“For God alone my soul in silence waits; truly my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken. In God is my safety and my honor; God is my strong rock and my refuge” (62:6-8).
It is always tempting to focus on what we have and to worry if it is enough. Do we have enough money? Do we have enough time? Do we have enough of whatever we need?
From one perspective, the answer must be, No.
I started my first real job making $18,500 a year. I spent every penny, and I remember thinking to myself, I need just a little more money. Then, I thought, I could relax.
The next year, I got a thirty percent raise. Life seemed rosy. To my surprise, at the end of the year, I had again spent every penny, and I was again thinking, I need just a little more money.
I gather that people continue to think they need just a little more money almost no matter how much they have. And if their goal is to have enough money to meet every possible problem, they are right—they need more money because there are a LOT of possible problems.
The same is true for time: we always need more.
When Carrie and I were first married, I regularly told her I was too busy to do this or that. And I always added a promise: if I can just get over this next hurdle, then I would have plenty of time for her. Finally Carrie pointed out to me that I had been saying the same thing for years, and the hurdles kept changing.
I still routinely wish for more money and more time. But in my better moments, I know that a little more money or a little more time would not change much about my life, and it would certainly not be enough to make me stop wishing for more.
And in my best moments, I know that I should stop worrying about money and time because money and time are not my stronghold. God is. God, and God alone, is our hope, our salvation, our stronghold, our safety, our honor, and our refuge.
We live by the grace of God. Everything we have and everything we are comes to us as a gift from God. Despite our weakness and despite our sin, God loves us. God promises to be with us always. When we are sad or afraid or angry or discouraged, we can “pour out our hearts before him, for God is our refuge.”
As I turn now to Saint David’s, our Psalm reminds us that, though our news is generally good, the real Good News is not anything we do. The real Good News, our real rock and safety and stronghold, is in what God does. And if God is for us, nothing else really matters.
I base what follows on a diocesan document called “Marks of Congregational Vitality.” We have put the document on our webpage, so you can read the whole thing. For now I just want to address four of the questions it poses.
First, worship. Is our worship lively, and is it welcoming?
Like a lot of Episcopal Churches, our early service is more formal, and our second service is a little more casual. In the summer, we will probably experiment a bit with the 10:00 service. Let me know what works for you and what doesn’t. The goal is lively worship that engages both long-time Episcopalians and newcomers.
A related question concerns lay participation in worship. Laypeople have lots of roles in the service, and we have been trying to increase lay involvement at every level. Probably the biggest example from last year was celebrating lay-led Morning Prayer on the Sundays when I was away. This year we might license and train some lay preachers. If you are willing to try your hand at preaching, please let me know!
The second question is more challenging. How does the congregation handle internal conflict?
Conflicts will always happen. And, in a crazy way, conflict is a sign of health because conflict shows that people care.
But when conflict moves from issues to personalities, it can wound people and hurt the parish. That happened last year in more than one context, so it is something we need to work on this year.
The goal is to be able to disagree with each other without getting hostile. We all know how to do that, even if we all botch it sometimes.
The next time you disagree with someone, pause to ask yourself a few simple questions before you say anything. What are my motivations? Am I speaking in anger or fear? Does the point of disagreement really matter? Will the person be able to hear criticism coming from me?
On the other side, if your feelings get hurt, pray about it. Ask yourself if you are being oversensitive. Try to forgive.
In every disagreement, remember that we are not called to be right. We are called to be faithful and loving “ambassadors of reconciliation.” That is more likely to mean letting the other person have his or her way than to stand our ground and fight to the finish.
The third and fourth questions play to our strengths. The third asks about our practices of formation, both for adults and for children.
We are a people of prayer and Bible study. You are faithful in worship, which is our common prayer. You pray regularly on your own, as best I can tell. A high percentage of you do regular Bible study, including this year committing to reading the entire Bible as part of the Bible Challenge. That is all really good news.
If your prayer life or Bible study are not where you would like them to be, Lent, which, shockingly, starts in three and a half weeks, is a good time to commit to taking it to the next level.
Fourth and last, at least for now, how does our congregation respond to human need in the surrounding community?
This is another strength of Saint David’s. We invite the larger community to events here. We reach out to the community in many ways. Of course we could d
o more. But I am thrilled at how many people participate in one way or another in our various outreach and parish life events.
We could consider other questions, but I must wrap up.
Clearly we face real challenges. Our culture is turning away from Church as we have practiced it. We could use more young people. We need to work on managing our disagreements in a healthy way.
Still, as I look ahead, our future seems bright. As long as we come together to worship God, as long as we continue in prayer and Bible study, as long as we love and serve our neighbors as ourselves, we are doing God’s work.
And as long as we do God’s work, God will continue to bless us with his presence, and to be our rock and our salvation.
For that, we should all give thanks to God! Amen.