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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Pentecost SLAWW

Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-21

Years ago, my boys tried to entice me into joining a club they were forming: “There’ll be free coupons and you get to take naps!” Oh, how they knew my passions!

There are many things I can do, or will do, or have to do…and then there are the things I love to do. Those are the activities and ideas that truly excite me, that focus my mind, light up my eyes, and put a spring in my step. Many are small and mundane: a great bargain; naps; a new recipe that’s both tasty and easy; a good book; a tidy checklist, all checked off. Others are bigger, or harder to quantify: an inspiring liturgy that comes together just right; a satisfying conversation; an idea for ministry that seems a perfect fit for the people, gifts, and needs involved; a great evening with family and friends; a breathtaking vista and the time to savor it.

Passion takes us a long way. It won’t change tedious and laborious situations or tasks into thrillers, but it allows us to keep the bigger picture in mind so that we can persevere, to feed a spark of creative energy, to see new possibilities when we keep bumping into closed doors. Sometimes it makes us willing to do what another person would never consider. Passion can be what gives us the discipline to do the right thing. In the best of times, passion fuels our life, individually and as a community.

Passion can be mis-directed as well. Last week’s ordination of our two new suffragan bishops—a fabulous, Spirit-filled occasion—was interrupted briefly by one of the saddest examples of this that I’ve ever seen. There was a protester who shouted out early in the service. This was not unexpected, and a couple of people politely escorted the man from the arena. The shock was what came next: his young son, maybe 9 or 10 years old, stood up and began to yell the same angry, judgmental words with just as much passion as his father. He, too, was led from the service, but with his departure there was a palpable feeling of sorrow among the congregation as we pondered a child being taught to hate with such fervor.

As the people of Babel learned when the tower came crashing down, simply being passionate about an issue or project isn’t enough. We have to combine our passion with discernment: of the Spirit’s calling, of our gifts and the gifts of the gathered community, of the needs around us, of voices of wisdom and justice, peace and love. Our passion needs God’s direction.

We also should be open to discovering new passions. I wonder what would’ve happened if all of the crowd present on the day of Pentecost had said to themselves, “Well, that was interesting…good story next time I see the guys!” or had shrunk back in fear and disbelief, and then returned to life as usual. Instead, thousands of them caught the fire of the Holy Spirit and were inflamed with a new passion for Jesus and his kingdom.

Even in the service of a Pentecost sermon, I’m not going to claim that my thrill in coupon-clipping and napping is holy and Spirit-inspired, except perhaps to the extent that they represent good stewardship of my money and body. But when our passion is used by the Holy Spirit for the benefit of God’s people, that’s called ministry. Whether we’re passionate about numbers or computers or prayer or teaching or fixing things or listening or creating or cooking or cleaning up or asking questions, when we use that energy in Christ’s name, we’re doing ministry. Frederick Buechner, one of my favorite authors, talks about vocation—a calling to ministry, to caring—and describes it as “the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”

A couple of years ago, Saint Mark’s Vestry developed a mission statement for the parish, a description of our ministry here: "Saint Mark’s Parish welcomes all into our community of faith as we grow in Christ’s love through lives of worship, learning, service and fellowship." On the feast of St. Mark, Carri preached about it, and I’ve brought back the felt board created by our junior high youth with the mission statement on it. You also can find it every week on the back of the bulletin. Now our Vestry has decided to organize our programs and vision around themes highlighted in this statement. They came up with five areas: Welcome, Worship, Learning, Service, and Administration.

I’m not great at remembering strings of words, but I like acronyms, so I took a look at the possibilities, allowing for a little creative license. WWALS? No, too off-putting. LAWWS? Nope, too fearsome. AWWLS? I’m not sure I want to think of our ministry in terms of poking holes in things. And then it came to me, perfect for this congregation: SLAWW!

Each ingredient is distinct, but when tossed together, they all add up to ministry that feeds and nurtures both us and the world around us. Experiment without fear, because it’s okay to decide an idea or project didn’t quite work or that it’s time for something new or more, and then go on to try another! Leave out some of the basic ingredients, however, and it may or may not be good, but in any case, something’s missing. And this, of course, is where you come in: we all have a passion somewhere—thank God not all the same texture and taste—and when we bring those Spirit-given passions together, our individual ministries form and grow the mission of our church, of God’s church.

We’re passing out today a card similar to the fall stewardship pledge cards. This one, instead of asking for your commitment to God of a portion of your money, asks you to consider making a commitment to pledge your passion, to direct some of your energy toward one of those broad areas. Think about what you love to do, what delights you in a bigger sense, and see if you can match that with our SLAWW. There’s a space if you want to be specific, but what we really want is to connect people with common passions and skills to dream about each of these areas of ministry.

So, here are the cards. We’ll take a few moments now for you to listen to the Spirit and your heart and mind, and then at the offertory we’ll pass separate baskets to collect the cards from those of you who wish to pledge your passion today. Later in the summer you’ll get an invitation from the rector and vestry to join with others who have indicated the same area of interest to listen and brainstorm about God’s call to us, the ministries to which God calls us, the fire God is lighting within us.

“Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, passionately dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray, as you will, and always to the glory and welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.”

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