Almighty and everlasting God, who dost govern all things in heaven and earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of thy people, and in our time grant us thy peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord…
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Every year during the month of January, we gather together for an Annual Meeting to look back on the previous year in the life of our parish and prepare for the year to come. Much of it deals with the ordinary business of the parish – with budgets, reports, and elections – but it’s always worth remembering that for the Church, there really is no such thing as “ordinary” business. The mass that we celebrate each week may consist of ordinary bread and wine, but the whole mystery of the Blessed Sacrament is that what might look like the most ordinary things to our eyes are precisely what God has ordained to consecrate as the means of grace. Simple bread and wine become for us the very Body and Blood of our Lord. To the eyes of faith, it’s often the most mundane things that reveal themselves to be the signs of the glory of God. That’s the sacramental reality that should color our entire view of the world as Christians.
So when we look at all the numbers and the figures later on, we’ll be looking at the “stuff” that God has given us to work with. We’ll be looking at his gifts. And that means that our Annual Meeting a little later will be not so different from our worship right now. In fact, there ought to be no activity in our lives that is something different than our worship. For the Christian life is a unified life – just as the Church, like Jerusalem in the Psalms, is “built as a city that is at unity with itself” (Psalm 122:3). “There should be no divisions in our life at all,” as one writer put it, because “if our relationship with God is true, then it affects all things in our life and all things are sacred.”
I’ve been reading through an old book I found in the Parish Library that was written by an Anglican priest who went under the name of Fr. Andrew and I was really inspired by his reflections as I was preparing for this Sunday. I’ve quoted him a few times already, but he writes that:
The great end of prayer is to unify life. When a man journeys by road from one town to another he goes through all sorts of different kinds of country and weather. Sometimes he goes uphill, sometimes down; sometimes he is lonely, something he has company by the way; sometimes he passes through open country, sometimes through dark and narrow streets; sometimes he is in sunshine, sometimes in sort. But every bit of the way is part of the way.
But every bit of the way is part of the way. When I think back on the past year, it’s pretty clear that we journeyed through all different kinds of country and weather. We started last year in the thick of another COVID surge, just like we did this year. But then we were all still masked up and social-distanced. There was no coffee hour and my installation service that happened exactly a year ago this past week was a rather subdued affair with no reception and no opportunity to really celebrate with you all. I remember the church being empty within 15 minutes or so after the service was over. Super weird!
Then Holy Week and Easter came around with all those restrictions still in place. In spite of it all, we managed to celebrate our Lord’s Resurrection with joy as we baptized Neil and Cooper Creech into the Body of Christ. And yeah, I might have let the New Fire at the Easter Vigil get a little bit out of hand, but me and Ira waddled that flaming cauldron outside, no problem!
The Summer was marked by our first confirmation classes since my arrival, which resulted in six confirmands – five of them young people – being strengthened with the Holy Spirit by the laying on of Bishop Poulson’s apostolic hands during his visit here back in September. That was also when we launched our Family Formation Nights – a new experiment for supporting our families as we raise our kids in the Faith. It’s been all kinds of chaos and we’re still fine-tuning it, but it is without a doubt one of the most exciting things that’s happening at Grace Church. It’s brought both new faces and returning faces to our church – and though it’s still a work-in-progress, I see in our scrappy little Wednesday night program the prospect that Grace Church could once again be a place full of families who love Jesus, love the Scriptures, love the Church, and love each other; a place where children grow into saints.
The Fall continued and I got COVID. Enough said! And then Clive gave us quite the surprise when he had to take a helicopter ride to Tulsa and spend a few days in the hospital. And through all of that, I was so mindful of all the prayers and the support and the patience – I’m especially grateful to Deacon Steve, Jackie, and Chad for being so flexible and on the ball when it came to covering services in my absence. Major thanks to the Wells family too for watching our older kids during Clive’s ordeal – they definitely remember all the snacks!
Then we ended the year, as we always do, with all the beauty and festivity of Advent and Christmas. We welcomed the birth of Christ as the Light of the World that comes to us when nature is in her winter slumber and our days are at their darkest. And we carried that Light that dwells within us and among us into this new year, as the Light of Christ begins to shine so radiantly from his Epiphany.
While those were some of the major highlights, last year was predictably filled with those inevitable challenges and struggles that always come around. But every bit of the way is part of the way. I can think of no better testament to that than the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer, which Dan Flanigin and I said together over 300 times last year – day in, day out. The Daily Office made Grace Church truly a place of “prayer without ceasing.” And though it was usually just me and Dan, there were occasions when we welcomed members from our community into this sacred space. Candles were lit and prayers ascended as incense. But no matter the day, no matter what part of the way we happened to find ourselves on, the Daily Office was there to remind us that we were heading the same direction as always. 8:30 and 5pm, Monday through Thursday – come and join us!
Our Collect from this morning asks that the God who governs all things in heaven and earth would “in our time grant us thy peace.” And it makes sense that we would have to pray for that, because it can often seem that our time is the last place where we find the peace of God. But our time is in thy hands, the Psalmist says; it is among the countless ordinary things that God governs according to his providence.
And so with the Annual Meeting ahead of us, I’ll let Fr. Andrew have the last word. He says that:
What we want to try to get is a unifying principle that can make life really one, and bring all things into consistency. Time is only part of eternity: hereafter is really here. We have not to get somewhere to get to God. He can never be nearer to us than He is now, because in Him we live and move and have our being. It is the apprehension of that God Who is with us now that we want to get.
May God grant us that apprehension of Himself in our time here at Grace Church; may He grant us his peace along with it. Amen.