8 Pentecost Proper 11
Homily by The Rev. Delia Faye
In the early church there were no primary priests that everyone gathered around. There might have been a patron in whose house your met, but they didn't necessarily preside over the worship.
There might be one person who was good at public speaking who preached and another who was good at teaching who taught and another who was good at administration who kept things in order, each according to what ever gifts they brought to the congregation.
Each congregation was self sufficient and most of them were very small—house churches.
They shepherded themselves and took care of themselves.
So we have some of the smaller letters of the New Testament written “To the elect lady and her children,” obviously a house church, from “the elder.” Just an overseer to answer questions that come up. Not someone involved day to day. The congregation ran itself.
Sort of like we do here We're not the average one congregation-one priest model of church. We have people working according to what they are gifted at.
But doing stuff for church takes it out people—people get worn out and tired. We get tired even at things we're good at.
Under the one priest-one congregation model we would look to the priest as someone to talk to and to dump all the cares and concerns on. They would then give spiritual advice and hopefully life would renew itself. That's how that model works—spiritual direction and renewal are often driven by the priest.
But we don't have that model, so are we just out of luck? Do we just wander aimlessly?
The truth is that we've been given a gift if we can grab it. This gift takes work on our part but in the long run is what's best for our church here at St. John's.
We need a shepherd, a leader, of some sort, but we more often than not look in the physical realm for answers when we should be looking in the spiritual realm.
Who is our shepherd? The psalm spells it out: the Lord is my shepherd. And if the Lord is my shepherd then it's up to us to discern where he is leading us.
Praying together and studying together will lead us to know God's will.
But it really is nice to have a physical person to talk to about spiritual matters sometimes, isn't it? There's nothing wrong with that.
We just sometimes look in the wrong places for them. Spiritual people come in many different forms, from priests and monks to neighbors and friends. We need to look for them. They can help us find God's will for us as well.
Ultimately, though, our shepherd is the Lord. If we wander around like a bunch of sheep then we're not listening to our shepherd.
And listening to our shepherd means listening to each other, because God speaks through each one of us. If we are discerning God's will together then we need to be together, each of us contributing a part.
We are all gifted with something the congregation needs. We need to find it and train it and use it.
If we find all our gifts and use them then, in theory, all the needs of the congregation will be met. I say “in theory” because I want to tell the story of Al.
St. James Church had started a vegetable garden to supply fresh food to food pantries. They started small, but the garden doubled in size one year and then doubled the next. It go too large to be run with conventional hand tools.
What to do?
Well, we prayed. If God was going to bless this garden then God needed to send us help. That was our theory.
Several months went by and a new couple showed up at church. They liked us and decided to make us their church home.
They were small farmers. They didn't have huge pieces of equipment, but they did have a small tractor and the attachments to make the garden we had dreamed of.
And Al and his wife brought their gift of farming to us and the rest is history. St. James doesn’t measure garden production in pounds but in tons. They literally produce tones of vegetables for food closets, feeding programs and homeless shelters.
God brought us what we needed through the gifts Al and his wife had. The needs of the congregation were met.
Sometimes congregations have a gift need that isn't right there, but God will provide.
If we say the Lord is our shepherd then we need to believe the whole verse.
“I shall not be in want.”
Our needs will be filled by our loving shepherd.
By praying and studying together we can discern our shepherd's will for us and then get down to doing it. We will not be in want if we align our wills to God's will.
God will provide for our needs if we let him. We can't identify a need and then decide that we're going to fulfill it when we can't.
Maybe we don't have someone who is skilled and gifted at hospitality. Someone tries to make up the difference but keeps forgetting it's their turn to help at coffee hour. Hospitality starts to fall through the cracks. Tempers get short and problems happen.
“Can't you write it down?”
“Can't you just remember when your turn is?”
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, but it's up to us to help each other not to get caught in that trap. If the gift is not there, then either we don't need it or we pray it into existence. We don't try to force things.
The Lord is our shepherd, and we need to follow him in all that we do but especially as a congregation. Finding and doing his will means praying and studying together and listening to each other.
The Lord is our shepherd, we shall not be in want. Once we align our wills with God's will then our wants align with his will as well.
The Lord is our shepherd. It is to him we look for guidance.