For a congregation to move into its own first building
is a big life step.
It is like the young adult getting her first apartment
or the young married couple buying their first home.
It is a kind of growing up and that’s something to celebrate.
It’s also a time to reflect on: just what is it we are up to?
What does it mean to be the Church?
What does it mean to be the Church in Reno, Nevada
in the year of our Lord, 2017?
What are we here to do?
Who are we anyway?
What is God calling us to become?
Some of my bishop friends are wringing their hands
trying to figure out how to be the Church
Being a good church member is no longer necessary
to be a respectable member of society
as it used to be back East.
I tell them Nevada hasn’t gotten to Christendom yet.
We are still in the pre-Christian era.
No one in Nevada goes to Church to be respectable.
We don’t much want to be respectable and if we did
Church attendance wouldn’t be the way to do it.
So, what are we doing here?
When St. Catherine’s was worshiping in a school chapel,
the possibilities were somewhat limited.
You didn’t have to think about what kinds of programs to offer
during the week because you couldn’t offer any.
You didn’t have to think about how to let the outside world know
of your existence because you were so well hidden.
Now here you are.
This new place raises all sorts of questions.
Who is God calling you to be? What is God calling you to do?
And what’s it all for anyway?
I am not going to answer those questions for you.
It isn’t that I am hiding the answers.
It’s that I don’t know them.
The answers lie in the heart of God
and are for you to discover prayerfully,
in honest open conversation with each other
and in honest open conversation with the world
outside your walls.
The answer will not be a little slogan you can put on your letterhead.
The answer will never be fixed and final.
It lies forever just beyond our grasp.
The core questions demand to be asked over and over.
What I can offer you is a couple of guiding principles
for your discernment.
First, the Church is the Body of Christ.
That means we are here to continue the Incarnation.
There are many mutual support groups,
many social service agencies, and many groups
that practice mind expanding spiritual practices.
There are many book clubs.
A parish can do all those activities and more.
But none of them are its core identity.
The Church is the Body of Christ.
That changes things considerably.
Most of us come to Church wanting something.
We want things to be this way or that way.
We want the Church to suit our fancy,
to make us feel some way we want to feel.
We want it our way.
But that is a process of filling the Church with ourselves
instead of filling ourselves with Christ.
If we want it our way, we should go to Burger King.
The Church is where we set our way aside
to discover the mind of Christ.
What would Jesus do? replaces What do I prefer?
How do we know what Jesus would do?
We can’t know for sure.
But if we are going to have a clue,
we have to get to know Jesus.
That takes practices.
It takes some serious Bible study.
It takes some serious prayer.
We can’t know Jesus unless we’re on speaking terms.
And it takes paying close attention to the realities
at hand because Jesus always manifests
in the present situation.
That means we pay attention to what’s happening in our own souls,
what’s happening in the lives of others in the congregation,
and what’s happening in the world around us.
That kind of attention doesn’t happen automatically.
It takes intentional practices of talking with each other
at an authentic level – not casual church chit chat.
The first thing I can tell you is that being the Church
begins with laying aside our preferences
and humbly, openly, curiously looking for Jesus.
The second thing is that St. Catherine’s
needs to be partly like every other Church
and partly different from any other Church.
The alike part is what make’s St. Catherine’s a Church.
It’s the core stuff of Sacraments, Creeds,
and relationship to the Diocese, the Province,
the Communion, and the Church Universal.
The different part is what makes this Church St. Catherine’s.
Karl Rahner said of us as individuals,
Each of us is a unique irreplaceable word of God.
You could say the same of a parish.
Each parish incarnates Christ in its own distinct way.
God does not need a clone of any other parish.
God needs you to be you because no one else can be.
St. Catherine’s has grown well.
You have had your ups and downs
and that’s a good thing.
It humanizes you and sanctifies you.
You have done good service to the wider community.
But you have only just begun.
Our rituals here today are not enough to make this place holy.
It what you do here in years to come.
T. S. Eliot concluded his immortal poem, The Four Quartets,
with a piece about Little Gidding,
a 17th Century religious community
founded by the deacon Nicholas Ferrar.
The Christian poet George Herbert
was a friend of the community.
It was destroyed by the Puritans in the English Civil War.
Eliot visited Little Gidding in the 1930’s, and wrote,
You are here to kneel where prayer has been valid.//
Their valid prayer had made the place holy
But what makes prayer valid?
One definition of valid is
having force, weight, or cogency.
Prayer has force, weight, and cogency
if and only if it is authentic,
if it is the real deal, if we mean it.
The task before you is to get real – to get real together.
That takes having your hope in heaven and your feet on the earth.
It takes asking questions to which
you truly do not know the answers
and speaking the truth of your own hearts.
Do that brothers and sisters
and you will live out our prayers today.
You will truly consecrate this place to the glory of God
and for the salvation of God’s people.