(Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
If you are one the St. Mary’s Facebook Page followers, you may have seen our post about The Journey event that occurred this past Saturday in Birmingham. I am a part of the Recovery Ministries for the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama, and our main task is to plan this day on addiction and recovery.
Our keynote speaker was Drew Callner, who is recovering from addiction. He produced a documentary on people in Birmingham struggling with addiction, called Recovering Hope, and it is available on Amazon and elsewhere. Drew’s mother is someone I met with while in pastoral care in Birmingham. She is in his documentary and joined him as a speaker at one of the workshops yesterday.
As you all know, I am a big fan of the 12-step recovery programs of Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-anon Family Groups, and it truly fed my soul to be around so many people who were in recovery. People in recovery can be so real and honest. They know darkness, but they also know light. And they are quick to tell you that the source of their recovery and continued peace in this world is their Lord.
They all reached the end of their rope, their strength, their attempts to fix their situation, their attempts to save their family member or handle their addiction. They will tell you that it was when they reached the end of that rope and they let go, that was precisely when the miracle happened. That is when God took over and brought them to freedom and peace.
So if you spend any time with people in recovery, you will soon find yourself in deep conversations about God. They name the source of their hope. They freely attribute their recovery to the Lord.
Which is exactly what is at the heart of our readings this morning. If you read the entire book of Esther, and I suggest you do, you will learn that she was called upon, at the risk of her life, to stand up to the King of Persia in an attempt to save the Jewish people from annihilation.
In James, the people of the church are doing all sorts of healing, seeking the lost and offering hope to sinners, all in the name of their faith in Jesus. And in the gospel, early followers of Jesus were already spreading the message of his saving power, casting out demons in his name. So we see that all of these people of God are doing their work, not for themselves, but in the name of their faith, in the name of their God, in the name of their Lord. Pointing to the one who can save a nation, a soul, the sick and a sinner.
And so my question for us to ponder this day is “Are you naming your faith?” Are you naming the source of your strength, hope and light of your life? Not just doing the good things which we are all called to do. Doing good and rejecting evil. But are you telling people about the source of your blessings or strength or hope?
Are you spreading the love of God, or are you spreading your own version of love, because there can be a difference.
Israel was called to draw all nations to God. Jesus did his work to glorify the name of his father. The ultimate fulfillment of all we do is for this purpose as well. The ultimate purpose of our life, the very reason we were created— is to be with God, and to draw others to Him along with us.
I meet people all of the time who are going through times of great darkness. I know you know some too. Those who dwell in darkness are searching for and hoping for some light. A light from God that we have to share.
I meet people all of the time who are searching for meaning; for that something that is missing in their life, that they cannot quite put their finger on. These people may be doing good things, even great things, yet they are wondering if there is something more.
I meet people all the time who are lukewarm or even questioning their faith. They are unchurched; or the church they went to in the past was for some reason a deep disappointment; or they consider themselves spiritual, but not religious. Meaning they believe in some sort of God, but not the church.
On the other hand, I am also privileged to know some special souls who glow with the love and light of God. Their life seems to be permeated with peace and joy, and you would think that they have never seen hardship. But when you get to know them, you find that they indeed have seen as much, if not more, than the next guy or gal Yet they have a sweet spirit. People like my 12-step brothers and sisters who loudly proclaim that the source of their peace is God.
The Episcopal Church, I believe, is uniquely suited to bring a message of grace and light and hope to all of these. We have a unique message of love and forgiveness. We take people as they are, where they are. We are a true “come as you are”church, and that goes not just for what you wear, but also for the state of your life and your heart.
I for one was a complete mess when I came to this church in 2001 or so. I was going through a divorce, I was dealing with addiction in my family, and to top it off, I was a lawyer. So God knows certainly that I had all sorts of issues.
And for those of you who know me, you will agree that I still have a ways to go. So thankfully, we are a Come-As-You-Are Church. And even once you are here, we do not believe that you will become perfectly good and pure. No, we will always be a Hospital for Sinners, as opposed to a Country Club for Saints.
We know that living out our imperfections takes a lifetime, but we also know that a lifetime of living with our Lord in the community of our church makes all the difference in this world, and the next. Living a lifetime with our Lord lightens our times of darkness, brightens our times of joy , and gives us the ability to meet all the circumstances of our lives with a deep faith and with hearts filled with peace. Allowing our hearts to sing on even the darkest days “It is well with my soul”.
I have therefore declared Sunday October 7th as our first Invitation Sunday. Come and see what our sweet church is all about, and invite someone to come along whom you believe may be looking for what we have to share. We serve a great breakfast at 8:30; Sunday School is at 9 am and our church service is at 10 am. We will offer all who come a cup of coffee, a word and a prayer, and a place filled with love.