The Gospel for the Sunday we elected new vestry has a strange line in which Jesus seems to respond to the news of John the baptizer being arrested by saying: the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has come near! How do you get that good news out of the bad news? But then, that is what Jesus is about. He will eventually take a brutally evil form of savage killing called crucifixion and make it life and forgiveness and Easter joy.
We live with some present darkness these days. Pandemic, economic and political upheaval, racism in our nation. And at church, we have some darkness, too: most especially we are a largely older congregation in a largely older community with too many of us dying or moving away to find a new life in a “retirement community.”
Where is Jesus going to bring light and life in the midst of this darkness for Kingston Parish and for each of us and for the world? It would be easy to freeze up and expect the worst. John is in prison. How long can it be before they will take Jesus too? Woe is us. Or we could jump into optimism and say that out of these ashes there will be wonderful success, and we will all live happily ever after. Neither of those is particularly the Christian perspective. Sure we need lamentation. Remember there’s a whole book of Scripture called Lamentations and Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. And we do know that everything will work out to the glory of God in the end, so some optimism isn’t bad either.
But we also need active prayer with God. We are apt to rush into new programs and ideas at Kingston to “fix” our fix. If we just bring more people who have wealth (in terms of ministry gifts and finances) to share, we will be successful again! Here’s the thing: I’m all for a vibrant and full congregation as you might guess, but the way to get there is not to try to be successful, but to try to be faithful. If our goal is to have more bodies in church and more dollars in our church bank account, we have already failed. If our goal is to serve Christ with worship and study and outreach and pastoral care and evangelism, then we will live in Christ, and that is true joy.
John in prison is going to send a question to Jesus: are you really the one? Isn’t this all supposed to look more “successful?” And Jesus responds: the deaf hear, the hungry are fed, and the poor have good news preached them. Of course, I’m the one! As we begin a new vestry year and begin to see hope of a little light at the end of a long pandemic tunnel, we need to seek God’s success and not our own. “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and God’s righteousness, and everything else will fall in place,” Jesus tells us. We have dreams to dream and hopes to fulfill in the days ahead. Let’s dream with God and work with God.
The Very Rev. Gary Barker