Sermon for Pentecost, Year A, May 31, 2020

Acts 2:1-21,   Psalm 104: 25-35, 37,  1 Corinthians 12:3b-13, John 20:19-23

                I preached my first Sunday here at St. Paul’s on Pentecost three years ago.  I shared then, how my plans were laughable – I had not planned on being a priest.  But obviously my plans for my life changed.  Perhaps that is why, when I entered into the discernment process, my mother-in-law gave my wife this plate as a gift.  It says, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your future plans.” 

Three years ago, I did as I am known to do – I began making plans.  I identified areas that I felt we needed to address as a parish, and started work.   I had expectations for what my ministry might be here.  Some have been fulfilled, others have had to take a back seat to more pressing needs. 

I expected to raise money for maintenance and repair – after all this building is over 100 years old.  Anglican Hall is not the most functional for how it’s used, and the Parish Hall and Kitchen could benefit from some updates.  My number one goal, however, was to replace the plexiglass protecting our stained-glass windows.  But then the rains came, the basement flooded, and we discovered the rectory’s foundation was collapsing. 

So, instead of addressing the most noticeable need – the windows, we raised money to address the drainage problems, repair the rectory’s foundation, and pour sidewalks.  All of this was needed and it was more important than the plexiglass, but still . . .

I had hopes we would be able to tackle the windows next – then the roof started leaking and we had to shift our priorities once again.  Not willing to give up on the windows, I talked with the vestry about a Capital Campaign to address both these needs, and more.  We decided to have a needs assessment completed to determine if there were any other major concerns, and we decided to develop a master plan.  Our hope was to address as much as possible with one request, rather than have to come back to our members every year or so to pay for critical repairs. 

An architect was hired, an assessment and proposed master plan was completed – then we had to shut down because of this pandemic and our meeting with our architect to review his findings and recommendations was put on hold.  There is no talk of raising money for repairs and updates now, our focus has been on Broadcasting our services and making plans to reopen our church doors – SAFELY, when the time is right. 

I do not believe for one minute that God is laughing at us because the pandemic has changed the course of our lives.  But I do know our lives today are not at all what we anticipated – not as a church, a community, or as individuals.  In the larger Episcopal Community, this has brought about the temporary closure of Camp Mitchell.  With all the uncertainty of when we can safely reopen the camp and all the group cancellations, it has been decided to suspend operations indefinitely and use this time to re-evaluate every aspect of the Camp, its ministries, and its operations. 

The camp’s annual budget deficits have grown to the point that keeping it open will take funding away from other ministries of our diocese.  So, we anticipate it may take a year or more to complete this restructuring.  Not good news, but the talk at the meeting where this decision was made was talk of its future resurrection.  There is a strong commitment to Camp Mitchell as a ministry of this diocese and a belief we can use this “pause” as the bishop described it, to redevelop and transform it into a viable ministry.

This pandemic has placed many of our lives on pause.  Even as businesses are reopening and people are returning to work – things are not as they were and are not likely to ever return to the way they were before this pandemic.  We may be making plans to reopen St. Paul’s, but we don’t know when that will be and we do know it will be different. 

God doesn’t laugh at our plans; God doesn’t laugh when we suffer, but God does laugh when we think we are in control.  Our plans must constantly change.  Storms can blow in on the prettiest of days interrupting our plans, but opportunities may arise in the darkest of times.  God can be found in these opportunities. 

In today’s gospel, the resurrected Christ appears to his disciples who are behind locked doors.  They are afraid that they, too, might be beaten or killed as Jesus had been.  We may not be afraid of being persecuted, but many of us are living behind locked doors, many of us are living in fear of being infected with the COVID-19 virus. 

Jesus comes to them where they are and says, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  Then Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 

I want us to focus of two things here.  The first is the peace that Christ offers us where we are right now.  Jesus does not wait for us to come to him, he comes to us offering us his peace.  Notice what he does next, he then tells them to receive the Holy Spirit and forgive others.  I believe the peace Christ offers and forgiveness of others go hand in hand.  Forgiveness requires us to acknowledge the pain and weakness of others and of ourselves. 

I read an article yesterday about Brene Brown, It quoted what David Kessler, an author who co-authored books on grief with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, said to her in an interview.  Kessler spoke of loss, saying, “The worse loss is always your own loss.”  I believe that the worse sin in always our own, because it is what interferes with our ability to love and connect with others.  

This pandemic has caused many of to pause.  The article reminded me this pause provides us with an opportunity to accept the peace Christ offers us by learning to forgive others.  In this way, we can use this time to prepare ourselves to go and do for others what Christ has done for us. 

Life may not happen according to our plans, and that’s okay.  But, with the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, we can accomplish more than we can imagine.  Having said this, I want to conclude my sermon as we sometimes conclude Morning Prayer.  This prayer is taken from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. 

Let us pray.

          “Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.” (3:20-21)