Sermon by the Rev. Benjamin Shambaugh
St. Luke’s, Portland
Jan 29, 2017 (Annual Meeting) Epiph 4A: Micah 6:1-8; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12
Go back to January of 2016. It was dark and stormy night and with a heavy icy rain and a driving wind. We were in the middle of Lessons and Carols. A reader had just finished and for a moment the cathedral was quiet. The silence was suddenly broken by a loud a cracking sound. Right at the center of the bottom of the rose window, a large piece of plaster broke free from the wall. In what looked like slow motion, it fell and shattered on the floor where the choir was sitting. From the scar of bare stone that remained, water started pouring over the statue of Mary in the reredos. That was the same week we had found a dead body in the deanery. That was the same day that a public accusation of misconduct against a member of the healing team had been made from the lectern. When that plaster broke, it felt like the wall – and the cathedral itself — was going to come down in front of us and the world as we knew it was over. (When the engineers came to look at the wall the next day, they told us that it was close and that we had better do something soon.)
Here we are a little more than a year later. The deanery has been cleaned up and sold, and is now a single family home. The police and a full diocesan investigation showed that no misconduct had taken place and, with updated policies and procedures, the healing team is going strong.
Including proceeds from the sale of the deanery, grants from foundations, and help from congregations, the bishop, and individuals around the diocese, we raised more than $1.7 Million. The wall was rebuilt. The Rose Window was restored.
Even more than that, the cathedral’s tithe of the campaign enabled the septic system at Camp Bishopswood to be repaired and the camp, which faced its own infrastructure crisis, had a successful summer.
In 2016, members of St. Luke’s congregation weathered storms, parking chaos, the moving of pews, the changing of liturgies, the confusion of construction, and their own PTSD.
Wedding and funeral families put up with no middle aisle and with the sight of scaffolding, dust, and blue tarps flapping in the wind. In the midst of it all, we managed to host three Shakespeare plays, a Bach festival, a Ukulele festival, the startup of the Maine Episcopal Network for Justice, the Preble Street Faith Advocacy Network, and SAGE, as well as our usual cycle of worship services, parish activities, fairs, fundraisers, concerts, and other events
More than 13,000 people came here for Sunday services and two to three times as many came here for other things. St. Luke’s mission is “to restore all people in unity with God and each other in Jesus Christ.” When people wanted beauty and the spiritual connection with God through music and the arts, they came here.
When people were buffeted by political change and fear and wanted a place of hope or a place to stand and work for justice, they came here. Where people wanted to grow spiritually, gather in community, be comforted, and care for one another or care for others, they came here.
When refugees and asylum seekers wanted a welcome, were looking for someone who spoke their own language, or just needed some help in getting started in a new country, they came here. Though we had a dip in attendance and finances during construction, our numbers have pretty much recovered.
Our Average Sunday Attendance is the same as last year, we ended 2016 with a surplus, and once again stewardship is in record territory. 2016 was an incredibly challenging year and we made it through with flying colors. While there is certainly room for improvement, as I deliver this state of the cathedral address for 2017, I can tell you that – thanks be to you and thanks be to God – the state of this Cathedral Church is good.
On this day of our annual meeting I offer huge thanks also go to our Capital Campaign team, including our co-chairs, John Watson and Claire Hammen, to our building team, including our wardens George Cooper and Sam Allen, our treasurer, Mac McCabe, our vestry, and to numerous others who worked tirelessly all year long. We could not have done it without you.
In terms of staff, I want to give special thanks to the Rev. Suzanne Roberts our Pastoral Associate, the Rev. Richard Rasner, our Deacon, Albert Melton our Cathedral Musician, Lynne England, our Parish Administrator, Jonathan Radtke, Director of Christian Education, Becky Tatro, our Sunday School Lead Teacher, Marc Hildreth, our Bookkeeper, Donna Ciriello, our Housekeeper, Bruno MBongo, our Sexton and the Rev. Anne Fowler, the Rev. Jeff Turczyn, and the Rev. Dan Rigall who have helped out with services over the year.
Personally, I want to thank my wife Shari, my family and all of you who make up my church family for your understanding and support while I was distracted by many things. The capital campaign and construction were in effect a second full-time job, which meant that finding my time at home or doing the regular work of ministry was a challenge.
I look forward to the rest and renewal of an April-September sabbatical scheduled for last year but put on hold last year because of the campaign and construction. Thanks be to God, phase one is done. The Rose Window is up and light is shining in as well as out. Thanks be to God… and thanks be to you!
I know it might make some groan, but, my friends, we built a wall! (And we did it first!) We built a wall, but more importantly, we restored a window: a window that helps people see Jesus, a window where the light of Christ goes both ways.
The National Cathedral has been much in the news – and in my thoughts – over the past few weeks. I remember when the final stones were put in and the construction of that great cathedral was complete. At the time, the dean said (and I paraphrase) “Other people built this cathedral. Our task is to figure out why.”
As we celebrate the building of this wall, it is important to figure out why as well. The why is not found in stones, but in living stones — the people that fill this space. The why is not in the architecture, the music or worship, but in the way those things make this cathedral be a catalyst that helps those who come here us experience, be fed and empowered by, the presence of God.
With the wall done, it is time to remember why — why we did all this and we are here. It is time to refocus on mission and get back to the basics of spiritual formation, of education and youth, outreach and social justice, care for one another and care for others. In today’s reading, the prophet Micah puts it simply: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
On the Mount of the Beatitudes, Jesus continues this theme, encouraging his followers to keep going, always remembering that God loves them and is with them, no matter what. Listen to his words:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
2016 was a challenging year. It was also an amazing one. 2017 will be challenging in ways we can’t even imagine. It will be amazing as well. Today’s scriptures tell us that this is time to get back to basics, to talk the talk and walk the walk of Jesus, knowing that in it all, we are blessed.