May the Meditations of our Hearts Always be Acceptable in Your Sight (The Grace Vestry, read by Sally Hanson)
Yesterday, the Grace Church Vestry got together for our Annual Retreat. We spent half a day praying, talking, and getting to know one another better. (Did you know that the mother of Grace’s newest set of twins once danced on stage with the Dropkick Murphys? Or that your Deacon worked on the Apollo program? Or that Stephanie Zichichi met the Six Million Dollar Man?)
The theme of our retreat was “Being attentive to our mission and our people.” Reverend Deb chose this topic because she was concerned that, despite our best efforts, the pandemic has made it difficult to communicate as clearly with one another as we would like. She wanted us to think about how we understand our ministry at Grace – and how we can talk about it with our fellow parishioners. She also decided that we should share what we figured out with you by having one of us give the sermon today. I drew the short straw.
One of the things the vestry does at all of our retreats is to look at where we’ve been before talking about where we are going. We always start with the data from the Search Committee, moving forward in time to look at our most recent mutual ministry review, and the mission and vision statements of the congregation. We talked about how the decisions we make now should reflect the mission statement created by the vestry in 2017 and the vision statement crafted by 2018’s vestry. Then we considered the vestry’s last retreat in 2019 and what our plans had been then and how much those plans have changed because of the pandemic.
We talked about how the pandemic has made all of us anxious and worried, especially the things we love most. Grace parishioners have always loved being together. We love our coffee hours, our 8 o’clock breakfasts, and our St. Patrick’s Day Dinners. We like taking care of each other by showing up with casseroles and cards. We like turning up at church to weed the flower beds and drop off papers towels when we buy extra at Costco. So, we don’t like not being able to see each other in person. We don’t like people taking out the rose bushes when we’re not at church. We don’t like it when it feels like people are making important decisions behind our backs. Basically, we don’t like change. Change makes us anxious. How many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb? Change! We don’t want change! My grandmother donated that light bulb!
We understand. We also understand that we have a responsibility to you: to discern and carry out the will of God for Grace Church Martinez. We represent you and we want to hear from you – to know your concerns and listen to your ideas and answer your questions. But our primary task is trying to figure out the mind of Christ for the life of this parish. As one vestry member put it, “We need to let people know that as a vestry we don’t all agree when we talk about stuff; we all have different viewpoints, and we bring those to the meetings and our decision making. Sometimes hearing someone else’s point of view helps clarify our own point of view. We’re open to listening to each other to come to decisions as a group. We don’t agree every time on every decision, but we work together to figure it out.” Or as someone else put it, “We work on agreement. No one has an agenda; we have ideas that inform the discussion, and we build on those and chart our way forward with them.” Another vestry member said, “I look at myself as a servant to our community but also look at all of us on the vestry as God’s servants. Sometimes God’s concerns have to come before human concerns. We have to discern what is true, but it’s never going to be the easy road.”
It’s pretty clear that God knows that human beings have trouble agreeing a lot of the time. That’s why he’s always sending us laws to help us get along. Today we heard about what are probably the most famous of those laws, the ten commandments. Laws are good because they give us guidelines that help us to love God and our neighbors. That’s why in our work making important decisions about the future of Grace, like whether to try to develop the Upper Lot, we have carefully followed the rules and designations within the Church. But our scripture also says that the foolishness of God is greater than any wisdom of human beings. For example, someone may think that trying to develop the Upper Lot is foolish, but if you discern that God is calling us to do it, then God’s wisdom is greater than any of our wisdom. God asks us to use our dreams, wishes, and desires to make the world a better place and to enlarge our faith.
We depend on faith. It is what Jesus asks of all of us. Of course it is easier when having faith means walking a familiar path and knowing what’s at the other end of it, but that’s not enough. That’s what happened with the people in the temple in Jerusalem. Those people were not bad. They were just caught up in earthly things. There’s value in tradition and ritual to provide a framework to get something out of what we do, but that’s not the church. Church is the tools we use to do what we need to do for ourselves and our community. Just because something’s changed about how we use those tools doesn’t mean it’s broken, but that we need to pave a new path. Paving a new path can be scary. It requires faith. It requires us to lean on one another. It requires us to remember that with Jesus all things are possible.
We believe that the community of Grace has the courage, the strength, and the love to continue to walk the road that Jesus has laid before us, even if it is not the same path we started on. We believe that when we follow the law of the Lord it will not just guide us, it will set us free and enable us to take off without anxiety into the future that is meant for us as people of Grace.
May the words of our mouths and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our Redeemer. AMEN.