May 22, 2011: Abiding Faith in Troubling Times


Sermon
The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Fifth Sunday of Easter

“Do not let your hearts be troubled – in my Father’s house are many dwelling places – I go to prepare a place for you.” We often hear these words read at funerals and spoken over freshly opened graves. They are said to comfort hearts troubled with grief, uncertainty and fear, if we can believe and trust them.

Jesus goes to prepare a place for us. He will come for us at some point in the future so that we may be with him. We don’t know where that is, or when it will be. Many think it’s at the moment of death, and that is a place I’m sure he is. Yet that’s not enough to untrouble troubled hearts. Each Sunday we come, hoping to find peace, relief from many kinds of fear and troubles. About all the hope Jesus leaves us is something else we are to trust: “Believe in God, believe also in me.”

It’s not as hard to believe when our hearts are trouble-free. Of course we want a dwelling place in the Father’s house, just not yet. And then will Jesus take us to wherever when the room’s ready? That’s when belief is laid on the line. Belief is difficult because we commit ourselves to a person we haven’t seen – trusting that a relationship with him is a relationship with God instead. So we create rules or doctrines to believe in. Assent to rules is easier than maintaining an unseen relationship.

Thomas says, “We don’t know. How can we know where you are going?” Again, it’s a relationship. We trust that Jesus gets us wherever we need to be, not just us, but those who may not know or reject the path. God isn’t complete until all his beloved, whether acting like they are or not, get home. The world didn’t end yesterday. So either you or I didn’t make the cut – or it’s been postponed until this week, at the end of Oprah’s final show. It’s a shame that people will listen to the words of fringe voices, and write off the one whose life truly leads us to the Father.

Jesus’ parting words for his disciples are more than just about a future time. They are for places in time we find ourselves in now – words of reassurance for present fears and uncertainties. The God in Jesus is a God of transformation, not destruction. Today some hearts are troubled in another way. We are coming to an ending, and anxious about a new beginning. And if our builders working with mortar and organ pipes do their job we’ll enter the promised land of a new beginning. I know some hearts are troubled for other reasons. Not everyone rejoices that this day has come – and that’s fine. We listen to each other respectfully as we move forth. Changes are troubling and hard.

A few members remember the worship space prior to the fire of 1950. They’ve been through an ending and a beginning, troubled hearts in between. What will the church look like? Is this the right thing to do? And yet God keeps moving the church along.

We end our experience in this sacred space as it is now, where we have encountered God – Sunday after Sunday, at Christmas, Easter, for funerals and weddings, special moments making sacred memories. At the center is God’s presence within and among us. I look around this room at the windows, hearing music and organ. As today approached, I realize how much emotion I feel as we make this transition. We’ve dreamed, planned for a decade, and now we are at the crossroads where an ending meets a beginning. This room for some months will have different sounds and appearance. Through generosity and gratitude to God some present members make this beginning possible, building on what others for nearly 175 years have done to make this a sacred space.

Sometimes endings come just in time. If we can finish this service and get through this day, our old, no-longer-fixable organ will cross the finish line, and we’ll be relieved. Today, an ending, comes just in time. In a few months we will return and have a new organ to help us praise God in music, lifting our voices and hearts in thanksgiving and prayer. We’ll see the transept windows more clearly as arches are removed. The relocation of the main altar will bring us into closer communion. And with great anticipation and often relief, we will have new bathrooms on this level. Using the past – of the founders’ design, and pipes from the original organ, past present and future converge.

When Jesus spoke these words long ago, he prepares us to trust he is gone so he can forever with us in what’s next. So we confidently can say: “Let our hearts not be troubled. God abides within in us, between us and among us, where ever we are.” May all that will be done and built here be to God’s honor and glory for generations to come. May this church building become an even more inviting place of sacred meetings. May those who come here, find that as Jesus makes this dwelling sacred, we’ll find him with us, sending us forth to share God’s love and life with all.


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