Sermon, Celebration of a New Ministry
St. Stephen and the Incarnation Church and the Rev. Sam Dessórdi Peres Leite
September 10, 2016
The Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde
A New Dawn
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. John 15:9-16
Good morning! What a gift to be with you for this celebration of new ministry and to officially install the Rev. Sam Dessórdi Peres Leite as your senior priest. (note: the sermon was preached in both in English and Spanish–the Spanish version can be found here.)
Today represents the culmination of a long journey and a series of important decisions that led the people of St. Stephen’s to call a full time senior priest, to provide spiritual leadership for both the English and Spanish speaking worshipping communities. That decision was a powerful statement of your identity as one congregation worshipping in two languages. It seems only fitting that God would send someone to St. Stephen’s whose first language is neither English or Spanish, but Portuguese.
It has been a long journey for Sam as well, from his village in Brazil, through California to here. I remember my first phone conversation with Sam. I had heard of him from mutual friends in the church but we had never met. I was struck by the combination of strength and gentleness in his voice, and how excited he was at the prospect of coming to serve here.
It is also a new day and the beginning of a new season of life and ministry. Several of us here returned last week from a conference entitled, Nuevo Amanecer. And as I prayed about what God might want me to say to you today, those words kept coming back to me: Nuevo Amanecer. A New Dawn.
There is something about a new dawn, light emerging from darkness, that stirs hope in every human heart. For too many people in our world, in our communities, and in parts of our own lives, it is still night, and we pray for God’s light. We wait for the light. We try to follow it when it shines. And Jesus even said, incredibly enough, that we are the light of the world, that the light of God can shine in our hearts and in our lives.
This is a new day, a new dawn for you as a community of faith. Allow the day to reveal itself to you. Give yourself time to adjust to the new light and allow it to illumine your path.
In this new day, I encourage you to take to heart what Jesus said, as the Gospel of John tells the story, to his first disciples as he was preparing them for a new day ahead. For these words, I believe, are also for you:
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. You are my friends. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends.
Think for a moment of what it means for Jesus to say that you are his friends. To me, it suggests that not only does Jesus love you, Jesus likes you. He likes spending time with you. He admires you, and wants to do all he can to support you. And he cherishes your friendship.
Take time each day to remember that Jesus is your friend, and you are his friends. Allow his love and encouragement to fill you when you’re empty; encourage you when you’re tired; guild you when you don’t know where to go. And dare to ask what you can do for him, as his friend.
Jesus also said this:
You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.
That is also my prayer for you: that in this new season of ministry, you experience fruitfulness. More than hard work. More than faithful effort. Hard work and faithful effort that bears fruit.
I was in conversation with leaders of another congregation in our diocese a few nights ago. There are many faithful people in the church, and they love their church and one another. But membership there continues to decline, and they aren’t sure what to do.
And so we discussed ways they might work toward a different future, a new day.
One member of the group works at a bank. In his work, he has helped other congregations acquire loans for building and other ministry projects. He said, “I have sat in many meetings just like this one with churches of all sizes. I can divide them into two groups. In one group, members of the church say to themselves, ‘We’re just going to do what we believe what God is calling us to do.’ But after saying that, they essentially continue on with what they have become accustomed to doing.
In the other group members of the church say to themselves, ‘We are to learn all that we can about our community and where Jesus needs us most. We are going get to know our neighbors and hear what matters to them. We are going to assess our strengths and the gifts we have to offer. Then we are going to come up with a specific strategy to share Christ’s light and love in this new ways.’”
Which group of churches do you suppose experiences greater fruit in their ministry?
That’s the kind of fruitfulness I pray for you, in God’s time and yours–new fruit for a new day. I have every confidence that you can do this, because you have done it before. This is a new day, and after a bit of time to adjust to the new light and to get to know another, it will be time to begin again.
Remember that you are Jesus’ friends and he is proud to be your friend. Spend time with him; draw strength and joy from him. And allow him to guide you on a path of even greater fruitfulness, for this new day.
The ministry of this congregation is far too important to remain small. You are among those through whom Christ’s light shines. Today is your new dawn.