O that you would tear open the heavens and come down: a Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent

This sermon, preached at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison Wisconsin on November 30th, 2014, is based on the readings for the First Sunday of Advent in Year B of the Revised Common Lectionary.

You can find those readings here

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight O Lord our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

Please be seated.

It was a mess! It wasn’t supposed to be this way and they could never have imagined that this is how it would work out. Forty years ago their temple had been destroyed, the walls of their city thrown down, and conquered by the armies of Babylon, the people of Israel were taken into exile. For forty years they sojourned in that foreign place; struggling to maintain their national and state identity, trying to stay together as a people, to remember who they were and whose they were. It wasn’t easy. The temptations of a major empire and major cities were many, and many of the people fell away from the traditions and practices of their heritage, their tradition, and their past.

But Babylon had been conquered by King Cyrus of Persia and now Cyrus had signed a decree to allow the people of Israel to return to Jerusalem. This was to be a moment of restoration, of homecoming, of great joy. They would return to the land that God had promised them. They would return to the place where their Temple had stood, the place where God came to be amongst God’s people, and the world would be right again. But that’s not what happened.

The people who returned to Jerusalem, to Israel, found that in their absence the few people who had been left behind had moved into their homes.   And even worse, foreigners from other nations had moved in and brought their foreign practices with them: their idols, their gods, their faith. And so when these people who had been in exile for forty years returned to Jerusalem they found themselves embroiled in conflict. They began to fight with one another. They began to fight with the Israelites who had stayed behind in Jerusalem. They were fighting with the people who had moved in from the outside. They were fighting over power, over land rights, over possessions, over status and rank in the community. And they were fighting over ways to worship, to continue their traditions, and to continue to be the people that God had called them to be. This was not how it was supposed to be.

In the season of Advent we talk a lot about waiting. If you read the crossroads that was mailed out this last week both Mother Dorota and I talked about waiting and how difficult it is. We talked about waiting in line. We talked about waiting for downloads to come over slow Wi-Fi connections. We talked about waiting… Waiting… We’re waiting to sing Christmas carols. We’re waiting to decorate the church. No one likes to wait.

I think all of those examples tend to trivialize the kind of waiting that we are actually called to in this season of the year. We are called to wait the way that the people of Israel were waiting when Isaiah wrote the passage that we read this morning.

Having returned from Babylon, finding themselves fighting with one another, fighting with other people, Isaiah raises his eyes to heaven and issues this lament,

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,

so that the mountains would quake at your presence–

as when fire kindles brushwood

and the fire causes water to boil—

Isaiah 24:1

The people were at the end. They knew that their own resources would not save them. They knew that there was nothing more that they could do to salvage what was left of their identity and their nation and their faith. And so they turn their eyes to God and they say, “Please. Break into the world. Help us. Change this awful mess because our hearts are broken and there’s nothing more that we know to do.”

I think that’s a place where we can find ourselves waiting. The people of Israel say in Isaiah’s passage  “You’ve done it before God…”

“When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,

you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.”

Isaiah 64:3

You did it then. Do it now! Step in. Intervene. Change the world so that we can live in peace…

You don’t have to look very far, you don’t have to wait very long to hear things that will put us in that same place. Turn on the news while you’re making dinner, have NPR be the first thing you hear in the morning when your alarm clock goes off, and it will well up inside. You may even say it out loud if the kids aren’t around. “Oh my God! How can this be? How can we still be fighting over these same issues? How can it be that we haven’t resolved this? How can it be that we’re still fighting with one another over rank, and authority, and possessions, and wealth, and race, and you just name the list.

We stand there and we tremble and we say “Oh my God! Please! Please…” That’s where the people of Israel are. I think we can be right there with them. The things that we’ve seen coming out of Ferguson Missouri this last week have raised this lament in my heart over and over again. But to be truly there with the people of Israel we have to take this next step. Because after Isaiah pleads for God to come down and intervene, and points out that they have a long and enduring relationship, and God has done this in the past, and you should just come on down and do it again… he turns to some serious matters:

“But you were angry, and we sinned;

because you hid yourself we transgressed.

We have all become like one who is unclean,

and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.”

Isaiah 64:5b-6a

It’s important to recognize that Isaiah is not inviting God to come down and intervene and smite Isaiah’s enemies. Isaiah is not asking God to come down and fix them, not asking God to come and change all of those people out there so that we can live in peace. Isaiah says “we.” We have sinned. All of us! We are all participating in this system, in this way of being, in this mentality. And the mess that we are in in this moment is our fault. So Isaiah is asking God to come down, and intervene, and change all of us.

After this confession in Isaiah’s lament he says:

Yet, O LORD, you are our Father;

we are the clay, and you are our potter;

we are all the work of your hand.

Isaiah 64:8

So the transformation, the intervention that Isaiah is calling for becomes even more clear. He is asking God to continue to mold us like wet clay, to shape us. To shape our hearts so that we wake up and recognize what we are doing, how we are participating in the systems that oppress people, that hurt people, and that land us all in this terrible conflict and mess. That when we finally do recognize it on NPR or the news we are called to this moment of lament. “Oh God, if only you would tear open the heavens and come down. It’s critical, critical that we acknowledge that in that moment we are asking God to change us, to come down and intervene.

Isaiah goes on to say

Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD,

and do not remember iniquity forever.

Now consider, we are all your people.

Isaiah 64:9

In the Psalm that we read this morning there is a refrain that repeats three times.

Restore us, O God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

Psalm 80:3

“Restore us.” The people of Israel were looking for restoration. Returning to Jerusalem, returning to their sacred city, and to the land that had been promised to them, wanting to be restored. What they came to recognize was that restoration would depend on God’s transforming love, and grace, and power changing them as well.

“Restoration.” Listen to the confession of sin that we will be using for the season of Advent

God of all mercy,

we confess that we have sinned against you,

opposing your will in our lives.

We have denied your goodness in each other,

in ourselves, and in the world that you have created.

We repent of the evil that enslaves us,

the evil we have done,

and the evil done on our behalf.

Forgive, restore, and strengthen us

In this season of Advent we speak to God in a voice filled with longing, with pathos, with desire. You’ve done it before. We’ve seen your work in the world. We’ve read of your wondrous deeds and acts… so powerful and transformative it was as if the mountains shook. Oh God, come now. Do it again transform me. Transform the people in my life. Continue to mold the clay from which you made me so that I might walk in your path and the world might be transformed by the love that I am then able to share. We wait in Advent for God to come.

Read the passage from Isaiah again. Read it when you get home this afternoon. It’s important to note that in that longing and in that desire there is also a sense of confidence. You’ve done this before. We have this long history together. You are our father. We are intimately connected one to another. There is no separating us. And we are all your children.

We have faith in the things for which we hope. We have faith in the God who has loved us and whom we know continues to love us.

In this season as we struggle to stay awake, to see the world as it truly is, we wait for God tear open the heavens and come down.

Amen.

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The Waiting is the Hardest Part

“The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part”

                                    Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

                                     The Waiting lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

Where is God calling us? What will we do? Where will we go next? Who will we be…? There are times when these questions lie fallow, dormant, drowned out by other questions, issues, and concerns. The work of daily life, serving in the small things, can be enough.   Sometimes we are so focused on what is right in front of us that we don’t have the energy, time, or inclination to raise our eyes towards the distant horizon. But there are times, in our own lives, in the lives of communities, when we step back from the ordinary, when our attention is drawn towards that horizon, when we lift our heads, when what once seemed far away and distant begins to come into focus and seems tantalizingly near… Those moments fill us with anticipation; with excitement and energy, calling us to take those final steps and arrive in the moment where what had once been just a possibility finally becomes the new reality. So why is it that those moments of expectation, of anticipation, latent with such promise, are also the moments that seem to drag on forever?

We don’t like to wait. That is probably wired into us, one of the many evolutionary adaptations that keep us moving forward, growing, evolving to better manage a constantly changing context and environment. But we have also been trained to be impatient. Is your connection too slow? Does your phone take more than a few seconds to download that life changing captioned photo from Facebook?   Don’t have the time to select the food that you will eat? Send us your order and we will select all the locally grown fresh “slow” food you need and deliver it to you! Suffering from a lack of vision? We can make your new glasses in under an hour… So why wait? You don’t have time for that! There is no time to be on the road. You deserve to have arrived long ago…

Why wait? We have been talking about this for so long… It seems like forever… Can’t we just make some decisions, take the last few steps, move this process along, announce that we are crossing the finish line and be done with it? We are ready to move on.

The rush to completion, to fulfillment, to gratification can feel powerful; we are moving, active, in charge… But when all that we can see is the end, we are in great danger of missing the delights that await us on the way.

There are traditions that would tell us that nothing matters but the end, that the path we travel to achieve that goal is irrelevant, a distraction, a distortion of the truth that we seek. Ours is a tradition that looks to the future, that leans into the goal, while at the same time recognizing, honoring, and celebrating the path that we walk as formative, beautiful, and as an expression of our hope and faith in the prize that awaits all of us just beyond the horizon. So while our culture would teach us that we have to keep moving as fast as we can, that we need to get there faster, find it right away, and do everything we can to shorten the process, the journey, our tradition teaches us, trains us to be patient, to savor the way that will lead us to the arrival for which we hope in faith. Advent is the time of year when we practice that waiting.

In one of my favorite carols we sing, “The world in solemn stillness waits to hear the angels sing” (It came upon a midnight clear H 89). Waiting in solemn stillness, in expectation, in wonder at the joy that we know is coming… Longing to hear the angels when they sing. We wait with bated breath afraid that any movement might drown out the first notes of that heavenly melody, somehow knowing that our waiting will only heighten our joy when that first chord sounds.

In this season we will gather in a church where the busyness of electric lights will be moderated by the slow, warm light of candles.   We will pause a little longer to savor the words we are hearing. Our singing will reflect a different rhythm and pace of life. We will practice waiting, sheltered from the noise and pace of a culture that seems bent on arriving early. Perhaps in this practice we will find the courage, the patience, and the wisdom to allow God’s call to us to unfold in God’s own time, each card laid before us in turn, taking it on faith, taking it to the heart, even though waiting is the hardest part.

Peace,

Andy+

Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church: 2014 State of the Parish Report

This State of the Parish Report was offered in place of the sermon on November 16, 2014 at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church.

The Gospel reading referred to in the text is the reading assigned for Proper 28 in Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary.  You can find that reading here.

 

I want to begin with another story this morning. It’s a story that many of us have heard before, but today, as we begin the state of the parish report in our 100th year as the Body of Christ here in this place, it is worth hearing again…

“It began with the women.

 

During the last decade of the nineteenth century, the city of Madison outgrew the boundaries established by its founders. It extended west beyond the university and the railroad yards of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St Paul Railroad, and passed the Civil War-era military encampment, Camp Randall, which the university acquired in April 1893 for an athletic and drill field.

 

The High Ground overlooking the field was platted that year as University Heights. William T. Fish began developing the area on Lake Wingra between Monroe Street and the city limits in 1890 as Wingra park. In 1896, university official Edward Riley acquired the land between Wingra Park and Regent Street from the railroad, and called it Oakland Heights. About the same time, Henry Adams turned his West Lawn Farm into the Westlawn subdivision.   These four communities were incorporated into the city of Madison in July 1903. Two streetcar lines connected them to the downtown area.

 

While the inhabitants of the city’s new western suburbs were not poor, neither were they wealthy. They were largely university staff, with a strong admixture of business and professional people, many of them state employees. At least fifty families were Episcopalians who worshiped at Grace Church on Capitol Square. By 1913, these families were starting to realize that their location, over two miles from downtown, was keeping them from participating fully in Parish Life” (Anne Beiser Allen, Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church: The First 95 Years 1914-2009, p 1-2).

In 1914 successfully petitioned the Rev. A.A. Ewing, Rector of Grace Church, and Bishop William Webb for permission to establish a new parish in Wingra Park and on November 30th of that same year they broke ground on the original St. Andrews just a few blocks from here on Stockton Court.

Take a moment to imagine their excitement. One hundred years ago today those thirty families, many of whose names are represented on that plaque on the back wall of the nave, were preparing to celebrate a new adventure in Christ with a ground breaking ceremony, building for their children’s future and their own.

Less than three months later, on February 14th, Valentines Day of 1915, the building was ready for it’s first celebration of the Eucharist!

By 1926 the congregation at Saint Andrew’s had outgrown that original single room building. Now a Quaker Meeting House, the building was originally designed as the Parish Hall in a larger campus plan that included a large chancel, parish hall, and a bell tower. A building campaign raised $14,000 and the parish prepared to break ground once again.

“However, when the Vestry submitted its plans to the City Zoning Board, it got a shock. The board rules the plans not in compliance with zoning regulations. There was also an outcry from some of the neighbors, who felt that the enlarged church would overpower their small cul-de-sac of Stockton Court. A troubled Vestry met to discuss redesigning the plans.

 

Then Vestryman W.H. Konrad suggested building a completely new church on another site. He told them there was a property for sale on the corner of Regent and Roby Streets that might be suitable. ‘It meant to abandon the theory of a village church… and to assume a much more ambitions status of a City Church on a principal thoroughfare,’ Arthur Peabody observed. But St. Andrew’s was ready for a change” (Allen p. 11).

In 1928 this building, a city church on a principal thoroughfare, constructed at a cost of $46,270, was dedicated by Bishop Benjamin Ivans.

In 1957, because the Sunday School had grown and this building could no longer comfortably house and support the rich and varied life of the parish, the education wing was added at a cost of $38,500 and in 1966, continuing our expansion to the East, the parish took out a mortgage and purchased the “Newell House” at 1825 Regent Street.

If you haven’t read it already I would like to commend Anne Allen’s excellent book, “Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church: The First 95 Years 1914 – 2009.” We have copies downstairs and we also have Anne’s addendum that tells the story of the five years since her book was published, the five years that have brought us to our centennial.

In the pages of this account, from which I have quoted heavily this morning, you will read the rest of the story. You will learn how the international banking crisis created by World War I almost scuttled the plans to build the original church on Stockton Court. You will read how the New York stock market crash of 1929 impacted the life of the parish and how we almost lost the building to foreclosure proceedings in the 1940s. You will also read about the people who rallied to pay down the mortgages, about the period in the 1960s when over 250 children attended Sunday School in this building, about the preschool that used this space for 37 years. You will read about The Rev. Bob Shaw, the sixth Rector of Saint Andrew’s, who used his substantial inheritance to underwrite significant outreach ministries around Madison, and who paid off the mortgage on the Newell House and gave the property to the church in 1975.

It’s that “rest of the story” stuff that is so important to us today as we celebrate 100 years on the near west side of Madison because it’s in those details that we understand the context in which this parish has lived, moved and had its being. Knowing those details helps us to know who we are, where we have been, and to see for ourselves a future that is filled with promise and hope.

So let’s talk about the “rest of the story” that creates the context in which we live and move and have our being. We live in a fast paced, changing culture that at times seems to have left us behind. Thirty years ago no one would have scheduled travel soccer games on a Sunday morning. Fifty years ago you would have had a hard time finding a place to buy groceries on a Sunday morning. Not very long ago church attendance on a Sunday morning was a cultural expectation. You didn’t stand on the soccer field or go to Walmart and Target on a Sunday morning because you were in church.

Not very long ago our children might have wandered away from the church in their teens or early adulthood but we could count on them coming back when they got married and had children. We could count on seeing them again when their kids got old enough to attend Sunday School…

Not very long ago we were working to reach out to the “unchurched.” We began to realize that there were people in our communities who had not wandered away from the church in their teens and early adulthood. We began to recognize that there were people in our communities who had no experience of the church at all because their parents had wandered away from the church and had never returned. Now we know that there are people in our communities who are “second generation unchurched.” It isn’t that their parents wandered away and so never took them to church when they were in their “formative years.” There are more and more people in our communities who have no experience of church and who are children of folks who have no experience of church.

The reasons for this turn away from the church have been written about and debated at great length and it is safe to assume that the debate will go on for a long, long time but the impact of this turn is clear and undeniable.

All across the country mainline denominations are reporting a decline in membership and attendance. The Lutherans, Methodists, the Presbyterians… the list goes on and on and we, the Episcopal Church are no different.

In the last five years the domestic dioceses of the Episcopal Church have reported an 8.6% decline in attendance.   Right here at home the parishes of the Diocese of Milwaukee have reported a decline in average Sunday attendance of 15%. Now Average Sunday Attendance isn’t a perfect measure of a parish’s health and vitality. In a culture where church attendance was expected, and folks wen to church almost every Sunday, average attendance was a pretty good indicator of the size and strength of a congregation. We operate in a different paradigm today. People are overbooked, overscheduled and exhausted. There are other demands and other options on Sunday morning so many of our members only attend church once or twice a month. As we lose the oldest members of our communities, the people who grew up with an every Sunday expectation, their spots in the pews are filled by people who have a different understanding of and expectation about church attendance. So in many places total membership numbers remain flat or go up while paradoxically, Sunday attendance numbers fall.

So with that “rest of the story,” that context in mind we turn our attention to the state of this parish as we celebrate our centennial.

Every spring we file a document with the national church called the Parochial Report. That report lists membership and attendance. It details our income and expenses, the number of pledges we have received, and a good accounting of our financial health.

The Parochial Report for 2012 listed 403 active members. The report for 2013 listed 387. So we had a drop in active membership of 16 people.   Digging deeper we see that we actually lost 42 folks. Six families moved out of state. One family ran off and joined the Presbyterians, attending a church they could easily walk to from their house, and I finally, though begrudgingly, removed five members of the Fleischman family from our roster since Don is the Rector of Saint Barnabas in Richland Center. Three folks died in 2013. One person left to be the organist at Saint Luke’s. We removed one person from the roster because we haven’t seen or heard from her since 2010 and we took another person off the list who had somehow found their way into the data base without anyone knowing who they were…

Forty-two names came off of our active membership roster in 2013 but in that same year we added twenty-six new people to our community. Now six families moving out of state and taking twenty-five people with them is on the high side but this was a pretty typical year for us. Some years we lose more people than we add. In other years we add more than we lose. For the last several years our “active member” count has held at right around 390 people from 185 households.

What about Sunday attendance? A few minutes ago I listed some statistics about the broader church that were pretty disheartening. An 8.6% drop in the national church and a 15% drop in the Diocese of Milwaukee. Our attendance over that same time period, the last five years, is 5%. From 2009 to 2013 our average Sunday attendance has gone from 164 to 156. If you average the figures over that five year period our “average” average Sunday attendance is 159. Our attendance has been remarkably consistent given the “rest of the story” and the context in which we live.

Where else might we look to assess the “state of the parish”?

Our annual total revenues offer another interesting insight. In 2009 we had 140 pledges and our total revenues were $405,190. In 2013 we had 123 pledges for $413,205. Seventeen fewer pledges for an additional $8,000. Over the last five years our total revenues have fallen within a range of $9,500 and have averaged $412,205. This year we are projecting total revenues of $418,000, our highest revenues in six years and $6,000 above our five-year average. Again… remarkably stable given the “rest of the story” and the context in which we live.

So we are holding our own… stable… safe…

But is that who, is that where we are called to be?

How many years have we been talking about the buildings that house our community? Our parish hall isn’t large enough for us to comfortably gather in fellowship for a meeting or a meal. We are not very accessible and the members of our community who have mobility challenges have a hard time participating in the life of the parish. Our narthex is small, cramped and dark. It isn’t conducive to greeting and welcoming new people. It’s hard to engage when you are creating a bottleneck in the traffic flow. The folks who founded this parish did so because they were experiencing a barrier to “participating fully in parish life.” The parish moved to this location because they had outgrown their original building. We added the Education wing on the east side of the church because the building they constructed in 1928 was inhibiting the pursuit of our mission as a parish.

In 1927, when the community that is Saint Andrew’s moved from Stockton Court to Regent Street they knew that, “‘It meant to abandon the theory of a village church… and to assume a much more ambitions status of a City Church on a principal thoroughfare…’ But St. Andrew’s was ready for a change” (Allen, p. 11).

For the last several years we have been talking about our readiness or a change in this place. We have been looking back at our history; celebrating where we have been, remembering who we are. We are planning to grow as we move into our second 100 years in this place. We’ve talked about the building. We are talking about a potential capital campaign. But we’ve been planning and working at this growth thing, this change thing for much longer than that. Two and one half years ago when Leigh Vicens left us to go be a professor of philosophy at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Kate McKee left her position here as our youth minister and followed her fiancé to Boston this parish decided that the next step in our growth would be to call a second full-time priest to this parish. We did that. We stretched ourselves and we made that move becoming only the second parish in the diocese of Milwaukee to have two full-time clergy on staff. We have made moves and decisions as a vestry to streamline our processes, to work together in ways that help to make us grow, to introduce us to the neighborhood, to raise our profile in this community, and to be that city church on a principal thoroughfare that the people who gave us this parish dreamed about in 1928 when they moved to this spot.   In our Gospel reading today we hear about three servants who are given a great gift by their master: five talents, two talents, one talent… The master give those gifts to his servants expecting that they will grow, that the servants to whom he has given those gifts will take risks, will try hard, and will produce more than what they have been given.

A little earlier this morning I asked you all to stop for a moment and imagine the excitement that the people must have felt as they prepared to break ground on November 30, 1914 just a few blocks from here, great excitement. But we need to admit that it’s likely that they also felt some real anxiety. Having been given the gift of permission to establish a new parish, having raised money, having people signed on… they were about to step out on a new adventure in Christ. They could not have known how would end up. Any time a community embarks on change, works to grow, works to become more vital, people will become nervous. I think that we have a right to feel some anxiety in this moment as we work together to grow into the parish that God is calling us to be. A building proposal that has stretched our imaginations, a possible capital campaign that will stretch our resources, all of these things lie before us. Making this a time of great venture and excitement in the life of this place.

I’ve heard people asked the question as we move through this process together, “why now? Why are we embarking on this adventure? Why are we taking this on in this moment?” There are lots of possible answers to that question but I think the best answer is “why not now?” We’ve been having these conversations, we’ve been asking these questions, we’ve been working together for several years to find a way forward. And with the help of the Holy Spirit we are moving: the fourth largest parish in the diocese of Milwaukee, a light to our brothers and sisters here in Madison and to the parishes to the west of us that are struggling. We are a parish that is on the move and we have a mission together: to become that city church on a principal thoroughfare, a light to this community, a light to the diocese, people with gifts to be grown to be given.

It is with great pride and pleasure and some sense of awe that I stand before you this morning as we celebrate our centennial. It is a privilege to be here and I am looking forward to the conversations that we will have when we convene downstairs for our annual meeting and as we move through this process, moving into the future together. It is an exciting time to be an Episcopalian and it is an exciting time to be a member St. Andrews Episcopal Church, the body of Christ gathered 833 Regent St. in Madison Wisconsin

 

 

Knit Together in One Communion: a Sermon for the Feast of All Saints

This sermon, offered on November 2nd, All Saints Sunday, November 2, 2014 at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, by the Very Rev. Andy Jones is based on the readings for All Saints Day in Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary.

You can find those readings here.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts the always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our Redeemer. Amen

What an amazing and powerful day, a day filled with imagery, and symbol, and sign. Every Sunday is like that in this place. We come here together. We kneel at this rail. We receive the symbol and sign of Christ’s ongoing presence among us. This is a place that lifts us into an understanding and a recognition of things that are beyond our normal reach, touch and grasp. But today is a special day, even richer if that is possible.   The symbols and the signs are all around us. Here in the center aisle there is a basket filled with our pledges to this place; our giving back to God in joy, and gratitude, and thanksgiving for the gifts that we have been given; and our commitment to the life and work and ministry of this place. That symbol that sign will be carried forward to the altar in just a little while and mother to Dorota will hold them up and ask God’s blessing on the first fruits of our labor; given back to God in joyful thanksgiving, with a sense of abundance. All of this pointing to a truth that lies far beyond that specific moment, a truth which under girds all that we are and all that we do.

There are other symbols and signs. Here is the baptismal font, a pitcher filled with water, oil, and a candle; symbols and signs that we are, by virtue of our baptism, beloved children of God. In his letter James talks about us being children of God and one body together.   This symbol and this sign, the water that we will pour, help to point us to that truth and that reality.

Eucharist, our commitment to one another and to this place, our adoption as beloved children of God through the water of baptism, all symbols and signs that point beyond themselves to a deep and fundamental truth.

That deep and fundamental truth is revealed in such a small symbol and sign today that it might go unnoticed if we didn’t point it out.   In a few moments, when we baptize Henry, mother Dorota will turn to the congregation, having asked Henry’s parents and godparents to make some promises on his behalf, she will turn to all of us and she’ll ask,

“Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support this person in his life in Christ?”   (BCP p. 303)

Everyone here, standing, will say, “We will!”

It’s a small, word two letters, but it says so much. We! We! Not I, not she, not him, but “We!”

At the 8 o’clock service this morning I constructed this same image, I walked us right up to this moment, and you can see everybody in the room their eyes kind of sunk. Well… that’s not happening now. That’s what will happen later. And “we” won’t be there. But I assured them that they would be…  Because that word “We” means so much more than the few of us who are gathered here in this space, right now, today.   When we say “We” we are talking about all of the people of St. Andrews. And were talking about all of the people in all of the Episcopal churches in Madison this morning; gathered, celebrating our connection with the broader community, all of the Saints past present and yet to come. “We” encompasses all of us! We! “We” extend beyond time and space, beyond the walls of this place, and include the people who have given us this space, this tradition, this building, these lights, this belief that we are beloved children of God initiated into the body of Christ through the water of baptism!

“We” will stand today and “We” will reaffirm our baptismal covenant. “We” will use the apostles Creed and unlike the Nicene Creed which starts out “We believe” today will say “I believe…”  “We” will make a commitment as individuals today to God, to our faith, and to our belief and we will make that commitment in the context of “We,” gathered here together.

“We” includes all of the names that mother Dorota will read during the Eucharistic prayer; names of people who have died in the past year: members of this congregation, beloved family members who have not attended here but who are still, and even now, part of that “We.”

“We” includes the theologians, and the churchpeople, and the congregations, and the people who have gone before us. “We….” Is a mighty word indeed!

We have been talking about this day for weeks now as “Commitment Sunday,” All Saints Sunday, an honoring of the Saints: past, present, and yet to come… Commitment Sunday.

And Henry I’m sure you were nervous that all of this commitment business might steal the spotlight from you in this moment.   This isn’t Commitment Sunday this is Baptism Sunday… right? But I think there’s something really important about that word “We.”

“We” are making a commitment to support this person in his new life in Christ. “We” are making a commitment, one to another, to walk this path together. “We” are making a commitment to those who have gone before us. And “We” are making a commitment to those who will come after us. “We” say “We!” “We” are talking about something much larger, and broader, and deeper, than the hundred and forty or so of us who are gathered together in this room.

The collect for the Feast of All Saints which we read this morning… and I’m going to paraphrase here because it’s too long for me to remember this morning in this moment, says that we are “knit together in one communion, the mystical body of Christ.” Knit together through our baptism, through our faith, through the things that we have believed, things that have been handed down to us through the generations, things that we have learned about ourselves and know to be true about the people of God and about God. “We” are knit together in one Communion, the mystical Body of Christ!

Henry if that’s not exciting I don’t know what is! So we are here this morning to welcome you in to this body. And we are making a commitment to you, and to one another, to walk hand-in-hand in the light of God’s love and grace, sustaining, stewarding, and treasuring what has been given to us, and freely offering it to those who will follow us and to you here this morning.

I would ask you as you come forward for communion later this morning to reach your hand into the water in the font and to remember your own baptism. And if your memory is better than mine you’ll be able to remember this phrase, “We are knit together in one communion, the mystical Body of Christ…” a beautiful and tremendous truth that under girds and forms all that we say and do. So come forward. Play in the water. Remember your baptism. And say to yourself, and to all the saints; past, present, and yet to come, “Knit together in one communion, the mystical body of Christ.

Amen