Thank you for the opportunity to preach in the kick-off of the celebration of the Emmanuel’s centennial. Amy and I have been a part of this community since the late 80’s and we sometimes like to look at it as if we have been ‘on loan’ twice, most recently for a long deployment in Wisconsin. I know my bishop might look at it another way, but..
I am currently serving as the Deacon at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church a small church in Watertown and at St. Francis, House the University of Wisconsin Student Ministry. Amy is supporting me in those ministries and has her own ministries at Good Shephard Episcopal Church in Sun Prairie.
When I was writing to Mother Beth about coming down to Champaign, I thanked her for the opportunity to return to our spiritual home – here. Through our experiences we have seen things greater than we could have imagined.
This community of disciples has shaped my family and me over the years and we are glad to be back to celebrate this anniversary with you.
I have a confession to make. Amy and I started this celebration a little early, a pre-party. We met with a group at one of the local wine shops and told stories on Friday night. Our stories were mostly about Page Parkhill, a dear friend of ours and this community. Those stories will be told again as we celebrate her life in the coming weeks and as we celebrate the anniversary of this place in the coming year. Page and the countless other disciples have played a role in our lives and of this community in ways we could not imagine.
The Old Testament and Gospel readings from scripture for this morning are perfect stories for starting off this celebration. Last week we shared the story of Jesus’ baptism, a sacrament we share in today, our common bond. This week and next week in the gospel, we share the stories of Jesus calling his disciples.
This is the greater community we have been called to be a part. Though Jesus has not physically walked up to us and say, “Follow me”, each of us became a disciple when we shared in baptism. Each of us was found and like Nathanael continue to see things greater than we could have imagined.
Think about when the cornerstone was first laid here, and the building began to appear to rise out of the ground.
Could the members of this community at that time imagined what would occur in and outside these walls?
Our community of disciples is now celebrating 100 years of that ministry together in this place and continues to see things it could not have imagined back then.
Nathanael and the other disciples went on to see things that they could not have imagined. They watched as Jesus established God’s new covenant with not only the people of Israel but with all people.
They watched him be exalted, condemned and then die. They also watched and were witnesses to his resurrection and ascension. These were all things they could not imagine on their own, some hard but others amazing.
Our ministry here is a resurrection ministry, in which we celebrate the joy that Jesus was raised from the dead and that we share in that eternal life.
We like the disciples and those members who were here when the cornerstone was laid, keep seeing things we could not have imagined, sometimes good and sometimes not so good.
Our experiences as a part of this community have reinforced that joy in our spiritual life and our lives outside these doors. Whether it was through
- Worship and kids skipping back from the communion rail
- Handing out Meals on Wheels
- youth coming home from camp bubbling about their experiences
- a homeless person leaving with lunch for the day,
- taking out the collection of decorated eggs at Easter, or
- gathering around someone in need to support them
Amy’s and my story includes two times where we have been taken other places from here and seen things we would not have imagined. After spending our first three years here, we were sent to Saudi Arabia we saw the aftermath of war but we also saw something else.
There, we worshiped underground since non-Muslim worship was banned. On the months we led services as part of a protestant community, we used the Prayer Book Liturgy, which our British members loved. We also saw the divisions between denominations disappear in that environment. Our experiences included a young Southern Baptist boy being baptized in the compound swimming pool by an Pentecostal Army Chaplin using examination of candidates in the Book of Common Prayer, that unity was a cause for joy and celebration in that place.
I also had some interesting discussions with my Saudi counterparts on living out our faiths. The most interesting was comparing our theology of fasting when Lent and Ramadan coincided when we were there.Our time here as part of this community of disciples beforehand and the prayers from you all while we were there, helped sustain us and make our experience different than for many others who were there with us.
Now the Old Testament lesson speaks to especially me, and maybe to many of us on our journeys. Young Samuel hears a call but keeps going to Eli to get an answer. He was not truly listening. It wasn’t until Eli told Samuel to stop and say, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” that Samuel was able to hear what God was saying.
100 years ago God spoke to a group of Episcopalians in this little city and led them to replace a building damaged by fire with this place. I am sure a couple had to be called more than once, but they listened. Thanks to their listening, they and we continue to see things that could have not been imagined.
The second part of Amy and my story brought us back here for 12 years this time. We were able to raise both our children here and have Amy’s mom and dad join us while we were here, and they were still with us. Then we were asked (called) to go to Wisconsin, a place we lovingly call the Frozen Tundra.
When we left for Wisconsin we left with that same sense of celebration and joy as disciples, and knowledge that this community was with us. We also carried many memories and friendships which have sustained us over the years. Again, we could not have imagined what we would see.
After a time in Madison, my combined experiences, began to make me think I was being prepared for something.
My Samuel moment was after a funeral banquet where I had a conversation in the church kitchen with a newly ordained priest which caused me to stop and say, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”
I listened (finally after 50 some-odd years!) and that is the journey brought me here today. This journey that was shepherded and guided in many ways by this community. You instilled in us a passion for being a disciple and a sense of joy and faith in all that Amy and I do. We can’t express how grateful we are to you all. This is a time to reflect and tell the stories of things that could not have been imagined. The impact of the work and prayers here stretches far beyond the walls of this building in ways, many of which, we will never know.
Most important, our time of celebration is when we remember that we are disciples of Jesus and it is a resurrection discipleship, rejoicing in the joy that we have been assured of eternal life through our Lord and Savior.
It is our job to share that message these beyond walls. So as this celebration continues, take the time to
- tell those stories
- to remember the things which could not have been imagined
- to share
- to act on behalf of others