Have you ever noticed the collect, the prayer that the officiant says before the scripture readings at each of our Sunday services? Each week it is different and it is thematically related to the readings that have been appointed for the day. These prayers are all encompassing and audacious. They are meant to “collect” the intentions of the Gospel and give us words to reach out to God and ask for help doing all that we are called to do.
Today, our prayer was about outreach and ministry in the world. We prayed to God that “through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion.” Today, we are praying for our calling, for the unique and expansive ministry that every baptized Christian has to bring God’s love to the world.
Easy to say and hard to do. As a community and as individuals, we are always working on figuring out where we are called and what we should do in our world. It’s about translating our experience of holiness, of God, and bringing it to the world.
I just finished a great autobiography by a tattooed and leather-clad cat behaviorist named Jackson Galaxy. He has a TV show on the animal planet called “My Cat from Hell.” In his book, which is called Cat Daddy, he talked about how he found his work with animals. At the very end of the book, he offered this advice based on his experience of finding and doing what he feels meant to do:
“Take the love you feel for one and love all. The process, I’m here to say, is terrifying. Loving the world is not like the trust fall you did in EST, summer camp, or your last corporate retreat; loving the world is far bigger than that, far riskier, and far more impossible.”
I agree with Jackson that loving the world is big and risky, but I don’t think it’s impossible…because we have God in our lives and, as Jesus said in the Gospel, with God all things are possible.
The secret,I think, is figuring out where to start. All of us are called to change the world. And if calling is an outgrowth of our relationship with God, then ministry is an outgrowth of relationship with other people, animals, and all of creation. When we find what inspires passion within us, that’s where we need to begin. Next, we work to find out what the world needs. Where is the hunger, where is the pain, where is the need? Then we look around and find others that share that passion and invite them to join us.
We have a visitor with us today, a member of the Transfiguration Episcopal Church in San Mateo. Her name is Jenn Robinson and she owns store called Dream Dinners where people come and make meals for their families. It’s a business based on the idea that sitting down together to share food nourishes the body but also nourishes the spirit. It builds bonds in families and between friends. It’s a business, but it’s also a ministry.
Sometime last year, she talked to me about a grant proposal she was preparing—to get a grant to do a two hour event to fight hunger. On August 13th, a whole bunch of people are going to get together and package up 45,000 meals. They are going to be shared with children and families right here in San Mateo county and also families in Haiti. Think about that: 45,000 meals in two hours. Epiphany’s outreach commission is going to help sponsor the event and some of us will have the opportunity join in that ministry to share the blessing that occurs when people are able to sit down with people they love and share a nourishing meal.
The lucky thing about being part of a community like Epiphany is that we have many opportunities to enter into different kinds of ministry. Some love renovating houses with Rebuilding Together. Others support Home and Hope by helping to host our homeless guests who live in our parish halls while they work toward permanent homes. Still others are part of the Epiphany Prayer Network, and pray for any who want or need prayers. Others have worked to on the capital campaign to help get the word out about the ways that Epiphany hopes to maintain and improve our church and buildings to make it more welcoming and to support ministry better. The list goes on and on.
Truly it is an embarrassment of riches. Our job then is not do do it all, to tackle every ministry, but rather to discern what each of us are called to do, what ministry suits us and makes us more of who we are.
I was reading a book this week called the Five Love Languages of Teenagers by Gary Chapman. This is part of a series of books that talk about the different ways that each of us communicate love to our spouses, children, etc. It occurred to me, though, that framework is also useful in this discussion of ministry.
Chapman talks about how, when we use the love language that matches the needs of people that we care about, then their love tank gets full. In the same way, when we engage in ministry in a way that matches our natural talents to the needs of the world then we are actively filling the world’s love tank with God’s love.
Let’s talk about the five love languages.
- Gifts: Sometimes we need something concrete to demonstrate the care we have, the love we are offering. We know about that in church. It’s the money we put into the plate during collection. It’s the cookies we bring to coffee hour. It’s the meals we make when someone is ill.
- Quality time: In the busy modern world, this one is challenging for us, but is perhaps the most rewarding. This may be time spent in worship, in study, or even the work we do on are parish work days. It’s the time the youth spends together when they gather for Seekers.
- Words of affirmation: Some people feel most loved when they hear in words, specifically, that they are important and loved. When we go into the chapel for healing prayer, we are recognizing out loud that God cares about us and is a healing presence in our world. It’s what we preach in our pulpit and its the things we say to each other at coffee hour.
- Acts of service: Some people feel most loved when someone cares for them with helpful action. I could list a million examples that happen in this community every day. We offer each other rides, we call and check in, we offer to do whatever we can to help…and people feel loved.
- Physical touch: Some people feel most connected through touch. It might be a comforting hug, or a hand on the shoulder. It might be laying on of hands in prayer, or the touch that goes along with receiving the bread or the cup in Eucharist.
In this church, we are a community and we do love each other… and we make sure that those in this community know that they are loved in ways that are meaningful to them. We are really good at love in this community. But it’s not enough. We are called to find ways to take all of these kinds of love to the world.
Today’s Gospel reading touches each and every one of the love languages. Let me tell you more about what i mean. In this scripture, there is definitely a lesson about hospitality and about forgiveness, but even more I think this story is about love.
A woman learned that Jesus was sharing a meal with one of the Pharisees. Through some sort of discernment, she decides that she must meet him. Although she is an outcast, she goes to the dinner with an alabaster jar of ointment and bathes his feet with her tears and dries the with her hair. In this one tableaux, we have FOUR kinds of love: She takes the time to go and be with him. She offers him the gift of the expensive ointment. She offers an act of service in washing his feet. and she connects with him through touch, the touch of her hands, and her kisses on his feet, and the touch of her hair on his skin. Jesus responds back, not in any of love languages that he received, but instead in the one that he knows will feed her soul and fill her heart. He uses words of affirmation. He says to her: “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” And with those words, i’m sure her love tank filled to overflowing.
Let me share again the words of Jackson Galaxy: “Take the love you feel for one and love all.” That is ministry and that is outreach. Love the world with your gifts, with your time, with your words, with your service and with your touch. Love the world until it is filled to overflowing…. That is what we are called to be and to do.
Preached by the Rev. Hailey McKeefry Delmas on Sunday, June 12, 2016 at the Church of the Epiphany, San Carlos, CA.