Sunday, May 21, 2023
The Seventh Sunday of Easter
Ready, Fire, Aim
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy, TX 77493
The disciples were all excited and asked Jesus if now was the time that Israel was going to come back to power and glory. Jesus typically doesn’t answer the question but tells them to go and wait. So now they are back in Jerusalem praying and praising God, but most of all they are waiting which is something none of us like to do.
The problem was highlighted for me not in a church setting but while I was serving as president of the Solon Education Association. We were entering our first round of strategic planning and our consultant said, “The problem is most of the time people proceed in the following order. Ready, Fire ,Aim. And then wonder why they miss the target.” The disciples do this constantly.
How many of us spend our life doing things in this order. Ready Fire Aim and then wonder why things do not work out right. Prayer life can be like that. We act first and then find ourselves praying to God for help in the aftermath.
In reading the accounts of the Ascension it strikes me that while slightly different, the reaction of the disciples is important to note. They respond in prayer and patience. Jesus tells them to wait for the Spirit and they do just that. Patience, waiting for God and the Spirit to do their work is sometimes one of the hardest things for people. First of all we want to think that we are totally in control but, as a wise person said, if you want to make God laugh make plans.
Sometimes it is best to step back and ask God, “What in the world are you doing?” Have you ever considered asking God that question? I have and I do. The problem is it has taken me a long time to learn to wait for the answer. Most of us ask it as a rhetorical question never expecting an answer.
While I was sitting on the porch of the Sassafras cabin on Lake Cofield at Camp Allen Friday, I read the word of the day from the Society of St. John the Evangelist and it seemed very appropriate to the point I want to make. Most of us think of the disciples are the ones waiting on Jesus and we are waiting for the Spirit on Pentecost next Sunday however what if the one doing the waiting is different than what we may think. Br. Curtis wrote the following thought:
These days of waiting between Christ’s Ascension and Pentecost are about God’s waiting on us: God is waiting, not for our ability but for our availability to receive the power Jesus intends for us.
Br. Curtis Almquist, SSJE
What a concept! God is waiting on us to be available. I think there are many ways we make ourselves unavailable to God. How do you make yourself available or unavailable is a question worth considering and maybe that’s where I should stop for the morning.
One thing that I have learned in my study of Ignatian spirituality is in his concept of discernment. Quite often God has to wait until we are truly ready to listen. Sometimes that means God has to wait until things get bad enough that maybe we might begin to realize how much we needs God’s wisdom, which usually comes to us in the form of the Holy Spirit. Or maybe it is just a series of events that causes us to pause and listen to what God has in mind for us next. We are in such a point right now as we spend this year coming out of the pandemic.
The other problem is sometimes we just plow forward and don’t take the time to discern what God wants or us suggesting. The Methodists some 15 years ago had a campaign that said “God is still speaking.” Now the thrust was that God is constantly opening new possibilities and new directions for us to head in. I always wish that the Methodists had added, “Maybe we should listen.” Friday morning prayer was the Luke passage of the Transfiguration when the voice in the cloud says, “This is my son, my beloved. Listen to him.”
God is still speaking but are we listening? God is always speaking but the problem so much of the time is our selective deafness. You know what I mean. The teen who hears only what they want to hear when they have asked us a question or for permission to do something. They hear what amounts to a yes and then disregard the rest. As Simon and Garfunkel wrote in the old song the Boxer, “a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”
Now we did take the time last year to sit back and discern what was important to us. This was the Strategic Planning process that we began when we developed our Core Values and Mission Statement. This work gives us a framework for all of our decision making and I am confident in using this work because it was primarily your work, done by the people of this parish and not by your rector. That’s important because above all else this is your parish, not mine. I am a steward and shepherd that is charged with leading and guiding but you are the ones that determine what is important. Collectively we are St. Paul’s.
Let me remind you of that work:
WE BELIEVE THAT
Worship: St. Paul’s deepens our connection with God through a rich (liturgical) worship tradition of scripture, prayer and music.
Fellowship: St. Paul’s builds relationships that value, enrich and support one another.
Children and Families: St. Paul’s nurtures children and youth and those who care for them in a loving relationship with God, in a safe environment.
Inclusivity and Belonging: St. Paul’s welcomes people from all walks of life and stages of their faith journey.
Outreach: St. Paul’s is the hands and feet of Christ, supporting the community through service and prayer.
St. Paul’s mission is to share the love of the Lord with everyone through meaningful worship and prayer, education for all ages, service to others, and supportive relationships within our church family and community.
These are what guide us as we move forward, as we discern where God is calling us and we need to be willing to listen for how God is working with us through these values and our mission. Now we did not move into Goals and Action plans, because last year there was just too much uncertainty. So, in some areas we waited because many churches are having the same issues as we are.
Now the vestry and I believe it is time to move forward. The two areas we will be spending time on this summer are Stewardship, how we use the resources that God has given us to further our mission and how to fund that mission. We have for the first time a Stewardship Committee of four people and myself that is separate from finance because Stewardship is far more than just money. And we’ve made significant steps forward over the past few months finding ourselves slightly in the black instead of $20,000 in the red. But we are also making strides in utilizing our facilities to help grow our relationships with our community. Starting this month we are part of a cohort of other parishes involved in the same work with The Rev. Beth Fain as the diocesan leader. We had our first formal meeting yesterday morning with representatives from 15 churches from large churches like St. Martin’s in Houston and St. David’s in Austin to several small parishes in rural areas.
The other area that needs attention is Christian Formation, child, youth and yes even some of our adult programs. To avoid the Ready Fire Aim mistakes, I believe that we need to first work on what our Christian Formation needs to look like before we go searching for a new Family Formation Director if that is even what the job title will be. I don’t want to say here is the job now you figure out what we need. Rather let’s figure out what is important at this point in our life as a parish and then look for someone who can fit the job description. To that end we have a second group of people who are starting to work on that discernment. They are meeting with Stephanie Townes the diocesan Formation liaison. We will start with her assistance to learn what other parishes that are in similar situations are doing, how they have implemented their program and then discern what is the best way forward for us. We will probably expand this committee with members who have children and youth in the various age groups and some folks who may want to look at our formation for adults as well. We will for certain call together groups of parents of various ages to do the needed discernment, present what we learn and get your feedback.
But in all of this we must continue to listen and not be anxious. The disciples were in the “is it now the time” mode. We are asking that question as well however we need to be ready to listen to what God is telling us. If we do this well my prayer is that the resources and the people will be in place over the next year for us to step into a new future here at St. Paul’s. Come Holy Spirit come! We are ready and listening.