Sunday, August 7, 2022

The Most Important Thing 

The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector 

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church 

Katy TX 77493 

August 7, 2022 


This past week I spent three full days with 130 Biblical Storytellers in Baltimore Maryland. The keynote speaker was the college professor I studied with when I was enrolled in the Academy of Biblical Storytellers. One of the things she reminded me of was that to tell a story well, the teller must take the time to reflect on what the MIT is. The Most Important Thing in each story. This is almost never the same because each time we encounter a bible story, God may have a totally different message prepared for us. The MIT can also change depending on what point the teller wants to make. 


Today’s passage can go several directions. The first MIT that came to mind for me was the theme of being ready, prepared. If this was Advent then that would certainly be the MIT for this passage. However, I believe there is a different MIT for us this week, at this moment in our history. It is the verse “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” 


How we spend our time, our effort and our money will tell a lot about where our heart is. Again, as we move into a world forever changed by the pandemic and recent events what our treasure is and where it is may be a critical question. For many of us the nature of our treasure of what is important to us has been forever altered by the pandemic. For us as a parish we enter our fall program with a new view of what is important. We reflect what is important in our Core Values.  


St. Paul’s deepens our connection with God through a rich (liturgical) worship tradition of scripture, prayer and music. 

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. 

St. Paul’s is the hands and feet of Christ, supporting the community through service and prayer. 

Ultimately the most important thing is that God loves us and calls us to share that love. This is why our Mission statement isSt. 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.” Our mission reflects the combination of all our Core Values into one simple statement of why we exist, which is to share the love of the Lord. 


Now this does not mean that we do not have disagreements at times. What it does mean is that in looking at and reconciling any disagreements we keep the MIT of God’s love and our call to share that love as the great scale on which we weigh our decisions. Stop and think of what a difference this would make in our world if all churches held that scale in their hands as they made their decisions.  

In the New Interpreter’s Bible commentary on this verse it asks “What changes would we make if we were as concerned about God’s kingdom as we are about the size of next month’s paycheck, the next harvest, or the next step up the career ladder? What value would we give to reconciling broken relationships, sharing the gospel of God’s love, and working for peace and justice for the oppressed? 

I am reminded of a clergy conference quite a few years ago that I attended. At that conference the bishop who was the guest presenter asked us to remember what is important. This was earlier in the LGBT debates about whether to offer blessings and marriages to same gender couples and for some diocese whether or not to ordain LGBTQ clergy. Many of you will remember how stressful that was.  


He asked about what we believed about communion, the Eucharist. Now there are three basic understandings of Communion. You have transubstantiation which is the classic Roman Catholic understanding that the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ. Secondly there is also Consubstantiation where the Holy Spirit is present in the bread and the wine after the priest consecrates it. Thirdly there is the standard Protestant understanding that this is a symbolic memorial meal and the bread and the wine are not changed in any way.  


He then took a quick poll of what we as a group of clergy believed. About 20% believed transubstantiation, 70% believed consubstantiation and 10% believed a memorial meal. Then he looked at us and said, “If we can all sit here in a room as clergy and take three very different stands about what happens at something as basic and critical to our faith as what happens at the Eucharist, why can’t we be as generous and understanding of other issues, such as who is welcome at the table?” 


Now most of the bishops in the Anglican Communion including our four bishops have been  meeting at the Lambeth Conference in England over the past 2 weeks and ends today. This is a once every 10 year meeting although Covid delayed it by 2 years where the many voices gather to meet, pray and discuss the church. It is not, I repeat not, a legislative body. Anglican Churches in other countries cannot tell other churches what to do. There was a great deal of upset prior to the start when a small group of African bishops added a reaffirmation of the 1998 Lambeth resolution regarding LGBTQ issues in the communion, which basically said that only marriages between one man and one woman were acceptable to God. Needless to say the outrage by other members was huge and it threatened to derail the entire conference. Bishop Doyle sent us a memo and said basically, “Don’t worry we will work this out.” And they did. What started as a statement of condemnation turned after meeting, praying, worshiping and fellowship together turned into a statement that basically says we are a communion united in following Christ proclaiming God’s love, but that disagrees on some particular issues. 


The bishops ultimately after sitting with each other realized the MIT was sharing the love of God with everyone, period! It was only after they sat down with each other and heard of each other’s challenges and struggles that they came to a new understanding. I read a particularity powerful statement by one bishop when he learned just how hard it was for a young bishop in Southern Sudan to try to grow a church. He asked him how he got to be a bishop at 38 and he said, “I’m the only priest in the diocese with a proper theological education. The cities and villages are confronted by violent groups from other tribes and other religions who threaten their very lives.”  The bishop said, “I wish I could be worried about something other than mere survival.” What a different world from the one in which we live. 


Now one last word on the MIT that really was evident in my conference. This sharing of God’s love is about the world right now, not what happens after we die. Our keynote speaker told an old joke about the Bible. A little girl said to her mom, “Mom I know what the bible is. Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.” That is an unfortunate way to look at faith because it turns religion into holy fire insurance. The emphasis is all on “salvation” after we die! Jesus came to make a difference right now in his world and in ours today. Our sharing the love of God is about making a difference right now, right here in Katy Texas. People who are hungry, poor, rejected by society don’t need promises of a better world some day in the future. They need that help and that love right now, this instant. 


That help right now is why I am pushing us on the outreach part of our mission. Richard Rohr and Bishop Curry both say that the church is unique in that we exist for the benefit and welfare of others, not just ourselves. That’s the sharing piece. We have to be about what is outside our walls or we fail in our mission.  


So my friends, let us be serious on a morning when we share the love by sending off school supplies to children who need them by living into our mission “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.” We have much to do and we will do it with God’s help.