Homecoming Sunday
Isaiah 43:18-19
2 Corinthians 5:17-21

Earlier this week, I ran across the quote by Elizabeth O’Connor that graces the inside cover of our bulletins this morning:

“The vocation of Christians is to be builders of communities that join them with what is highest in themselves, within another and within the whole human race. The most basic thing that Jesus does when he liberates us is to make us caring people who then have the commission to build communities in the places where we live and play and work. No matter how much one individual receives from another, it is never enough for healing. Each of us needs a variety of people and diverse experiences over a long period of time if we are to move toward wholeness.”[1]

When I read it, I thought to myself, “That’s it exactly! That’s the work that we are called and invited to do and to be!” Having clarity around that helps us to reimagine our purpose, what we do, and why.

Our Homecoming theme is “Renew, Revive, Reimagine for 2020 and Beyond.” When we talk about renew, revive, and reimagine, it does not mean that what we have or where we are is not good or good enough, it means that we are embracing the generative side of ourselves and are opening ourselves to the progressive wonder of God in our lives and an ever changing and forever emerging world.

Every challenge becomes an open door for something new. Every success becomes confirmation that we are heading in the right direction.

God always has something new. Despair turns joy. Death turns life. Hatred can turn into love if we let it. Estranged relationships can turn into reconciliation, brokenness into healing. This is our hope and God’s way in the world.

It begs the questions: “Are we ready? Can we see it? Embrace it? Claim it for our lives and others?”

If there was no future hope, where would we be? If there was no sense that this is all there is, what would we do? Even when things are joyful and good, there needs to be hope beyond this moment.

And at the end of the day, I want to be part of a solution, don’t you? I want to be part of the answer, not just the question; something good and positive for the sake of others and our own sake.

What I saw last night (Homecoming Fundraiser Event) was “Church” at its best and getting better. It was magical and just as holy as anything I have experienced on Sunday morning because we were all on the same page, all working for a common goal, all recognizing our part and how the individual parts brought together can create a beautiful collective. That’s Jesus work, my friends. And it’s not about having to all think alike or agree on every little detail. Our collective work is greater than our individual parts.

Yes, we want to refurbish the doors, but the greater work is our communal work for such a time as this. And everyone was participating – even those who weren’t in the room. So often, we see in part, but we don’t see the whole. Some of us see what happens during Sunday worship, wonderful and inspiring, and necessary to feed the battered soul.

Others see what’s happening in the Day School and the importance of that for financial sustainability, but also for the children whose lives are changed every day.

Others see the impact of our children’s ministry and the benefit of having their children learn the basics of faith, singing in the choir, sitting on the steps or the theatre program where children from all five boroughs – all five boroughs play together and for some, it is likely the only time their lives where that happens on a regular basis.

For others, it’s the first Saturday Community Lunch feeding program, the continuation of this long standing ministry where we come face-to-face with the reality that even in some of the wealthiest zip codes in the world, there are people who struggle to find a warm meal.

We often see in part, but when we are all together in the same room, recognizing the value of offering what we have, knowing that some may have more but all is needed and all is important – that is a wow! And God is a wow! Park Avenue United Methodist is a wow. And I want to be part of a Wow! How about you?

We celebrate babies and weddings, birthdays and anniversaries. It’s beautiful to see Catherine and George Wang celebrating 16 years together – wow – and their three beautiful daughters. Ivy and Chris getting married, Kate and George, Sarah and Alex. It’s hopeful.

Try as we might to be independent and stand on our own, sooner or later, you’re going to need somebody. We were never intended to walk alone. How wonderful it is to know that someone walks with you, holds you up, bears with you, cries, laughs, and dances with you.  We can’t change the whole United Methodist Church or fix all the world’s ills. We can’t change every aspect of a broken government, but we can risk for love where we live and play and work.

It’s Homecoming Sunday and it’s time to come home. Maybe you have been wandering like the prodigal sons – one left home in body, lost everything but came to himself and headed back home to the loving embrace of his father. Or maybe you are like the older son whose body remained close, but his heart was in a far country filled with anger, bitterness, jealousy and resentment. It’s time to come home. And get this, in this house and in God’s house, there is joy and celebration. No questions asked.

In our Old Testament passage, the prophet Isaiah reminds us that although things may have been a certain way in the past, though they remain a certain way even now (both good and bad), there is an ever present and ever changing move of God that is making all things new.

“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old,” says our God. “I am about to do a new thing. Now it springs forth, do you not see it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”[2]

A way in the wilderness among thorny places and the murkiness of life, I’ll make a way. In the dry and desolate places of heart and mind, soul and spirit, I am setting forth rivers of life and renewal. Can you not see?

In Christ, we are a new creation. Old things are passing away, all things are becoming new.  Can we believe this God of ours? Can we hang our present selves and our future on the word of God? Are there enough signs of hope and renewal in the daily routines of our lives and in the world to cling to a more promising future – trusting that what is coming is brighter than what has been, and we can play a part to make it so?

It’s more than proverbial optimism, my friends, but rather a way of life. You may live in the same apartment, work the same job, hang out with the same people, but inside radical change is taking place.

May we yearn for this new thing that God wants to do. Renew us O Lord; revive us again that we might reimagine what you would have us be.

[1] http://inwardoutward.org/christian-vocation-june-4-2019/; Elizabeth O’Connor, The New Community, p. 58
[2] Isaiah 43:18-19