In Community (Annual Meeting Rector’s Address) – The Rev. Michelle Meech
January 29, 2023
I think if I could choose 2 passages from all of scripture that summed up what I think being a Christian is really about – it would be this passage from Micah and the Sermon on the Mount, taken today from Matthew’s Gospel.
God asks the people in Micah: “O my people, what have I done to you? In what way have I wearied you? Answer me!” And God then goes down the list of all the ways that God has saved Israel… and still, they are not content. They want to be something they are not. They want a status that they imagine they deserve, a status based on the world’s standards. This is what they call salvation and they are insulted that this is not what God is giving them.
And God responds: “O my people, what have I done to you? In what way have I wearied you? Answer me!”
Micah was a prophet of Israel who lived at the same time as the prophet Isaiah, that is, when the Northern Kingdom fell. We may recall that the Nation of Israel was formed out of the 12 tribes of Israel and due to political reasons, the nation split into the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom. As Micah observed the devastation and death brought upon his siblings to the north, he prophesied that the Southern Kingdom would fall too… which it did about 150 years later.
When we look at this passage through this lens, we can begin to understand that Micah is offering a critique of the pomposity, arrogance, and self-righteousness displayed by the leaders of both kingdoms in failing to realize that they are one another’s keepers. And, especially as a citizen of the Southern Kingdom, from the small town outside of Jerusalem called Moresheth-gath, Micah was looking to Jerusalem – the holy city, the center of their common life as Jews – Micah was looking to Jerusalem and saying: God is asking this, my brothers and sisters: Why would we think God would give us special protection because the performance of our sacrifices follow some kind of arbitrary clerical code when we haven’t made the real sacrifice of ourselves?
In Micah’s words: “God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God. That’s it.
I have often thought that I wish it were just this easy to be church together. In some ways it is. It is just this easy to follow Jesus. But we also believe, as Christians, that we are called to do this in community – as the Body of Christ – together. To learn more and more how to walk this path. To find evidence of it in our ministry together. To remind ourselves and to humble ourselves. And, most importantly, to learn to let God lead us instead of insisting on the way we think it should be. This is always our challenge as church. And this will always be our challenge. To surrender our status, surrender our plans and our hopes and our nostalgic dreams of what was… and instead, see what God has in store for us now… today.
In my Rector’s Report, which you can read through at your leisure, you will read a lot about sustainability and change. St. John’s is in the midst of change as is most of the church right now. As a matter of fact, we have been in the midst of this change for a number of years. And now, one might say that the Northern Kingdom has fallen so we are called to see what is happening and respond appropriately. I don’t want this to sound like the apocalypse. This is not a doomsday scenario by any stretch of the imagination.
But things change. Things have changed and are still changing. The world does not stay the same. And we worship God who loves us into being, into becoming who we are called to be at every moment of every day. We may feel bad that things change. We may be upset or angry. We may grieve. We may try to cling to an image of something that no longer is or yearn for a status that we feel we deserve based on the world’s standards.
But Christian hope is something we are reminded of every year at Christmas and it is defined in a very simple sentence: God is with us.
God is with us. And God is doing something with us in the midst of this change. If we cling too tightly to the way we wish things were, we will find ourselves adrift. But if we choose to, we can see change as an incredible opportunity for personal growth, for congregational growth, and for the deepening of our faith.
The Vestry has been doing enormously difficult work this past year looking at ways to faithfully discern God’s call to us as a congregation. A part of that work has been to explore collaboration with 2 congregations. I’m glad to say that in our conversations, we have deepened our relationships with both of them – HCSC here in Kingston and AHT in West Park. And we have also begun to work as a larger deanery of small congregations here in Ulster County, learning how to get out of our own silos so that we can share ministry, resources, and life together… rather than recreating the wheel in each of our separate buildings.
Mostly, the St. John’s Vestry has resumed the task of taking a long hard look at our finances by the calling of a Sustainability Task Force – a small group of leaders who have already begun to look at all of our assets – financial, real estate, personnel – and make recommendations to the Vestry that seek to sustain our ministry as St. John’s looks towards its third century of life.
We began this work in early 2020, right before the pandemic hit. And, like everyone else, we were suddenly in crisis mode – trying to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe while still doing what we could to be a community of Christians here in Kingston. Now that the pandemic has lifted significantly because of the amazing work of science and medicine, we must resume this work.[At this point, Wes Dangler reported on the finances of St. John’s and Liz Moeller talked about the work of the Sustainability Task Force. To access the 2022 reports and minutes from the meeting, click here.]
Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with our God. This is the essence of the Gospel. As is the Sermon on the Mount, of course – Jesus’ keynote address at the party convention. If the Disciples had an annual meeting, I think Jesus would have given this as his address.
Jesus talks about choices in this message to his followers that day. Choosing to discern, to listen, to become, to take on the efforts that God is calling forth from them. To bring them to fruition and become a community based in love, fed by the light of Christ. To become the Beloved Community.
In this, and only in this, do we understand what salvation really is. Salvation is never about us as individuals. Salvation is always about community. My salvation is bound up in yours. This has always been and will always be the truth. We don’t do life alone… although, admittedly, there are times when having some time to myself is deeply appealing. But even when I find myself needing to push the world away, I always feel the pull to be back in community. It’s simple, my salvation is bound up in yours.
Now, I will leave it to you to read the Rector’s Report in your packet, along with all the other reports the leaders of St. John’s have taken the time to write for you. But I do want to take the time now to highlight one piece for the coming year.
This truth that I just spoke about – that our salvation is bound up in the salvation of one another, is a truth I will endeavor to remind us of often as we embark on some very important work – the work of Racial Reconciliation. I spoke about this in the newsletter this past week and about the realization that Racial Reconciliation and Anti-Racism work is not a program. It’s not a book you can read. It’s the work of a lifetime. Just as I mentioned that we had begun to work on our financial situation right before the pandemic hit, it is true that we were getting ready to do this work at the same time – 2020.
Now it’s time to continue. Using a model given to us by the Episcopal Church Office’s Committee on Racial Reconciliation, called Becoming Beloved Community, we will move through a year of 4 tasks: telling the truth, proclaiming the dream, repairing the breach, and practicing the way.
These tasks don’t happen in any particular order, rather they will all be happening at the same time. It’s why they chose the image of the labyrinth for this work – we come to this work where we are and the path appears before us. I’ll be talking a lot more about this in the coming weeks but please do take a hand-out from the pocket on the bulletin board and begin familiarizing yourself with the materials. The Ulster Deanery is planning a Lenten teaching series based on this that will occur over Zoom. We will be able to spend time in community with the members of other congregations as we learn.
I ask you to join me in this work.
Finally, I want to thank 2 people from the depths of my heart – Lynn Dennison and Claudette Ford.
Both of these people have been the Wardens of St. John’s for the past 3 years through an incredibly challenging time – not just for the community of St. John’s and, well, the world… but they have been through a lot in their own lives as well. Yet, they always showed up to the very best of their ability, demonstrating wisdom, faith, commitment, humor, and sometimes incredulity at something I was suggesting. They are honest and forthright. They are kind and compassionate. And they work well together.
I know that I have said this at every Annual Meeting since the pandemic began, but I could never say it enough. Thank you, Lynn. Thank you, Claudette.
And thank you to all our leaders of St. John’s!