Of all the churches that I have served, St. Bart’s has a special place in my heart, not only because of all that we have done together but for the dear people who have been (and are) members of this church. It was a privilege for me to be your priest, and it’s good to be with you now.
Those of you receiving my blog may know that after 34 years of being together, our daughter Allison, who has Down syndrome, is now a resident at Treasure House in Glendale, Arizona.
Treasure House is a beautiful new community for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities founded by Kurt and Brenda Warner. Kurt, football fans will know, is the former quarterback of the Arizona Cardinals. When the couple could not find any suitable place for their son Zachary, they had a dream about starting a residence where Zachary and others could flourish in a community of love, support and acceptance. As committed Christians, they found a verse in scripture that spoke to them about their dream. It was Matthew 6:21. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Based on that verse, they named the new community Treasure House.
Kurt and Brenda Warner believe deeply that every human being is a treasure. Every human being is unique. We all have our strengths, and we all have our challenges. But we are all precious children of God, no exceptions. I think of Treasure House as a shelter for the heart that reflects today’s gospel passage on the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
Treasure House has turned out to be a treasure for Allison and her parents – as well as for the other 24 residents who now live there. I thank God that Kurt and Brenda had a dream for such a community. Their hope is to extend that dream to other parts of the country. God knows it is needed.
We all need a dream, don’t we? You remember George Bernard Shaw’s famous line: “Some people see things as they are and ask, ‘Why?’ Others see things as they can be and ask, ‘Why not?’”
Every great venture in history begins with a dream. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream that someday black children and white children would live together in freedom and dignity. Mother Teresa had a dream to care for the dying and the poorest of the poor in the streets of Calcutta. Dorothy Day had a dream to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless in houses of hospitality, which led to the Catholic Worker Movement. Jesus had a dream of the reign of God on earth, and today the Christian Church continues his dream with almost 2 ½ billion members around the world.
Let me tell you about another dream. Back in May 1959, a group of people got together in Poway, California, a rural community north of San Diego, where there were probably as many horses as there were cars.
They met in a home to discuss forming an Episcopal mission church. Ten months later, on February 28, 1960, the first worship service was held in what is now the Hamburger Factory. Eventually, the church rented two storefronts in Old Poway. The sign out front read “Liquor, Antiques, The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.”
From that humble beginning, the church grew and grew until it finally moved to the present location in 1968. Today St. Bartholomew’s is one of the bright lights in the Episcopal Church. It has been blessed with a fine line of rectors – Ed Mullins my predecessor, Fred Thayer my successor, and now Mark McCone-Sweet. Look at how far this church has come over the years – like a little mustard seed growing into a giant bush – St. Bart’s has come a long way in 60 years – and unlike many churches today, the trajectory of this church is not downward but upward. The best years are yet to come.
That’s why, when Bill Angus shared with me the news of yet another capital campaign, I was not surprised. Growing, faithful churches are always having capital campaigns to expand the kingdom and share the gospel. After all, the church is here to reach out to others with the same love and acceptance our great God has for us. Remember Archbishop William Temple’s famous maxim: “The church exists for the benefit of those who do not belong to its membership.” Bill Burrill, my former bishop, would always remind us, “The church that lives to itself dies by itself.” William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, was once asked to describe his ministry. He replied with one word: “Others!”
William Booth had a dream of reaching the poor of London. Our dream should be reaching out to the people right here in Poway, Rancho Bernardo, Scripps Ranch and other communities in San Diego County.
And you are doing that right now. You are changing the world – one life at a time. Here in this church the presence of God is experienced, the gospel proclaimed and people living on the raw edge of human need feel support and caring. Here in this church is comfort for those who mourn, hope for those who despair, and strength for those who feel weak. Think about it: the church nourishes us, shapes us, inspires us, and weeps with us. This is the love that we all need, and no one should be without.
Above all, this church has an abiding commitment that the good news of Jesus is still worth sharing. Jesus, it’s all about Jesus, isn’t it? The late management scholar Peter Drucker was fond of asking every company executive, “What’s your business?” That’s a good question for every church. Just what is our business?
I submit that our business is to transform lives in Jesus. The church exists to help people encounter God, experience God, come to know, love and serve God in ways they cannot do apart from the church. Yes, we are in the God business – the Jesus business – the life transformation business.
You are here at St. Bart’s today because in some way God has touched your life, perhaps in a way you may find hard to explain. You come here hoping for a word of encouragement and you leave strengthened for the journey of living another week. Here you can face tomorrow in the power of God’s love. Here you find a place of grace for everyone willing to live with grace towards everyone in need of grace. In this church, you find a community that appeals to our better angels rather than to our worst instincts, a community that draws the circle wide so that no one is ever left out or shut out.
God knows, our country needs this kind of church where the love of Jesus draws people together rather than sets them apart – a church that affirms every human being as a precious child of God and of infinite worth. Quite simply, what this church offers, is too important for the world not to have.
But I am not going to fool you. To be this kind of church is not easy. There are enormous challenges for the Episcopal Church as we minister in a highly secular, multicultural world where the solutions of 40 or 50 years ago simply do not work anymore. In case you haven’t noticed, this is not the 1950s when people flocked to church. Today the church needs to go to people, engage them on their own terms, listen to what they have to say, address their issues, meet their needs and speak their language.
As I say, we have our challenges. But this much I know: God never gives us a mission without giving us the resources to carry out that mission. Never limit God because God never limits us. The key is to keep faithful, be hopeful and focus on the mission to transform lives in Jesus.
When I was a young priest in upstate New York, I divided my time between serving two small churches and being a municipal hearing examiner for the City of Rochester. Because of my legal background, I got asked to be on the Board of Directors of the Bishop Sheen Housing Foundation.
One very cold and snowy night about two weeks before Christmas, I gave a presentation to a vestry on a proposal to build a housing complex for temporary residents on church property.
When the presentation ended, one man spoke up. “I oppose this project,” he said. “The church should not be in the housing business. We have better things to do with our property.”
There was silence in the room. I could feel the tension. Finally, another man, who I sensed was struggling with the issue, spoke up. He turned to the other man and said, “I disagree with you. Christ is coming in a few weeks, and maybe this church will offer him shelter.”
A motion was made and seconded. The proposal passed. The following Christmas that church sheltered 28 residents out of the cold.
The church is so much more than bricks and mortar. The church is about people becoming alive together in Jesus, showing the same love and acceptance for others that our great God has for us.
I read of a sign over an Italian hotel that had once served as a hospital. The words on the sign said: “To heal sometimes, to comfort often, to care always.” I can’t think of a better description of the church – healing hurts, meeting needs, sharing the love of Jesus.
I began this sermon by sharing how Kurt and Brenda Warner had a dream to start a community called Treasure House. Let me end by sharing the story of another man’s dream.
Jean Vanier came from a distinguished Canadian family. His father Georges was the Governor General of Canada. Jean Vanier himself began his career as a naval officer and then as an up-and-coming philosopher at the University of Toronto. But increasingly he desired to follow Jesus in a deeper way. That happened in August 1964, when he invited two men who had been living in an institution for people with mental disabilities to share a house with him in a French village. He named his little community L’Arche, like Noah’s Ark, and within a year the community started to grow, and today there are 132 similar communities in 34 countries, including the United States.
How did he do it?
Jean Vanier looked back on the founding of L’Arche and said that sometimes if the prayer is deep enough and the faith strong enough, decisions which seem irrational are bathed with a kind of wonder.
Heather, Allison and I were invited to have dinner at a L’Arche community when we lived in London, Ontario. After dinner, the residents and staff from the three houses gathered together for a worship service in a large living room. There was a simple liturgy, with residents playing instruments, singing songs, praying and being so attentive to God. At the intercessions, many of the residents prayed aloud for someone or some cause. One of the staff, a dear woman, announced to the group that she had been diagnosed with cancer and was going to have a breast removed in the next week. She then said that whatever might happen, she trusted God with the outcome. Immediately after her sharing, everyone in the room, even the most severely disabled, gathered around to pray and lay hands on her. As we were driving home after the service, Heather said to me, “What we experienced tonight was a glimpse of the kingdom of God.”
She was right. We experienced a community of people who are bound together by their strength and their brokenness, people who are limping toward the sunrise, but know that God’s love claims them, everyone.
Isn’t that a vision of the church at its best?
Dear people, if you need your life to be bigger than it has been, if you need to do something brave and generous that gives witness to what is most important to you, then dream not of what is, but what can be. Go on faith, trust God, and risk your life on something great. Here at St. Bart’s, you’ll find it.