St. John’s Episcopal Church
207 Albany Avenue, Kingston, NY 12401


  • This Is Your Ministry – The Rev. Michelle Meech

    August 27, 2023

    I watched a movie recently, called Thanks for Sharing. The movie was about addiction and the miraculous work done by people in 12-step programs. Miraculous because it changes lives. Work because it’s not easy – it’s the hardest thing that these folks have ever done in their lives.

    As in all 12-step programs, the characters in the movie learn what service means, to be there for one another in our darkest places. Picking up the phone. Texting. Meeting up for coffee. Because members of 12-step groups know that, in helping someone else from slipping, they are saving themselves from the same fate. Our liberation is bound up together.

    One of the characters in the movie who was new to the program was having a really tough time and she reached out for the first time. And someone was there. After they talked for a few minutes, she said to her new friend, “Y’know, as soon as you picked up the phone, I felt better.”

    It’s transformational… to be that invested in someone else’s liberation. To be that vulnerable and yet that powerful at the same time. To know that we need one another so much and yet know that just showing up for one another is the most powerful, the most liberating act anyone in this world could ever do.

    In today’s gospel reading, we have a strange and iconic encounter between Jesus and his disciples. Jesus asks the disciples, these people who have been following him and calling him rabbi, Jesus asks these followers, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter responds, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Both titles, one a Hebrew title, the other a Roman title, are royal titles, describing a ruler or divine leader. The Messiah, of course, meaning the anointed one. And Jesus announces that his church will be built upon this foundation – the foundation of Peter’s faith. And he will give that church the keys to the kingdom.

    Christ gives the keys of the kingdom to Peter by Bertel Thorvaldsen

    I think it’s important to understand that the definition of “church” here, is not how we define it 2000 years later. It’s not this massive institution and it’s certainly not this building. The word in Matthew’s gospel that is translated to the English “church” is the Greek word ekklesia, which is a word that means “those who are called out.”

    It’s like that children’s rhyme –
    Here’s the church, here’s the steeple,
    Open up the door, here’s the people.

    It’s the people part. This is what Jesus meant when he was talking to Peter.  This is the Body of Christ. This is ekklesia. The people called out to do God’s work in the world. God’s work of liberation.

    It’s why we have a dismissal at the end of our worship, “Let us go forth to love and serve the Lord.” What we’re really saying is, let us go forth and get busy with God’s work of liberating one another. Because this is what it means to be the church.

    One of the archbishops of the Church of England, William Temple is famous for saying something like this: the church is the only organization who exists for those who are not its members.

    We exist as the church to be formed by the life of our community so that we can become the Body of Christ. We come together to be formed as the ekklesia, To be formed as those who are called out into the world.

    And if we are going to be the ekklesia, then, it matters that we come to church, that we have a place to be called out from. It matters a lot – especially right now because there are forces at work in our culture that are truly evil and that, to be blunt, require exorcism. Hate and bigotry have no place when God has formed us all in the very image of God. So we come to be formed by community, to be reconciled to God’s Love at this Table, and to be nourished by the word of God present and alive in our worship.

    But more than simply coming to church, I think it matters that we understand our directive “to be called out” from this place and we take it to heart. I think it matters that we leave worship, we leave this place, and we remember our baptismal vows – to pray, to worship, to forgive and repent, to love, and to strive for justice. I think it matters that we truly understand and accept the responsibility we have to one another. To liberate one another from the darkest places of our lives. Remembering that in so doing, we are liberated too.

    Paul tells us today, in his letter to the Romans,
    “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God– what is good and acceptable and perfect.

     And Paul goes on to tell us that we have been empowered, not to be God but to surrender ourselves in service to God so that God may act through us. Because we are called as Christians, to recognize our vulnerability and our power so that we can be the Body of Christ.

    So here we are – the church. And the work seems endless.

    • Anti-racism work, women’s right to healthcare, refugee work, immigrant work, gay and transgender rights
    • Those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or who are lonely, depressed, or suicidal.
    • Teenagers who are bullied, or who do the bullying. People who are trapped in an abusive situation.
    • The person who doesn’t make a living wage. The person who has no where to sleep.
    • Learning about and committing to sustainable ways of living or lobbying for sweeping changes to the laws governing climate-related issues.

    The list is endless, even in a culture as wealthy as ours… or, perhaps, because our culture is so wealthy… we have an endless list of “others” – those who are left out, an endless list of people who we believe are just on the short end of the stick. Who just need to work harder.

    I honestly think we believe that we are in control of our own destiny. And, therefore, we have no responsibility to anyone in our lives but ourselves. And, if these “others” could just take control of their own destiny, if they would just pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, they would also be doing ok. This is what we learn in our capitalist, patriarchal culture, is it not? That’s the cultural ethic, right?

    Whether it’s a belief in karma or the prosperity gospel, sometimes I think we believe if God wanted them to be better off, God would have made sure that happened. And, so we leave it to God instead of taking a place in someone else’s life.

    And Paul says, “do not be conformed by this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds…”

    Today’s reading from the Book of Exodus – the midwives defied the law in order to serve God. Sometimes that’s what’s required.

    This is why 12-step programs are so miraculous. Because these people have been transformed by the renewing of their minds, coming to recognize the liberation in surrendering their power and taking responsibility for one another. Because these people know what truly dark places are. Because these people know, “as soon as you picked up the phone, I felt better.”

    My point is this, my beloveds: We are Christians.
    We believe that the Son of Man is the Son of God.
    We believe the incarnation actually matters and the power we have to show up for one another as incarnate beings actually matters. We have heard Jesus tell us in the Gospel of John that we will do greater things than he ever did. We believe that God works through us and that we are called out as the ekklesia, as the church, to be of service to one another.

    I had a professor in seminary named John Kater. He preached a sermon that still sticks with me. He said our call as Christians, is to stand in the crossroads. To stand where we can see both the broken state of the world and the blessed Reign of God – at the same time. We are called to stand here and witness and to participate in reconciling the one with the other.

    It’s an enormous task, I know. It’s an endless list, as you know.
    And sometimes it’s all we can do to get through our own day.

    But Paul says, “do not be conformed by this world…”
    Because you are called to ministry as a baptized member of the Body of Christ. You are called to carry on the work of Christ in this world, to make God’s mission of liberation a true possibility. To show up for others in their darkest places.

    So here it is: don’t get overwhelmed by the big picture of all of it, just focus on one thing as an individual person. We have a mission as the community of St. John’s. But as an individual, you are called to a particular ministry wherever your heart beats. What is it that brings you to your knees? What is it that breaks your heart wide open?

    This is where you start. This is where liberation always starts – love God.  Love your neighbor as yourself. This is where you stand as a witness in the crossroads, where you can see the state of the world and the Reign of God at the same time. And this is there you offer yourself to your siblings.

    This is where you offer yourself as a sacrifice to God. This is your ministry.