we must rely on a liturgies and benedictions to say our goodbyes. 

The purposes are more constant than the people, and in reality more constant than the property, too.  The Prayer Book says it this way,
“Almighty God, you sent your Son Jesus Christ to reconcile the world to yourself: We praise and bless you for those whom you have sent in the power of the Spirit to preach the Gospel to all nations. We thank you that in all parts of the earth a community of love has been gathered together by their prayers and labors, and that in every place your servants call upon your Name; for the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours for ever. Amen. BCP, p. 838

And so we give thanks that we are sustained by a purpose given to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, to reconcile, to praise, to bless, to preach, to love, to gather, and to serve. 

This “purpose stuff” matters for us in a special way because we are still a small church.  Our average worship attendance is increasing these days to more than 80 per Sunday and you can tell when just a handful are missing.  Sure summer will see its relaxation and rest have some effect but our purpose remains.  (There’s that Sunday/Sabbath thing again!)

Even on those Sundays when I’ll be out of town we are still being sustained in love and service.  Those are things we do on purpose.  Please continue as I will be absent on Sunday May 17 while I visit Indianapolis to help a dear friend get married.  Don’t just continue, bring your friends to hear and worship with Martha Sterne, celebrated author and preacher. 

Martha is new to retirement and excited to be visiting Advent.  She comes to us after having a significant tenure as Associate Rector at Holy Innocents’ which followed her time as Rector of St. Andrew’s, Maryville, Tenn. She also served as Assistant Rector at All Saints’ in Atlanta. 

She has written three books the latest of which is a collection of her sermons while serving Holy Innocents’, Tell Me a Story.  You can also hear her several sermons as the preacher for Day 1.  Just link to http://day1.org/246-the_rev_martha_sterne

Martha’s visit is a gift to us and will allow us to move and grow into even more of that purpose that makes us a “community of love, gathered together by their prayers and labor.” Thank you, Martha. And Thanks be to God we too are “a people of purpose.”

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