Homily delivered at the celebration of
the 120th ANNIVERSARY OF St. John's episcopal Church
in Woodward, Oklahoma
a. d. 2014, Saturday, May 31, 5:00 p.m. • Evensong
Psalm 46 • 1 Kings 8:54–62 • Hebrews 10:19–25
Come, Holy Spirit, and kindle the fire that is in us.
Take our lips and speak through them.
Take our hearts and see through them.
Take our souls and set them on fire. Amen.
Good evening. It is so great to be here with all of you to worship together and to celebrate this special occasion. It’s been nearly 45 years since I was baptized in this wonderful place by this wonderful man, Fr. Jones. Little did I know then, that I would one day preach from this pulpit. Granted, I was five weeks old at the time, so I didn’t know much of anything, but you get the point.
It’s been nearly 33 years since I was confirmed in this place. I don’t have any memories of the service itself, but I still use the Book of Common Prayer that I received that day. I also have a picture from that day. It was taken out on the front steps. It shows a very skinny eleven-year-old boy, with a big grin on his face, despite the fact that he is sandwiched, or should I say squashed, between two giant men, Bishop Gerald McAllister and Fr. John Coil.
If memory serves, I was six years old, when I received my first communion at this very railing. This took place after a grueling interview with Fr. Jones. Okay, it wasn’t particularly grueling. We sat here in these pews, and Fr. Jones asked me questions about God. I don’t recall the exact questions, but I do remember telling him that my sister Elise would tuck me in at night and tell me Bible stories.
When I was ten, I announced to my mother that, when I grew up, I was going to become an Episcopal priest. Apparently, I am nearly grown up because next week, God willing and the people consenting, I will be ordained as a priest in Topeka.
I have lots of memories of St. John’s. It was, in fact, one of my favorite places to be growing up. I remember playing bingo in fellowship hall, and the white elephant gifts that were used as prizes. I remember the Saturday work days, where the whole parish came together, and we kids worked side by side with the adults. And I remember how it made me feel, that I was not just a kid, but a full member of the parish.
I remember the midnight Masses, struggling to stay awake, struggling not to fall over on my face as I sat up here on these shallow benches. I remember the Easter Vigils, hearing the great story of Scripture being told by candlelight. And I especially remember the magical moment when the lights came on and strings were pulled and these glorious banners descended from the ceiling.
Well, I could go on and on with my memories of this place. And I know that, given the chance, each of you could go on and on as well. After all, St. John’s has been here for one hundred and twenty years. So there are hundreds and thousands, even hundreds of thousands of such stories and memories tied to this place. Stories of how God has drawn close to us in this place; memories of how we have drawn close to God through the people of this place.
That, I think, is Solomon’s vision for the Temple in Jerusalem. In our reading from First Kings, all of Israel has gathered together to celebrate and dedicate the newly-constructed Temple. King Solomon stands before the altar, and he lifts up his voice to thank, to bless, and to plead with God. He prays that this House, which he has built, might be the place where God meets his people in peace, the place where sacrifices can be offered, sins forgiven, and prayers heard. And surprisingly, Solomon makes these requests, not only on behalf of the people of Israel, but on behalf of all peoples everywhere. For Solomon, envisions this House of God being a house of prayer for all nations.
In his wisdom, Solomon recognizes that this earthly dwelling could never contain the one true and living God, for not even heaven nor even the highest heaven can contain God. And yet, God could still be encountered there. As it was with the Temple in Jerusalem, so it has been and so it is with St. John’s Episcopal Church in Woodward. St. John’s cannot contain God, no single church or church tradition can. Nevertheless, God can still be met here,… in the water,… in the bread and the wine,… in the prayers,… and in the people drawn together for worship.
And most of all, God meets us here in Jesus—the eternal and living Word of God, the Risen Christ—who continues to make himself known to us in all of these things.
Thanks be to God.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.