Pentecost Sunday/Stewardship Sermon Year B 2006

“Passionate Pearls of Great Value”

June 4, 2006

The Rev. Peter Faass, Rector

St. John the Baptist, Sanbornville

Acts 2:1-11; Ps. 104:25-37; 1 Corinth. 12:4-13; John 20: 19-23

The time is here. The month of June and the event that folks have been hearing, reading and talking about for months. People are sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for the kick-off, its’ final results crucial to many. A detailed game plan has been developed and strategies carefully thought through. The teams are getting ready to play. This event is so important that the future of some of the players hinges on its’ success or failure. The financial stakes are high. Passions are so intense that it has been described in terms both dire and hopeful.

Yes, my friends, it’s finally here: the World Cup Soccer Championships begin in Germany this coming Friday!

Oh, you thought I was speaking about the plans for the parish Stewardship campaign? Well, that begins this June as well, but let me speak about soccer and the World Cup for a moment. It isn’t often that I have the opportunity to use a sports illustration in a sermon.

Soccer - or football as it is known in those countries where it is played and taken seriously, ( which is just about everywhere except the United States) - evokes passions among it’s followers like no other sport in the world. To cite an example of soccer’s popularity, the 2004 Super Bowl game was viewed by 95 million people. The 2002 World Cup Championship final was viewed by 218 million! It is estimated that over 1 billion people will watch the month long World Cup Soccer Championship between 32 nations, in 12 German city’s during the next month!

And the fans. Well, their passions for soccer are well . . . passionate. Croatians hold flares up in the air filling their section of the stadium with fire and smoke. Italians shave their heads and paint them in the national colors of green, white and red with a huge white Italia emblazoned on top. The Brazilians do samba dancing in the stands and wear exotic, wildly colored clothing. The Dutch fans wear all orange clothing - the color of the royal house - and sing the Grand March from the opera Aida. (Go figure that one!)

Sometimes , sadly, these passions get out of hand. For example, English fans have acquired an unsavory reputation for hooliganism at soccer matches. But one thing is for sure, soccer evokes grand passions around national pride and the athletic prowess of the country’s players, from it’s hundred’s of millions of loyal fans.

Even I, who seldom raise more than eyebrow over athletic events, get a little bit crazed during the World Cup. Eight years ago the Dutch team - who play the elegant form of total soccer, which they developed - tied 1-1 with Brazil in the semi-finals. They ended up losing the match on a penalty kick. I was morose and unconsolable for days!

Soccer is a passionate pearl of great value to those who adore the game.

I speak about soccer and the passion associated with it, because I want to evoke similar passion out of you as we engage our stewardship of this parish.

People who come to St. John’s love this church. They know that love in their hearts - viscerally - although they may not be able to articulate it. What I want to engage you in during June and July, is to ask you to discern what your specific passion is for this place: To reflect and discern on your love for the Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist.

Now being stoic New Englanders, I know that passion is not necessarily our strong suit, especially outward expressions of it. But the kind of passion I am speaking of is not operatic emotionalism. The passion I want you to discern is the powerful, intense, love that is rooted in your heart. The kind of passion that gives meaning and value to life. It is the passion of Michelangelo for his art; of Beethoven for his music; of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Simon Wiesenthal for justice; of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Muktar Bibi for righteousness. It is the passion of the apostles for the Good News of the Gospel given by them by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

The slogan of our Stewardship campaign is, “What is the pearl of great value for you at St. John the Baptist?” That question originates with a parable of Jesus, where he likened the Kingdom of God to a pearl of great value. In that parable Jesus tells of a man who upon discovering that pearl, went and sold all of his possessions, so he could purchase and possess it. I want to embellish on that question, by adding the word passion to it, even though it is already implied - selling all your possessions to own something is pretty passionate!

I want to ask you, What is your passionate pearl of great value at St. John’s? Is it the community you find here? The outreach programs? Our authentic welcome of all people? Our liturgy and music? Our good works? The children? The variety of Christian formation activities we offer? Maybe it’s the church building itself , with it’s lovely carpenter Gothic architecture, elegant stained glass and real pipe organ?

What is the passionate pearl of great value for you in your life at St. John’s?

Here are some of my passionate pearls of great value.

Children. Children and welcoming them into the entirety of our common life: the Lamb’s Corner, Community Day School, Sunday School, regular participation in our worship, Vacation Bible School. Children and coming to the sacramental understanding that they are not the future of the church, but fully part of our present life is a passionate pearl of great value.

Radical hospitality and infinite respect. This is our bishop’s motto for our diocese. But the practice of radical hospitality and infinite respect had rooted and grown here at St. John’s well before he came up with that motto. We are not perfect at it, but compared to many we are authentic in our efforts to gather all of God’s sheep into the fold. I sometimes hear of scuttlebutt here in town about how this parish has gathered in some of the “wrong sheep” or too many of them. That we are too hospitable and too respectful - as if that were possible. But when I hear that, I give thanks that we possess that passionate pearl of great value!

Truth -telling. Truth-telling, even when the truth is inconvenient to tell or to hear. Even when telling the truth may make people angry. Jesus said that, “if [we] continue in his word, [we] are truly his disciples; and [we] will know the truth, and the truth will make [us] free.” (Jn. 8:31b-32) When we strive to tell the truth in love to one another, we loosen those bonds of deceit, denial and despair that enslave us. We become free. Truth is a passionate pearl of great value, that is often purchased at great price.

Liturgy. We have a rich fabric of liturgical practice at St. John’s. From the Elizabethan language of Rite I, to the inclusive language of Enriching Our Worship. From the music of 16th century English composer Thomas Tallis, to the rousing Latino praise song Halle, Halle, Halle. From the traditional richness of a pipe organ, to the rhythmic sounds of bongo and tambourine. From a simple Eucharist shared around a dining table, to the smells and bells, sung Midnight Mass at Christmas. The breath and depth of our liturgical practice and how we come to know God more fully through it, is a passionate pearl of great value.

The “aha” moment. The “aha” moment is that moment of epiphany when someone really gets the Good News. When a person spiritually moves out of darkness into light, and in that moment God transforms their life. Our Adult Inquirer’s Class is fertile ground for “aha” moments. It is why I am passionate about getting people to participate in that class. It is why I am passionate about facilitating it as well. When God acts in “Aha” moments, pearls of great value are strewn about in abundance!

I am passionate about the Good News of the Gospel, which is the greatest pearl of value for me. I am passionate about the Good News, because someone actually sacrificed His life so that I might possess it. I am passionate about the Good News and how it gets played out in our common life at St. John’s, because I know that ultimately it is the only pearl of great value by which you and I will have authentic life. And like the One who died to allow me to possess this pearl, I strive to place it above my political allegiances, social networking, partisan loyalties, need to be liked and accepted, and personal power. It is only by striving to do so, that I realize how precious the pearl of great value the Gospel truly is.

As I reflected on these pearls of mine, I realized that they should never be taken for granted. They come at a great price.

As you reflect on your passionate pearls of great value, do not take them for granted, either. They come at a great price.

One price this parish is being asked to consider paying this year comes in the form of ordained leadership: specifically in the rector’s position. Our financial short-fall is large. Our budget is bare-bones. Our ability to draw down principle from the endowment is running dry. And the rector is the largest expense in the budget. That leaves us with two options: go to a half or two thirds time rector to balance the budget - and half time seems more likely to achieve that goal at this time - or have the parish community cover the budget shortfall by increased giving and bringing in new membership. In dollars this means an additional $35, 000 - $40,000 per year. These numbers will vary, but essentially this translates into a 43% increase over current giving. That’s a challenging amount.

So the ground zero question before us is, Is a full-time rector and the level of priestly presence that brings to the life of the parish and community, a passionate pearl of great value for you? And if so, what are you willing to give, and even to sacrifice, to have it?

On the day of Pentecost tongues of fire came upon the gathered disciples of Jesus and filled them with the Holy Spirit. And they were transformed to a new passionate way of life in the Lord. We learn that, “awe came upon everyone [ who witnessed this event] because many wonders and signs were . . . done by the apostles.” ( Acts 2:43)

Like the tongues of fire of the Holy Spirit that landed on the heads of the disciples on Pentecost, pearls of great value passionately empower us to do God’s work, often against great odds, and to build up God’s reign. I have faith that as we discern our own pearls of great value, we will be filled with God’s empowering Holy Spirit. I believe in my heart that when all is said and done, many will be in awe by the wonders that the people of this parish will bring about, as we address the stewardship of this beloved Church of St. John the Baptist.

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